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Archive for the ‘Career Development’ Category

Technical Leadership: The Technologist

Posted by Sri Subramanian (@whosissri) on August 4, 2011

In Technical Leadership – An Introduction, I talk about how growth is associated with doing different things, and not necessarily doing more. The first change is the transformation into an independent problem solver. The second and third changes are about understanding keizen (改善). The final transition into a technologist involves:

  • Looking beyond what the customer asks for, to what the customer is trying to achieve. Maybe, the customer asked for a stain remover for ink that leaks from their ink pen onto their shirt pocket. Maybe, we give them a ball point pen that does not leak ink.
  • Understanding what the customer doesn’t know she wants, and providing it. This almost always leads to disruptive technology, and new markets. Almost all established markets started this way, including personal computers, light bulbs, cars, fridges, microwaves, telephones, televisions, social networks, search engines, and so on. Before these existed, we did not know we needed a car, a telephone, or a search engine.

Being a technologist is not just about pushing the envelop of technology, but also about identifying a real problems that can be solved through innovative use of these technological advancements. Post-it was invented by two peopleone who happened to invent a glue that does not stick, and one who found the killer use for it. Both of them are scientists, but it is the latter’s skill that is not easily learned by going to school.The two previous transitions taught us to identify real problems, and then solve them, which is what makes those transitions crucial on the path to this coming of age as a technologist.

Thanks for reading my posts on this topic. I am overwhelmed by the responses I got, privately and in the posts!

The full series of blogs on Technical Leadership:

Technical Leadership – An Introduction

Technical Leadership – The First Transition

Technical Leadership – The Leadership Transition

Technical Leadership – Impacting The Customer Experience

Technical Leadership – The Technologist

Posted in Career Development, Uncategorized | Tagged: | 5 Comments »

Technical Leadership – Impacting The Customer Experience

Posted by Sri Subramanian (@whosissri) on July 16, 2011

In Technical Leadership – An Introduction, I talk about how growth is associated with doing different things, and not necessarily doing more. The first change is the transformation into an independent problem solver. The second change involves learning to focus on how rather than what  we do. The next transitions are all about expanding one’s circles of impact. This post is about growing to make a positive impact on the overall customer experience.

Improved customer experience could be a reduction in support calls; it could be reducing turnaround on support calls, say by reduction in escalation rates; it could be helping sell to a key account by figuring out ways to stretch the product to meet their needs; it could be understanding a customer requirement, and helping the development team design an enhancement to the product; it could be improving testability to ensure better release cadence; it could be many other things.

This transition involves a shift in one’s focus. We are no longer just eliminating our pain. We now understand how our actions affect the overall customer experience. We then try to eliminate their pain.

There are three things that directly affect our ability to make this transition.

  • Networking: It is important that we expand our circle of impact to other functional groups. The more people we impact, the more access we have to information that opens opportunities for us to make a bigger impact. It is a positive feedback cycle that builds upon itself. It also requires a lot of time, work, initiative, and genuine empathy. Don’t pack your day with todo tasks, and expect to achieve this just by ‘meaning well’. We may luck out a few times, but without doing this deliberately, we will eventually hit a ceiling.
  • Mentoring: As Meg rightly points out,  mentoring and growing others is important in every transition. It is crucial to this transition. Failure to do this will forever cast us as the expert in whatever pain relief we brought in the past. Every time there is a similar pain, management will reach out to us, leaving no bandwidth for us to make the next transition. We will get ample kudos, but no time to network, and no growth. If  you are in a growing business, expect that there will be more to do each day, and you may need more than one successor.
  • Win the team:  Often, we forget the very key role our peers play in our successes. It is key that they look to us for a solution for whatever problem we are trying to solve. We can never know everything, and will need their support. No matter how clearly management makes anything our charter, if the team does not buy it, they won’t support it, and we will fail. On the other hand, the team will readily share and collaborate if they know, trust, and respect us.  This is generally not so much an issue for someone who has grown through the ranks, and made the leadership transition in the current team. However, this is important for someone hired to specifically make impact at this level. A newbie is an outsider, not trusted fully, and certainly not considered a leader. It is important for the newbie to first win the respect of the team. It is really hard to do this without stepping on landmines, and this is the reason that new leaders, who have been very successful in their previous job, often fail in their new job.

Hope you find this series useful. Look forward to your comments, and stay tuned for the next in the series.


The full series of blogs on Technical Leadership:

Technical Leadership – An Introduction

Technical Leadership – The First Transition

Technical Leadership – The Leadership Transition

Technical Leadership – Impacting The Customer Experience

Technical Leadership – The Technologist

Posted in Career Development, Uncategorized | Tagged: | 4 Comments »

Technical Leadership – The Leadership Transition

Posted by Sri Subramanian (@whosissri) on July 7, 2011

In Technical Leadership – An Introduction, I talk about how growth is associated with doing different things, and not necessarily doing more. The first change is the transformation into an independent problem solver. The next transition, I call the leadership transition

As we negotiate this next transition, we often get vague advice, such as “be a leader”, or “work smarter, not harder” that leave us intimidated, rather than inspired.  In plain words, this next transition is from solving problems to improving how we solve problems. It involves discovering, prioritizing, and mitigating pain points – specifically those encountered by us and our peers. This is when we don’t just do work, but focus on how it is done, and then go on to make it better.

A few of us make this transition just by chance. A few us find good role models and mentors who lead us through this change. Unfortunately, many of us are not so lucky. We either don’t know how to create the opportunity to work at this level, and end up blaming circumstances and lack of opportunity, or worse, we mess it up by trying to do something too big too soon. When we do the latter, we trip over, and get a reputation among peers of talking without knowing. It very much harms our chances of making the transition later on.

So, what is one to do?

A good approach is to start working on small improvements that we know we would want to use ourselves, and do it in stolen time (time spent over weekends, or time gained otherwise). We provide our work to others, but do not require or expect others to uptake. As we observe what resonates well with others, we become aware of pain points that we as a team feel vs. those that we as individuals feel. We then are able to get management buy-in for real time (our own, and sometimes in form of help from others) that can be spent on these activities.

It is also important to continue to work on different types of problems. The pain points can differ depending on the nature of work, and having that 360° view helps us prioritize what we can work on to have the most impact.  Should we, as a team, focus first on more modular code, on that merge tool that will do automatic bug updates, or on that diagnostic tool that will help us get all the information for a customer case in one shot?

As we address their pain points, we gain the respect and trust of our peers. We establish ourselves as leaders. It is very important to measure our success at this stage by the impact we make on our peers (including those in other functional teams like QA and support) – and by that alone. The real consumers for our work are our peers, and if we do not make a difference that can be felt by them, we are not adding real value. Moreover, their trust and support is key to the next transitions. Stay tuned for more on that.

The full series of blogs on Technical Leadership:

Technical Leadership – An Introduction

Technical Leadership – The First Transition

Technical Leadership – The Leadership Transition

Technical Leadership – Impacting The Customer Experience

Technical Leadership – The Technologist

Posted in Career Development, Uncategorized | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

Technical Leadership – The First Transition

Posted by Sri Subramanian (@whosissri) on July 2, 2011

In Technical Leadership – An Introduction, I claim that real growth involves changing what we do. This post is about the first change.

We join the workforce as interns or college recruits with limited work experience. We are eager to learn, and to work hard, but need to be told exactly what to do, and, at some level, how to do it. Oh, we are expected to have some basic skills, and even some self learning skills. However, we do need a lot of guidance. We need training programs, pointers to documents and books, and someone overseeing the results of our work.

The first transition is from ability to work on well defined, simple problems with help to solving loosely defined, complex problems with more independence.

The most common error as we make this transition is not knowing when to ask for help, and when not to. We know that in order to make this transition, we must first show that we can address the current well defined problems with little outside help. In an effort to show this, we end up not asking for help at all. The result is that we sometimes take inordinately long time to do what could have been done very simply. When this happens growth opportunities come slower.

On the other hand, asking for help for everything, can leave our colleagues frustrated, and become career limiting.

So, what is one to do?

A good approach is to take every opportunity to succinctly talk about what we are doing – at the manager staff meeting, at the water cooler, at lunch with friends and colleagues. By sharing what we are trying to figure out, and how we are approaching the problem, we give our colleagues the opportunity to give us those pointers – to docs, training, and other resources – that can help us achieve our goals faster, and demonstrate growth potential.

Often, developers associate this transition with going from bug fixing to writing features. It is not. A simple, well defined problem may be a bug, but it is a certain type of bug. [A hello world (or such) program is also a well defined, simple problem – though of little use to a typical workplace.] Working on a race condition bug, on the other hand, is a loosely defined, complex problem that is worthy of a senior developer who has successfully made this transition. In fact, the most complex issues are often issues with code already written and in use by customers. The live customers add some very interesting complexity to any problem 🙂

In order to make the next transformation, one needs to work on different types of loosely defined and complex problems – difficult bugs, customer escalations, feature development, tool development, etc. – but that is a topic for the next post 🙂

The full series of blogs on Technical Leadership:

Technical Leadership – An Introduction

Technical Leadership – The First Transition

Technical Leadership – The Leadership Transition

Technical Leadership – Impacting The Customer Experience

Technical Leadership – The Technologist

Posted in Career Development, competency | Tagged: | 6 Comments »

Technical Leadership – An Introduction

Posted by Sri Subramanian (@whosissri) on June 25, 2011

As Justin points out, it is performance review time. It is time to take stock, and to use this conversation as an opportunity to steer the ship. Unfortunately, often, we don’t know the destinations (what does it mean to be a leader at the next level), and if we know the destination, we don’t know the path (how do I get those opportunities to hone the skills I don’t have, and prove the ones I do). This is particularly difficult for those of us who pursue the technical ladder, since most leadership books, seminars, classes, and other learning opportunities focus on the management-type.

The tricky part of about leadership transitions is that to be a bigger leader, we don’t need to do more and better. We sometimes need to do stop doing what we have been successfully doing, and do different things altogether. This is particularly confusing since:

  • No one tells us this.
  • Most companies have more salary grades and titles than there are palpable leadership transitions. This leads to confusion as to whether the next promotion requires a real transition or not.
  • Most companies, due to a combination of unintended errors, end up with people of all leadership levels at all grades. More confusion ensues, as we compare ourselves to so called leaders at the next level, and wonder why that promotion does not come our way.

Stay tuned for a series of posts about the different transitions in the technical ladder, and some of the challenges involved in each of these transitions.

Technical Leadership – An Introduction

Technical Leadership – The First Transition

Technical Leadership – The Leadership Transition

Technical Leadership – Impacting The Customer Experience

Technical Leadership – The Technologist


  • I am a software engineer by training, and have worked in the software industry all this time. As you read on, you may notice this bias. I do, however, believe that what I outline translates well into other highly technical industries – pharmaceutical, semiconductor, automobile engineering, and such. I am very interested in hearing from leaders both in my and other industries on their thoughts.
  • My sincere thanks to Charan, Drotter, and Noel. This guide is clearly fashioned after the management leadership transitions, outlined in their book Leadership Pipeline. I am sure I have subconsciously picked ideas from many others. If you notice parallels, please just leave a comment, to draw attention to it.

Posted in Career Development | Tagged: | 5 Comments »

Where are you going?

Posted by Sri Subramanian (@whosissri) on June 17, 2011

It is performance review time, and you are asked to write a self evaluation. What a complete waste of time, you think. Your manager knows what you have done, or should know, anyway. In any case, nothing you write is going to change the fact that there is probably no bonus this year. You are pretty sure she’s already made up her mind about your rating too – not that it matters, given the bonus situation. You tell yourself that she just wants you to write stuff that she can cut and paste into her evaluation.

I have heard a hundred variations of the above.  There are hints of truth in there, but it entirely misses out the point of a self evaluation. It misses the point that we OWN our career, and our successes. We depend on others in many ways, but ultimately we own it.

Think of how a grade school home work assignment is different from an assignment at work. At work, we own, but we do not control every aspect of our assignment. So, we learn “soft skills” like communication, collaboration, conflict resolution, prioritization, alignment, and such, to navigate the dependencies, and be successful.

Similarly, we own our careers. However, we don’t control opportunities, openings, job markets, etc. Periodic self evaluation, 1:1s, goal setting, are some of the tools that we can use to be successful in charting the course of our careers.

Next time, try approaching your self evaluation, not as a chore, but as a means to measure how far you have come, where you are heading, and where the winds have been taking you. Next time, do your self evaluation, not as a favor to your manager, but as something you would do just for yourself, like a spa treatment.  See  if it makes you feel differently – not about the process of self evaluation – but about where you are going, and where you want to go.

[Photo by: passlotte]

Posted in Career Development, performance | 7 Comments »

Did you build a Personal Brand to advance your career goals ?

Posted by Ravi Banda on September 14, 2010

Going to school on a Sunday morning didn’t sound like a good plan but the seminar on “Personal Branding” as part of Leadership Development series at UC Berkeley was very intriguing so I finally decided to go. I wasn’t disappointed as the speaker William Arruda gave a bunch of good tips on building a personal brand and using it to achieve our career goals.

Recently, the topic of “personal branding” is inviting lot of debate as some are taking a fanatical approach to it and on the other side we have people completely discounting it as another fad. I believe that there is a middle ground that we need to work towards and when rightly used – our personal brand can help us grow in our career as well as open up new opportunities.

I wanted to share the tips (again credit to William) that I gained from this seminar.

Stand out

    Peer comparison is something that cannot be avoided in an organization and as we grow up further in our career the competition gets intense so it’s important to distinguish ourselves and show or bring that additional value to our organization. I can give few examples that I am following in my work activity – “proactive in communication rather than reactive”, “build networks outside the organization and leverage the network to get things done“, “speak up more”, “contribute to strategic goals rather than just being in an project execution role”. You need to take a close look at the things that you can do to provide additional value to the organization and then work on it.

    Be your own boss

    This is taking your career management into your own hands as Meg said in “Are you fully utilizing your potential?”

    Forget the ladder

    We see the career progression as a ladder where we move up one step at a time and at the moment of taking the next step we get into a frenzy of activity like activating our professional network, brushing up our resume / skills and pulling in recommendations etc. Once we move up to the next step – we kind of settle into ease till we start the process all over again.

    So, instead of treating the career progression as a ladder, let’s look it as a “ramp” – so that we are continuously engaged in activities that are geared towards our career progression. The projects we are involved in, the new connections we build – let’s look at them as helping us to move forward in our career and at the same time let’s not forget – we also have to “GIVE” back to our network and help our network achieve their own career goals as well.

    Build your brand

    This is a 3-step process – Extract, Express and Exude.

    1) Extract – this step involves looking at your career goals, values, passions and see if we can align them. We can use Strengths Finder test to know our strengths and then do a 360 Feedback to really know the kind of image we are projecting and whether they are matching with our strengths. If they don’t match – we need to work on addressing them.

    2) Express – Evaluate our communication skills and focus on the strengths as well as areas of improvement and communicate them to the people that we interact with. Key thing is that when we are expressing our strengths / values, they  should be CLEAR, CONSISTENT and CONSTANT

    3) Exude – this involves creating an environment which represents our brand and this can be your communication, actions, one’s appearance, online profiles, blogs, newsletters and even simple stationary items.

    I have definitely started to take the steps towards building my brand and use it for achieving my career goals and blogging is definitely one part of the plan 🙂

    I will appreciate if you have anything to share on how you are building your personal brand and how that’s contributing to your career !!

    Posted in Career Development, goals | Tagged: , , , , , | 8 Comments »

    Have you done your performance review yet?

    Posted by Justin Field on June 21, 2010

    Well, folks, we are in the midst of our annual performance review season.  You won’t guess the Number 1 question I get asked (well, maybe you’re smart and you will guess it):  why should I do a performance appraisal?  What’s in it for me?

    Sadly, most people take a selfish and purely financial view of the corporate world.  If the performance review doesn’t result an any salary increment, then why do it?  What’s the point?  And that is one possible view of the world.  To those people, I ask:  aren’t you interested in getting any feedback about how well you’ve done over the past year?  Don’t you want to know if you’ve done anything badly?  Or something that you could learn to do better in the year ahead? 

    Don’t you want to grow your own skills and competencies?  Or would you rather just sit, like a lump of coal, and do nothing with your career and with your life. 

    Since you’re spending at least 40 hours a week at work, and perhaps significantly more, wouldn’t you want to be happy and motivated and fulfilled and flooded with energy every morning as you wake up?  Or would you rather sit around and moan about your manager and your co-workers and let the world wash over you? 

    Now, some folks might like to let the world wash over them.  They’re not interested in feedback.  They’re not interested in developing themselves and their careers.  And I say:  good luck to them.  Because it’s pure luck that they have managed to keep their jobs during the GFC and it’s pure luck that their manager still thinks that the employee should stay on.  In fact, what do those employees know anyway?  They’ve never bothered to wonder; they’ve never bothered to ask.

    So, look around you, take stock of your world, and get stuck into your performance review.  Don’t make it tedious and boring — make it your chance to shine and your chance to get some realistic feedback about where you are and where you want to go.  Put lots of detailed, specific evidence in about your achievements during the year (you’ve saved all those laudatory emails, remember?).  And ask your manager about how you can go further and take it to the next level.  I bet they’ll be happy that you’ve shown the interest, that you want to be successful and that you want the best for yourself and your career.

    Posted in Career Development, development, engagement, performance | Tagged: , , | 5 Comments »

    We Shouldn’t Promote People Based on Merit

    Posted by Alex Drexel on December 23, 2009

    Researchers have recently done some modeling around various approaches to determining promotions – they have discovered that randomly promoting people v.s. those who perform well in their current jobs results in a more effective organization.  They say this is due to the Peter Principal, where people who add considerable value in the organization are promoted out of the jobs they excel at and into those they can’t handle – performance in their previous job wasn’t a good predictor for performance at the next level.

    So I’m ready to put my employee number in a hat, how about you?

    All kidding aside, I think this preferable state of randomness reveals an opportunity for software vendors – the challenge is to dig deeper into HRMS data so that true indicators for future performance can be established and surfaced when the time comes to decide who should move up.

    You can check out the NYT article here:


    Posted in Career Development, development, Job Fit, succession planning | 4 Comments »

    Making more Top Talent with better job fit

    Posted by Meg Bear on October 16, 2009

    TRAs a Maximizer theme the concept of Top Talent is an especially personal one.   In fact, I have managed to get a team of directs that are all Achievers, which was something I knew about them, before I even knew there was such a theme.

    When I think about using a Talent solution to get business value, I have to know what business leaders want.  What keeps a business leader up at night? Is it wondering if their team will meet their Performance bell curve?  Or if they will be using a 3 or 5 point rating scale?  I’m guessing not.  In fact the entire performance process is a means to an end, to a business person (or conversely a PITA but I’d rather not cover that part in this blog).

    What a business leader wants is to be successful.  Successful in their business, seen as capable to their leadership and exceeding on their objectives.  For business leaders to scale they need teams who are able to deliver for them.  Here is where we get back to top talent and job fit.

    When people are doing the job that is best suited to their strengths, they become top talent.  Making that connection between individual motivation and job role is not just a touchy-feely ideal, it’s smart business.

    The better I can position people to do what they do best, the more they do for me. The more they do for me, the more I can do for my boss and my organization.  So, to me as a business leader, the more top talent I have the more successful I am.

    So what I want from a talent solution, is to help me get people aligned into job roles based upon their strengths.  When I can do this, I get all the goodness from the rest of the talent strategies.  Goal alignment and attainment become easy,  engagement improves and overall output  is optimized.

    To make all this work for me, I need more data.  I need data that I have never captured before.  Not just your competencies but your strengths.  Not just your career plan, but your motivations.  The more rich data I have, the better job I can do getting people to become top talent.

    So now we are back to systems and scale.  Systems today have a better ability to gather and make use of data.  With the rise of social software, and a heightened awareness of the importance of a personal brand, people are volunteering more data than ever before.

    These are exciting times for those of us who are allowed to find unique opportunities between technology and business. For awhile now I’ve been anticipating a shift in what defines a talent solution.  Initially I thought it was just my own personal boredom with having done this for so long, but now I realize that what I have really been doing is a lot of thin slicing to get to the most obvious of “a ha” conclusions.

    The job of a talent solution is not really to measure talent.  The goal of a talent solution is to use the measurement of talent to drive better business results.  If you are just doing the former and not getting the latter you are missing out.  It’s time to think bigger about what can and should be possible with technology.

    Are you doing that today?  Is that your talent strategy?  If not why not?  What is your plan?  Hit me with the comments and give me your ideas, I promise to use them for your benefit.

    Posted in Career Development, engagement, Innovation, Job Fit, leadership, performance, profiles, social network, talent review, top talent, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , | 9 Comments »