The Fastest Way to Get Promoted as an Engineer

The Fastest Way to Get Promoted as an Engineer

We all want to live up to our potential, grow in our career, and do the best work of our lives. Getting promoted at work not only proves that we have advanced our skills but also shows that the hard work we put in is being recognized and appreciated.

As I was going through my bi-annual performance review with my manager, I learned that I missed that one thing that could have helped me grow faster and led to a promotion.

The fastest way to get promoted at work — act as if you have already been promoted. If you want to be promoted to be a level 6 engineer, start to think and act like a level 6 engineer. If you want to become a tech lead, start to think and act like as if you are already a tech lead.

Observe the types of work engineers at the next level do that are different than yours, and start looking for opportunities to take on those work. Ask your manager about the expectations for the next level, and start to work on meeting those expectations. You can even work out a reasonable target date for your promotion with your manager and plan backward from that date.

Here is my story. In the past six months, my responsibility at work grew a lot and my role changed gradually. Before, I was a pure individual contributor. My main focus at work was to read, write and talk about code. In the last six months, I acquired new responsibilities, such as leading projects, facilitating technical discussions, leading cross-team collaborations, and onboarding new team members. While these new responsibilities provided a tremendous amount of growth opportunities, I was one step behind in recognizing the changes in my role and the new expectations from my team.

For example, one feedback I received was that while facilitating technical discussions, I should make sure we stay on topic and don’t get lost in details. My first reaction when I heard the feedback was that I didn’t even realize I was the facilitator for the discussion. I thought I was just a participant providing technical expertise.

Another feedback I got was to focus more on the big picture and overall timeline of a project instead of only the part that’s right in front of me. The feedback makes sense. After all, a major responsibility for a tech lead is to monitor projects’ progress and communicate them timely to external stakeholders. But in my mind, I was still thinking of myself as an individual contributor. Even though I knew I was leading the project, I was late to recognize all these new expectations and responsibilities.

In other words, I was acting like an engineer at my current level, instead of a tech lead, the next level I wanted to grow into.

This way of thinking — acting like you are one step ahead of yourself, or “fake it till you make it”, is applicable to many other things besides getting promotions. Many self-taught developers told me they weren’t sure if they had learned enough to be a professional developer. My answer always is acting like you are ready and apply for jobs is the only way to find out.

This is a simple but powerful mental shift. I will start applying it at work and blog about how it goes.

My career plan of the year is to grow into a tech lead. I’m excited about all the learnings ahead and would love to share this journey with you in a brutally honest fashion. I will be sharing my weekly learnings here.

In the next few months, I will focus on growing in the following areas so you can expect to see learnings related to them:

  • focusing on the big picture of the project instead of near-term implementation details;
  • balancing my efforts between leading projects and coding;
  • work-life balance for long-term productivity;
  • the human side of software development: making sure everyone riding with me enjoys the ride and feels fulfilling and growing.

I hope you will join my ride and I will see you next week in your email inbox. 🙂

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PS: My coworker, Noa, also has a great piece of advice on this subject: “If you’re interested in a career transition, tell people about it.” Let your manager know, so he or she can look for opportunities for you. Let your peers know, so they can provide constructive feedback.

4 Comments The Fastest Way to Get Promoted as an Engineer

  1. matt

    Be careful with acting like what you want to grow into. You could find yourself in the position of getting the responsibility without the authority or the compensation (salary, benefits). From the org’s perspective, why promote and cost them more if you’re already doing much of the job? I’ve watched this happen to several people, including me. They/we get stuck and unhappy.

    I still agree with the principle. Building skills by acting like who we want to be when we grow up was true at age 5 and is still true at every ‘5 after. Just pay attention for when it’s time to to stop acting and do it for real. You might have to leave home to make it happen.

  2. Mohcin


    I liked your posts, and I was thinking to start new series to write down my journey to fix a lot of things as an software engineer, and your blog posts encouraged me to did it. Thank you!

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