Master Your Current Role

After being promoted, it takes time to settle in to your new role. The assumption was made, by those promoting you, that you could handle your new role and not be overwhelmed/underwater right away. However, that doesn’t mean you are expected to excel right away.

Think of it like touch typing. Many an Engineer doesn’t even need to think about where the keys are anymore but when you were first learning to type you looked at the keyboard and tried to keep your fingers in the right position. Later when you learned to touch type, it was difficult and frustrating and that wasn’t because you couldn’t type in general. You had to think about where the keys were. You had to force yourself not to glance down at the keyboard. You had to stop touch typing and go back to looking, because something came up that needed to get done right away or you just ran out of spoons for the day.

That same can be said for getting promoted. When you start at the new level, you have new expectations. It can be difficult to keep up, not because you aren’t able to do the work, but because the speed with which you are expected to produce quality work is greater than what you can currently hit.

It can be frustrating. You may fall back on old behaviors that worked at a previous level that are no longer going to serve you — because it feels familiar. When you are starting out it might take you two hours to do something it takes a peer who has more experience in the role, ten minutes to do.

This is normal, and over time you develop muscle memory in your level. This muscle memory, or experience, or skill, allows you to do the same amount of work, in less time, with less cognitive load, less frustration, and less sense of stepping into the unknown. This is well trodden ground for you.

Getting the work assigned to you (or that you selected) done faster and more efficiently opens up opportunities for you take on more work and increase your scope. Do that enough and you are likely to become a candidate for promotion. This is taking a marathon view of your career, and your work / life balance will thank you.

On the flip side, I’ve seen people (and am guilty of it myself) decide to sprint instead. Sprinting can look similar from an outside perspective. Two people, delivering the same scope, and the same work. The difference being the sprinter is putting in 50–60+ hours a week, burning the candle at both ends, working weekends and holidays and evenings, stalwartly refusing to take time off.

I’ve seen people do this successfully for years, while I’ve wondered when (not if) they will burn out. I’ve done it myself (and burned myself out). It’s a valid path. It’s also not sustainable in the long run for the vast majority of people.

Having a healthy work/life balance is key to a 40 year career. (Side Note: If you are a manager of someone who is sprinting through their career, try to educate them on burn out, remind them there will always be more work to do, and ensure they take time off even if you have to drag them out of the office — or off Google Meet — kicking and screaming).

If you are looking toward your next promotion and taking on new scope, more work, more responsibilities, make sure you’ve spent the right amount of time optimizing for the work you already have, at the level you are already at.

Optimize everything. Meetings, time spent coding, time spent mentoring. Replace yourself via delegation or documentation when possible. Do the difficult stuff until it becomes easy. Figure out what work you can do now that will save you time later (make meetings reoccurring, plan out a rotating set of 1:1 questions for your directs or your manager, train others on difficult tasks, write documentation, etc).

Doing this prep work before going hard after that promotion will give you an edge both in getting the promotion and when you start this process all over at the next level.

Engineering Leader