Is it time to push for that promotion? To increase your skill set or embrace new technologies? While there are many factors that go into how and when you get ahead, honest answers to the following questions can help you decide if you’re ready for a change. From the beginning of my career to where I am today helping lead data, analytics and machine learning for Adobe Document Cloud, I’ve learned to recognize when it’s time to take a step back. Here are seven telltale signs it’s time to boost your engineering career.
- Are people coming to you for advice?
Everyone should be the “go to” person for something, hopefully for a lot of things! If people are going elsewhere, or around you, it’s a sign that it may be time for a change.
Take a look at your skillset—the things you do each day and how you communicate with your peers—to help identify where you need to improve. In engineering, collaboration and expertise go hand in hand—make sure you are maxing out both of these crucial elements.
- Are you an expert in any key technologies or functionalities?
Every organization has some special sauce—that “thing they do.” Make sure you’re really good at that thing. If building scalable solutions is the thing, then be really good at scaling. If customer empathy is really important, get out of the building and find some customers to learn from. If writing bug-free code is a must, then learn (and develop!) the tools necessary to create ultra-high-quality software.
Digging deep and really understanding what’s going on in your field is crucial. If you’re not an expert in any one thing, it’s likely holding you back.
- Have you caught up with any of the big trends shaping tech in the past two years?
When new technologies emerge, do you have the opportunity to use them? Do you read about innovations and think, “Man, I wish I was working on that!”
You (probably) can’t be an expert in block-chain, machine learning, distributed computing, high-touch user-interface design, object-oriented design, identity management, virtual reality, graph computing, and containerization all at the same time. Look at what technologies are key, or are emerging in your particular field and pick two.
Engineers with expertise that is both deep (know how) and broad (far reaching) are always going to be in high demand. In my current role, it’s data, data, data. I’m always pushing my team to use the data we have, get more data, and find better insights. For them, getting good at data gathering, analysis and visualization is key.
- Are you feeling challenged?
Is what you get to do hard to do? It should be! If you can, seek out more difficult assignments, or assess why you’re not perceived as a good choice for those assignments and get to work on fixing that perception. Work is always more rewarding when we’re at the edge of our comfort zone.
If your organization is growing—in size, impact, or in a variety of key metrics, sticking around is probably a good path. But, the key factor in your self-assessment should be challenge. Make sure that your role—current or future—offers challenges that inspire new ideas and personal growth.
- Have you had a big impact? Can you have one?
If you’re good at your job, but you’re having trouble becoming great, or you’re feeling “topped out,” look to some strategies that will benefit you and the business. Develop your leadership capability by mentoring junior people, or help the organization scale by finding a more efficient way of doing things. Propose solutions to the gaps—missing functionalities, tasks etc.—that can help your organization run smarter and more efficiently.
Asking for a promotion can be tricky. And, there may be a variety of good (or bad) reasons why it’s just not an option at any given moment. Instead, a better strategy is to ask your manager, “What can I do to have a bigger impact?” What she says can provide much needed insight on your path forward. However, if you truly believe you deserve to go to the next level, have that conversation.
- Are you picking up new skills?
People who demonstrate their commitment to learning are the people who get ahead. If your business supports you in this task, great. If they don’t or can’t, make yourself into a new person, even if it means burning the midnight oil.
The people who really impress me are the ones who strive to make themselves better and more relevant, all the time.
- Are you having fun?
It’s called “work,” but it doesn’t have to be that way. If the “meantime-between-fun” is a bit too long, it’s likely a sign that you are stalled. If having fun at work sounds impossible, why not consider a hackathon? Or, a home coding project or similar pick-me-up while you explore your path forward?
If having day-to-day fun at your current job sounds far-fetched, it may be time to look around. Adobe research on the future of work proves that enjoyable work is fulfilling work. Large majorities of office workers in the US, UK, and Germany believe that technology makes them more productive (89% in US/85% in UK/88% in Germany), improves work-life integration (88% in US/83% in UK/86% in Germany), and helps them connect better with co-workers (82% in US, 73% in UK, and Germany).
Throughout my career, I’ve asked myself these questions many times as I evaluated where I was relative to where I wanted to be. While these questions may be geared toward engineering, I think they apply to any job in any field. In the end, taking a step back occasionally to see if you’re learning something new, being challenged, and most importantly, having fun is essential for personal and professional growth.
How do you self-assess your career growth?