My friend and former boss Alexander Grosse just recently wrote a blog post about career paths for engineers. In my current position I face the same challenges and situation as he describes in there. As my former boss many aspects of that post are certainly inspired by what he has seen in NOKIA. In this post I want to add to that topic by providing some thoughts about job levels and what I find important in each of them.
Alexander describes 5 job level to categorize employees into. This is necessary to compare people and help with decisions of promotion. You don’t want to negotiate individual contracts year over year. Especially as an engineer your technical expertise matters most in the lower job levels. The higher you get in the food chain, the more important become non-technical skills.
Maturity was the term Alexander used to collect some of those skills. It describes your ability to share your knowledge and experience with others and influence them for the benefit of the whole team and company. Even the most brilliant engineer is only a single point of failure and does not scale beyond 24 hours of awesomeness per day.
Even worse, if you are a brilliant engineer, but nobody likes you, then your impact and influence is severely limited. People will not help you do mundaine tasks and so you will end up wasting your brilliance with mere busywork instead of inventing the next square wheel. People might also refuse to learn from you because they don’t like your attitude.
So in order to reach the next level in your career path you have to develop the ability to multiply your talent by sharing it with others and inspire people. I like the quote from John Allspaw that Alex used: You have to be the engineer that everybody wants to work with.
At NOKIA we also have the two major career tracks – managerial and technical. You can switch between them at any time (in theory). This is good and gives people the ability to try out their talents and interests. As Alex described in his blog post it’s important to offer a real technical career path without forcing people into the managerial track. Certain engineers don’t want to become a manager and actually will not be good managers. So it’s important to give them opportunities in their area. Of course you need a certain company size to support that model. But that’s also true for the managerial track. In a small company not everybody can be a manager either.