The senior engineer career hump

Early career: Experience + competence

Early in your career, optimising for experience and competence gets you a very long way. Basically, if you can get someone trusted to say: “They worked on X, Y, and Z and they were pretty good at it”, you’re in a good spot to move forward fast.

The experience hump

You have hit the experience hump, experience alone won’t get you much further. You are now approaching a point where you are able to make or break initiatives. Employers start wanting to hear what you’ve actually achieved. You need to start being able to talk about specific impacts you’ve had, and evaluating what that did to the outcomes that your organisation cares about.

Stick around longer

When you are in the accumulating experience phase of your career, the market really rewards moving around a lot. It gives you more experience, and it remains unfortunately true that it is often easier to get a better salary by moving employers than by asking for a raise.

Consider specialising

Specialising lets you match your impact to specific organisational needs faster, but comes with the risk of having to predict what kind of needs the market will reward.

Get a great mentor

Right through your career you should seek mentors who are kind (but honest), supportive, encouraging, and great listeners.

Reflect, and write things down

You need to find ways to be organised and systematic about reflecting on your successes and failures. Don’t just leave this to your memory. I often find that my brain tends to forget about stressful and broken things after a few months, and that if I don’t document what I was doing and feeling at the time, I will have a rose-tinted view of everything behind me.

Recognise how flawed we are at evaluating impact

I think it’s important to recognise that while this works in terms of landing your next step up, it’s a process incredibly vulnerable to bullshit and egos. Effective leaders with glittering track records have probably made many good decisions, sure, but they’ve also probably been lucky, and benefitted from some privilege along the way. Being at the right place at the right time counts for a lot, and interviewing is not a scentific process.

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Tito Sarrionandia

Tito Sarrionandia

Head of frontend engineering at Babylon Health. Formerly ThoughtWorks, Made Tech, school teacher.