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A Sure Fire Way To Get Promoted

date: Thu Jul 6 09:12:24 PM CEST 2023


Look this is going to sound like all that garbage you see in the Self-Help isle of the book store. Some greasy, pontificating, know-it-all that should be akin to the world’s richest person but instead decided to share their win-at-the-game-of-life secret in a 300-page self-help book. [1] And in some ways, this is that. I am not at the top of my field. But I aim to be. And this is the advice I got that I think might help get me there. Plus an example from the life of Kelsey Hightower.

Solve Problems

At the end of one of my most recent skip-levels (a meeting with my manager’s manager) I asked:

“What’s the most sure-fire way to get promoted?”

And he answered: “Solve problems.”

He went on to provide some context:

“Either find a problem that nobody knows about or a pain point and fix it, or identify something that nobody has tackled and fix it.”

And that’s where his advice ended perhaps he thought just getting me to the next step to say team-lead would be enough.

But then I got to thinking about it some more.

What Are Some Of The Problems My Team Or Other Companies Face?

Notice that a lot of the above have to do with efficiency. Engineers are expensive. Time saved is money earned.

So I got to thinking that that does make a ton of sense. It has a lot of knock-on effects, too!

  1. One recieves a reputation of being able to solve hard tasks
  2. That in turn leads to being seen as dependable
  3. Like a large body in space with gravitational pull this reputation brings additional responsibility
  4. With new responsibility comes more compensation, chances to take risks, learn, grow, etc.
Now Scale This

Okay, so if I can solve problems within my team and that leads to say a team-lead promotion then who’s to say that that if I can solve problems for a few teams that I can’t progress higher from there and then if I can solve problems for the entire data group … see where this is going?

I know, I know. This is like those books on happiness and the crux is: be happy. I feel like a bit of a hypocrite in writing this but it just makes a ton of sense.

So Then Why Haven’t You Done This Already?

The hitch is do I have the wherewithal, the strength, the willingness to stretch to do these things to get there? Because I am quite comfy where I am, but that comfort can lull me into a false sense of security and one day I’ll wake up and not be as important to the company as I thought I was and could get let go or laid off.

The Pragmatic Engineer

Gergely Orosz writes a rather cool newsletter The Pragmatic Engineer on things in the tech space. His claim to fame is having worked at some of the big tech household names before. And a few days ago on LinkedIn he posted a photo from one of his paywalled articles. The photo is here:

The Scope v. Influence Diagram

And here it, I think, proves my point. On the x-axis he places “influence”. On the y-axis “scope”.

What’s not said is how ones gains influence, it’s by solving problems – I think anyway.

Kelsey Hightower

Kelsey put it another way. In fact he uses the same wording as Gergely (I am not sure who came up with the idea first but I defer to them), and their word for “solving problems” is “influence”.

In a recent podcast of the The Changelog Kelsey talks about his career. He just announced his retirement from Google.

Kelsey’s Retirement

I first heard of Kelsey Hightower when he pivoted from being big in the Python space into Golang to really dive into this new piece of tech from Google called Kubernetes. Honestly I thought it was crazy but it proved to be something Kelsey had done before with success and he has a really strong ability to see tech for what it is and what it can do. I think that’s what he saw with Kubernetes and it served him well. He’s famous for his Kubernetes The Hard Way Guide.

Okay enough fanboying out… back to the article

Here’s a snippet of the podcast in which Kelsey describes what I am hoping to do in my own career and describe in this post. He calls it increasing his sphere of influence but I think that will come naturally as one solves the problems of others. You know what, these both could be used interchangably: folks will look to you to solve their problems as you prove you can solve them in the first place…

Anyways, his words are better than mine here:

Kelsey Hightower On Influence


I think Kelsey said it best “… and then my whole career took off from that”.

So as to not become one of those self-help-book-authoring creepers I should try do to the same.

[1] Don’t you hate those folks that have these how to become a millionare books and the secret basically boils down to leverage your home to buy a bunch of homes and either flip them or become a landlord? I hate that. A lot. This is not that, not entirely. The only hypocrisy here is that I am not yet at the top of my field or where I want to be.


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