Career Paths for engineers – Being a Phase 2 IC

When I received my first performance review in as an individual contributor last month, after having been a manager for 7 years before that, it was revealing, to say the least. This prompted me to talk to a few other individual contributors I knew in the company, these discussions were very insightful.

I also reviewed my post last year on Management Track vs. Individual Contributor Track where I had written the following:

“… skills needed to succeed and measures of success for each track are very different and sometimes unclear. To succeed in management track, one needs to be good at dealing with ambiguities, taking decisions based on partial data, and be able to deal to managing regular management challenges; measure of success most of the time is very indirect (mostly through the success of the team members) and hence can be very subjective and debatable. To succeed in IC track, one needs to have deep technical and domain expertise, should be good at solving complex technical problems, and be able to provide technical and thought leadership; measure of success is very direct and objective and mostly based on visible results of the individual…”

and had received some interesting comments:

“..does salary play a role in why people opt for management as against continuing in IC role? If they want a better salary, is moving into management their only option?..”

“..there is no good appreciation for IC’s to stay longer in their position. Its kind of peer pressure and moment of embarrassment when someone in family or friend ask “Are you still a software engineer?”..”

“..Management shows that it as a carrier growth for the individual. Irrespective of the individual interest they force to get into management..”

“..It may be different in multi-nationals but I think in most Indian companies the situation [people being forced into thinking management is the only career growth path] is what you have described..”

My second inning as an IC seems to have given me a different perspective on this topic, a perspective that makes the picture more complete. I realize that my first post was about a specific phase in the career of an IC, and not complete. This post is an attempt to make it more complete and generate more discussions on this topic.

Two Phases of an Individual Contributor Role
Continue reading

Do relationships matter in a successful career?

Whenever you meet a hotshot with a bad temper or big ego who doesn’t extend basic courtesy, you inevitably ask this question because relationships don’t seem to mean a thing for such a person.

However, for every brash but successful career you see and meet, there are thousands of brash and unsuccessful careers that you don’t. Good relations at workplace are pre-requisite to many of the qualities needed to have a successful career today: influencing without authority, selling ideas, getting the best out of others, leveraging knowledge and network across the organization, etc.

However, having a good relationship with someone requires effort. You need to build a relationship (say, when you join the group/company), you need to maintain relationship (as good/bad times come and go), and you need to mend it if it does go wrong.

Here are some of the themes I have used when I have gone through above phases of relationship building-keeping-mending: Continue reading

Review of career sites – Mission impossible?

As I mentioned in my previous post, I have been reviewing some of the career sites that seem to be popular in India. The goal was to understand how good (or bad) these sites are and then hopefully recommend some sites that are useful. However, while going through these sites, I realized that I promised to deliver something which is very hard to achieve. This post discusses my insights from this exercise in a broad sense.

Here is what I tried: I looked up popular sites (based on search results and my review of local ads of these services in India), and proceeded to review their content, presentation and layout, and overall value they offer. In most cases, I had to register for the site, which I did rightfully. Based on what I saw on these sites and what I claim to know of career management, I started to capture comparison parameters to be used across sites. However, most sites fell woefully short of any reasonable utility value to their target audience.

Here are some of the observations I have, based on this exercise: Continue reading

List of career counseling/information sites for review

As I mentioned in my previous post, I plan to review some of the web sites/companies that offer services in the general area of career counseling/guidance/management. Here is the list that I have come up with. Here is how I picked these sites:

  1. Listed some of the web sites that I heard about via TV channels or friends
  2. Did Google search and Live Search on “career management india”, “career counseling India”, and “career guidance india”, and looked at sites listed in top 2-3 pages. I picked the sites which looked useful as well as those which seemed to be used by people (testimonies, client names, etc).

 I have categorized them in 3 buckets:

  1. Counseling/guidance services – These are the sites which offer career counseling and guidance. They typically include training, psychometric tests, some articles, etc.
  2. Career Information Aggregators – These are the sites which have a large list of courses and universities and other study opportunities. They typically have a subsection about career counseling etc, but their main focus is information aggregation.
  3. Job site adjuncts – These are the career center sub-sites of major job sites. Continue reading

Thoughts from my India Visit – Careers

As I mentioned in my previous post, I spent a month in India recently (August, 2008) before coming to Shanghai to join Microsoft here. I commented on the education system and related aspects that I observed. In this post, I will talk about my observations on working professionals and how careers are moving (or not). Please keep in mind that my thoughts and observations are based on talking to a few friends and relatives I met during my visits and by absorbing what media had to offer (newspapers and TV channels). While this is not a comprehensive analysis, I tried to be as objective and as broad as possible in my discussions, so hopefully you will get a good flavor.

Things that are still the same as they were couple years back:

Continue reading

Thoughts from my India Visit – Education System

As I may have mentioned in my previous post, I spent a month in India recently (August, 2008) before coming to Shanghai to join Microsoft here. In this post, I will comment on the education system and related aspects that I observed. In the next post, I will talk about my observations on working professionals and how careers are moving (or not).

I got a chance to spend some time in each of 3 different types of cities, which I believe covers a large spectrum of India. I spent couple of weeks in NCR area (National Capital Region, Delhi and adjoining area) which is a Tier 1 city with all the glitter and pace of a big city. I then spent a week in a steel township in North India (called Bokaro Steel City), where studying hard is the only thing students know about success, which has produced a large number of engineering and medical students and boasts of some great schools of the region. This exposed me to some students and their struggles to make it to the top. I then also got a chance to visit a village town in North India where education (and then moving out) seems to be the only way of prosperity for most of the new generation, where other means of livelihood are extremely limited.

Continue reading

Measuring Career Growth – Final (career phases framework)

This is the last article in the series on Measuring Career Growth, which started off by talking about measures of success and implication of having multiple measures vis-à-vis time, and was followed by posts on financial and learning goals, followed by a post on job complexity and satisfaction. As I promised in the last post, I will try to provide some framework to handle these measures in some useful way when we engage in our career planning and review.

As I mentioned before, job complexity and job satisfaction are important measures, but difficult to quantify in any meaningful way; I have found them more useful in subjective reviews of the career plan. In this post, I have focused on Financial and learning measures and their interplays with time elapsed.

Assuming that you have defined your financial and learning measures that you want to achieve over a defined time period, following table describes various scenarios that may happen. I use a positive and negative signs to denote that actual value is more or less than planned value. This means that + is good in financial and learning column (achieved more than planned) but bad in time column (using more time than planned).

  Continue reading

Measuring Career Growth – Part III (Job Complexity and Satisfaction)

This is the 3rd post in the series on measuring career growth, and a follow-up to the post on financial and learning goals. In this post, I will talk about 3rd goal (job complexity) and also touch upon the job satisfaction aspect of all these goals, which came up in one of the comments.

Job Complexity goals: As I mentioned before, this is a hard one to measure since it changes infrequently and there are too many parameters that influence this. Job complexity come from how many of the following dimensions are involved in your regular actions and decisions: Continue reading

Measuring Career Growth (Financial and Learning goals) – Part II

This is the follow-up to my last post in which I talked about various measures of career success and the need to prioritize various goals so that trade-offs can be made when time is factored in. In this post, I will focus on two goals and their measures: financial and learning.

Financial Goals: Even though it may sound trivial or easy, financial goals should still be framed and kept around to make sure you are meeting them. Other than the obvious way of framing the goal (“X % raise over Y years”), you can also frame them in terms of utility of money. Continue reading