Your Career, Your Business

Career Matters

Career matters, good career matters greatly. Right perspective about your career can make a big difference to your career growth. While there can’t be an absolute ‘right’ model to think about careers, there can be multiple. Consider Sid who works in Awesomely Creative Enterprise (ACE). There are 2 ways Sid can think about his career and work.

  1. Hired-Help Model – Sid is a hired help (also called ’employee’) for ACE to solve a specific business problem. ACE defines what will Sid work on, changes the work to suit its needs, and uses Sid as a resource to maximize returns on its investment.
  2. Business Relationship (Vendor) Model – Sid is CEO of ‘Sid Careers Pvt. Ltd. (Sid for short)’, and enters in a business relationship with ACE to provide services to ACE under a contractual agreement about the scope of work and price. Any change in work or price is mutually agreed and stated clearly.

Most often, we have hired-help model in our mind when we think about work. For a moment, let’s think about our work as a business relationship (vendor) model and visualize its implications.

Implications of Business Relationship Model

There are 4 dimensions of the implications of this model:

  1. Relationship of Equals – ACE is under no obligation to look after Sid’s interests, nor is Sid obligated to do so for ACE. However, like any other business relationship, mutual trust and respect will be practiced by both parties in normal circumstances and both parties will try to have win-win situations whenever they can.
  2. Business (Career) Strategy – Sid is on its own when it comes to its (career) growth, and it needs to spend a portion of its earnings on self-development, future planning and investment and other growth opportunities so that it can do well in the long run. Its goal will be to make itself indispensable to ACE as well as create opportunities of new business relationships by acquiring new skills, experiences and networks.
  3. Execution (Work) Strategy – Sid will work in the areas it has competency in to stay efficient. Any attempt by ACE to get him to work on any other areas will be carefully evaluated by Sid – if it takes Sid into an area of future growth prospects, Sid will be willing to do this for ACE, otherwise Sid will say no and ACE will find other solutions. When Sid sees a project within ACE which it thinks will create new skills and experience required in future, it will lobby ACE (influence the manager he works with, etc.) to get that project and work on it hard to make it successful and add to its portfolio of skills and experiences.
  4. Business (Career) Ownership – When Sid grows as a company, credit goes to Sid’s foresight and investment skills. When Sid fails to grow, blame also goes to Sid for not being proactive or insightful. ACE has very little say or contribution in this matter. Sid will not depend on ACE for growth, though Sid will leverage ACE for the growth. ACE can be a stepping stone for Sid, or a long-term vendor relationship, depending on how well ACE is meeting Sid’s long term goals.

Point to Ponder

Let me state the obvious: it is much harder to take a business relationship model into consideration than a hired-help model. However, if you do, you may realize that this is how many companies approach their relationship with their employees when it comes to managing their career. This perspective will help you correct your expectations and look at your career differently. Resulting change in your career outlook and planning may just surprise you.


Why do we work – When individuals care about careers

In my last post on when organizations care about careers, I talked about various things an organization can do in order to utilize their employees effectively and in the process, help employees realize their career goals.

However, not all companies care about careers, and when they don’t, individuals suffer. It is essential for everyone to be focused on their own career goals and manage the career proactively, with or without explicit support from the organization. In a previous post last year (managing career proactively), I described a process to do this. In this post, I want to highlight a few of the areas that individuals should target.

  1. Create and manage personal performance management system – External indicators of high performance include bonus, raise, promotion, rewards, etc., all of which depend on availability of budget. Therefore, absence of such indicators (for example, no raise company-wide because economy is in bad shape) can’t be taken to be a low performance indicator. Reverse is also true: a solid raise (just because company did well and economy is going strong) doesn’t always indicate a particularly high performance. However, many individuals are unable to keep this distinction clear in their head and end up getting a false notion of career growth (or lack of it). It is important for individuals to create their own measures of their performance and use it over a period of time. Learning goals (and their attainment) are usually the best indicators of career growth, but other measures can be used too, as long as the variables are in your control. Continue reading

Why do we work – career stages and attributes

In my previous post on ‘Why do we work‘, I talked about 4 levels of employees from the perspective of career and motivational stages: Entry Level Employees, Senior employees/frontline managers, Middle Managers, and executives. They differ in terms of how they manage their career and what motivates them to give their best to the organization. I also talked about the fact that motivations flow from basic human needs (Maslow’s hierarchy of needs). In this and next 2 posts, I will focus on first 3 and discuss their career perspectives and what can be done to improve the situation.

Here is a look at some key career attributes for early and late stages of career. Please note that this description applies to cases when individuals let the organizations drive their career plans. Also, there will be many more attributes than just these when you analyze your own career journey, these are the ones I found repeating across the people I talked to and have worked with in the past. Continue reading

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
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Career Path for engineers – Management Track vs. Individual Contributor Track

I read the article “Indian IT firms redefine career path for engineers” on with interest:

“Indian information technology (IT) service providers such as Tata Consultancy Services Ltd, Infosys Technologies Ltd and Wipro Ltd are following multinational firms such as International Business Machines Corp. (IBM) in building a technical career path for senior engineers opting out of managerial roles.

This is a shift from their traditional focus on promoting employees for managerial roles as they seek more complex projects from customers that need highly skilled people to execute them.

Now, employees can opt to be a designer or an architect and climb the ladder conceiving or building large projects.”

Having worked in product development companies in India (2000-2006), I can attest to the need to develop strong individual contributor (IC) track of growth; we struggled a lot to get our bright ICs to stay IC and not opt for management career path. Continue reading

What determines Job Complexity and why it is important?

In one of my previous posts on job complexity, I described constituents of job complexity (hierarchy, spread, geography, and budget) and the dimensions of organizations that impact it (processes, structure, culture). And even though I had left it vague (because anything more would have been too prescriptive), I was hopeful that it will be useful to some since it described where to look for. Also, I was confident that since job complexity changes are infrequent and slow, it is not too big an issue when handling career questions for an individual. However, how job complexity is becoming increasingly important factor was driven home to me recently, twice within 2 days.

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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