Finding your path forward

A few months ago a friend asked me what kind of skills they should invest in order to be a Senior Developer. I thought that was a common but still interesting question and something that I used to ask myself too.

Throughout my career, I have had the pleasure to work with many awesome developers whom I consider Senior and who were very very different from one another, with different sets of skills and styles. All of them valid.

So you might be wondering, are you here writing yet another article, giving advice about what makes a good Senior Developer? Well... no. Instead, I would like to share some ideas I've been developing over the years to help me decide how to move forward in my career. These ideas have been rambling in my mind and generally, I use them in an intuitive way but I have never tried to structure them, this is my attempt to do so in hopes it helps others.

So you might be wondering, are you here writing yet another article, giving advice about what makes a good Senior Developer? Well... no

The goal of framing these ideas is so you can use them to make your own version of what a good [insert role] means to YOU!

During our careers we will find ourselves multiple times asking similar questions:

  • What skills do I need to become [insert title]?
  • Do I want to continue working on this project or try something new?
  • Should I continue on the individual contributor track or move to the management one?

Hopefully, this framework can help with a different range of questions associated with career development, ultimately the goal is to find out what is most important to you, what aligns with your values, and what makes you happy.

Your Superpower

But first let's talk a bit about superpowers. It has been said before by other people and I agree, that by focusing on what we are already good at, we can become more effective but more importantly feel more fulfilled.

The diagram below might remind you of the Ikagi diagram that talks precisely about this topic; finding your purpose. I created and adapted my own to help me determine what should I do when thinking about any given topic, depending on where it falls, it helps me then to determine how much and how can I invest that time, or even if we should invest anything at all.

  • Your Superpower: This is where I spend most of my time, nurturing the skill by putting it into practice, learning more about it, finding different perspectives, and of course coaching and mentoring others.
  • Learn: There are always new things to learn but I try to be conscious about if I’m spending time on those things because I care and enjoy them or just because I believe I should.
  • Mentor: There might be skills that you have and enjoy but not necessarily care as much as others, of course there’s some level of caring by enjoying something but maybe not at the same level. If you still find joy in doing something you are good at, a nice way to keep sharpening that skill is by teaching it to others.
  • Delegate: You are good at something, and you care about it but might not enjoy it much or at all, items falling in this category are great candidates to find someone on your team that might enjoy this kind of task more than you and ensuring still gets done. For example, I might be good at taking notes, I believe good notes are super important as they are a tool to make sure teams are aligned, an async way to communicate, and a reference for the future, however, I don’t necessarily enjoy doing this task so I try to find support within my team by delegating the task or it is not possible, at least rotating it.

What are your superpowers?

Ok, let’s get to the important part. I decided to structure the exercise into different “self-introspection categories” which are then organized by a series of questions that you will have to answer and in some cases rate. You can change the rate to anything you like, the idea is just to get a sense of how you feel about any given item.

While working through these questions try to be honest and ask yourself whether you are trying to do something because you think you should or because you really want to.

Identify the things you are good at

No matter how small you think it is, write it down, it is important! It can be hard but it helps to train our brain to focus on the positive and gain confidence, sometimes we tend to focus too much on our flaws and that is not very helpful. When you are doubting yourself, look at this list! Keep updating it as you move through your career.

Also, rate yourself on how much you enjoy these things, sometimes we are good at something but we don’t necessarily enjoy or care as much about it. If you notice you don’t care or enjoy something, re-evaluate how much time you really want to invest in it. On the contrary, if it is something that you care about and enjoy a lot then keep nurturing that skill because there you can leverage that potential, some people might call this working on your superpower.

  • What am I good at?
  • From 1 to 10 how much do I enjoy it?
  • From 1 to 10 how much do I care about it?

Identify areas of opportunity

You probably have already identified something that you would like to work on, what is it? But most importantly ask yourself if you care about this and if it would be important to you to invest time in it.

You can also ask the team for feedback to help you with this section.

  • What things I would like to get better at?
  • From 1 to 10 how much do I care about this topic?

Make a list of skills you would like to learn

Again, take some time to reflect on what made you interested in the topic. Is it because you feel you have to? Be curious and really try to get to the root. Sometimes this can reveal a lot about if your time is worth investing in the topic.

After you have learned a bit about the topic, take the time to rate how much you like it and decide if you want to invest more time in it.

  • What things would I like to try?
  • Why do I want to learn about this?
  • After I tried it, from 1 to 10 how much did I like it?

Observe your past and current working history

From your teammates, this can be for any role, it doesn’t have to be the same role as you. Ask yourself: what are the skills you admire from them? What resonates with you about that skill?

Finally, if possible, ask the person if they could mentor or coach you or try to find other options.

  • What skills do I admire from my teammates?
  • What makes this skill important to me or what made me think about this person and this particular skill?
  • Is this something I can ask them for mentoring?
  • What other options do I have to learn this skill if mentoring is not an option?

That’s it! I hope by answering these questions you found a way to move forward.

Photo by aisvri on Unsplash