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About professional growth

Once I was challenged to react to the fact that a few senior engineers during the exit interview mentioned that one problem they experienced was the lack of professional growth options and clarity. One might think it was just the compensation, but it wasn't.

For a few days, I was puzzled and reflected on what it meant. Even though I am an engineering manager, there is still a lot of engineering in me, and I can't detach myself from the community and profession. So I asked myself why it was not a problem for me, what was wrong, if I didn't need professional growth as an engineer, or if I stopped evolving because of my role.

Except in the early days of my career, when I needed guidance, no one seriously bothered by my professional growth. Don't take it wrong: if I needed a piece of advice or guidance in the unknown water, I always got it, but it was me asking for assistance and not someone who came to set up for me, to senior engineer, my growth plan.

I started thinking about what I learned in the last few years as an engineer, not an engineering manager; apparently, it is a lot. But, honestly, I believe, and we will go back to that thought in my next posts about compensation and review, if you're an engineer and you deliver with the same velocity and quality as a few years ago, then you learned tons of shit. Technologies are evolving; you're evolving together; it is impossible to stay where you are if you're not learning and professionally growing all the time.

One might say it is mediocrity, and an engineer should do everything better (whatever that means) the following year. I agree. However, at some point, it is just really hard to notice: the more senior you are, the less the gap between your experience year to year.

So I understood what was bothering me so much. It was not the fear that people in our teams do not have a proper professional growth plan, but the perception that team leads or engineering managers should work on the professional growth plan for senior engineers. The infantility, which might be developing among the engineers, bothered me much more than the presence or absence of personal growth plans.

You're a grown-up human being: a senior engineer with quite an experience. So why would you give up on such an important decision of what to learn further and let someone else make it?

You're responsible for your professional growth. Not your team lead, not your manager, not the CTO: it is yours and yours only decision.

Should you get help? Absolutely. Whatever is needed: mentoring, external courses, time, books, everything should be at your disposal. But the effort should come from an engineer.

We are very diverse: what you want to learn and how to develop yourself as an engineer, professional, and human being is up to you. As an engineering manager, I can't imagine knowing better what senior engineer needs to learn. It is perfect, as I can't imagine anything that wouldn't help you to improve.

But the opposite, I saw many times when a decision was made for engineers. Eventually, they were unhappy with the results or even worth it became a disaster only because people were forced to grow professionally.

A bad example would be considering a current project or company's needs and forcing the engineer to invest extra effort in those. Of course, if needed, it is part of the job to learn new technologies or approaches. But we're talking about personal-professional growth, which should stay pretty much personal.

A good example is to be ready to guide and help the engineer to achieve personal growth goals. Not just nominally, but as soon as you hear it, proactively participate. As an engineering manager, you usually have enough experience, power, and tools to make it happen.

And the best part is that you shouldn't care what exactly is the matter. It might be utterly inefficient in your current situation: technologies you're not using and never will or even non-tech skills: it all goes into the basket; it all makes a person more professional, and this is the goal.

This investment wouldn't return quickly, or the impact might be indirect. However, underestimating this would be a big mistake.

Senior engineers should take full responsibility for their professional growth. However, engineering managers and team leads shouldn't require specific plans for senior engineers and be ready to assist if needed.


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