The Promotion You Don’t Want To Take – Built In Austin

Of course, a promotion is a good thing! It’s an idea ingrained in the fabric of our country: Vertical ascension is a formal acknowledgement of your success. And who doesn’t want to be successful? 
But promotions aren’t always what they’re cracked up to be. Say you’re an experienced technician who excels at designing security structures and performing vulnerability assessments. Would a new job that steers you away from your passions really be an upgrade?
“There have been many points in my career when I thought I couldn’t progress without shifting to a management role, but I knew early on that the management route wasn’t for me,” said Steve Goldschmidt, a global platform security architect at software company Box.
Though frequently framed as a positive, Goldschmidt identified management as a path that would ultimately prove less fulfilling. While it seems counterintuitive to deny yourself the spoils of career advancement, finding satisfaction in your current role may be a luxury worth keeping. 
“The industry thinks that in order to influence, solve problems and be effective, you have to take on the role of a leader, but this is false,” Goldschmidt said. “It is not and should never be a question of individual contributor versus leader. It should be what you love to do and have a passion for doing.”
As Built In Austin learned through conversations with three local tech professionals, giving up the pursuit of a coveted promotion doesn’t mean you won’t have a successful professional existence. By focusing on the work itself and the opportunities within your discipline, you will have a more satisfying, interesting and enjoyable career.
 
 
Tell us a bit about your career journey thus far. 
My engineering mindset started in middle school, when my dad brought home the family’s first 80286 microprocessor running MS-DOS. From that moment, I was hooked on trying to figure out how these systems could help me. My professional career started in the mid-’90s. I started by designing, building, solving problems for and supporting many different technology domains and roles, such as end-user support of both individual and corporate environments as a systems administrator; keeping systems connected and running as a networking engineer; and serving as a systems administrator for client-server systems with technology such as Novell, Linux and Windows. A few years later, as technology was still evolving and businesses started to depend more on it, I decided to shift my focus from operations engineering to security analysis and engineering. I wanted to solve problems such as how to detect abuse and determine solutions that would put the organization into a proactive, preventative state, rather than reactive. In the security world, my roles were security analyst, security engineer and my current role at Box as security architect.
 
Management isn’t for everyone, but many engineers feel it can be difficult to progress in their career without making the jump. What steps have you taken to keep pushing your career forward?
I enjoy what I do way too much to shift from being an individual contributor, an influencer, a problem-solver and an engineer to a leader. I still get asked by managers, “Do you want the opportunity to lead a team?” and “Why don’t you want to become a people leader?” The answer is no because I love what I do, and in order to ensure I can be effective in my role, I need to partner with leaders so that we are all doing what is right for the organization. As a staff engineer, I still lead people, influence and solve problems, but I do it in a way that doesn’t require me to actually manage individuals.
I enjoy what I do way too much to shift from being an individual contributor to a leader.”
 
What types of growth opportunities exist at your company for software developers who want to remain in an individual contributor role? 
There are a few things I do to keep pushing my career forward. First, observe what the industry is looking for in an engineer. Business requirements are shifting and evolving quickly. No one would’ve thought we’d be primarily working from home a few years ago. I see this as a benefit to engineers to build better partnerships with leaders that allow us to focus on what we each do best. Secondly, I look to see if the organization has a clear career path for engineers. Personally, I want to get to the level of a distinguished engineer. Does the organization have a well-defined roadmap to help me get to this level? I try to determine if they rely on leaders to perform functions of both engineers and leaders, or whether they have their leaders partner with engineers. Finally, I continue learning. Technology is always evolving. As an engineer, I have to understand the problem statement and figure out the best path to solve the problem in front of me. Then I can bring all of the knowledge I’ve gathered and partner with leaders to ensure we are doing what is right for the organization.
 
 
 
Tell us a bit about your career journey thus far. 
I have held many roles in my 30-year software engineering career: individual contributor, technical lead, manager, product architect and chief engineer. I even did a three-year stint as a field application engineer, just to learn customer support firsthand. I learned a lot in my many roles over the years. I learned that I may get good at doing many things, but I may not enjoy doing everything equally.
I may get good at doing many things, but I may not enjoy doing everything equally.”
 
Management isn’t for everyone, but many engineers feel it can be difficult to progress in their career without making the jump. What steps have you taken to keep pushing your career forward?
When engineers get good at what we do and get promoted to managers, sometimes we find ourselves no longer doing what we love. I have been there. It is critical to understand what things are most important to you. I enjoy problem-solving. I enjoy coding to solve a difficult problem from scratch, testing and debugging, optimizing the code to run quickly, and refactoring it to make it simpler and more elegant. I enjoy seeing our product in use and knowing that my code directly contributed to the success of our product. The sense of joy, purpose and pride that I get from doing this is incomparable. I hope my contributions are valued by my company enough that I can be recognized and promoted without having to become a manager. So far, that has worked out well at Mythic. Of course, being promoted on a technical track also comes with an expanded scope of responsibilities: architecture design and reviews, coaching, and advising senior management on technical issues. I find that a healthy curiosity and restlessness helps. I keep looking for the next challenges to tackle and bigger problems to solve. This has propelled my career forward.
 
What types of growth opportunities exist at your company for software developers who want to remain in an individual contributor role? 
What attracted me to our company is that it is a small startup in the field of machine learning with an exciting technology approach. I get to solve interesting problems, writing software that will help deliver our technology to the marketplace and push the boundaries of machine learning. Working for a small startup also means I get to collaborate with a team of motivated engineers with similar passions. What we do every day shows up directly in the next customer demo and gets released in a few months — not years. I do what I love, and love what I do. That’s good enough for me.
 
 
 
Tell us a bit about your career journey thus far. 
My first full-time job as a software developer was at a 50-person company that sold exploration and mapping software for the oil industry. I have worked for nine other companies since then, some startups and some large corporations. I have been a senior-level software developer for most of that time.  
My first several jobs were mostly at companies that sold software. When I graduated with my computer science degree, I knew a fair amount about coding, but very little about other aspects of the software business, like sales, support and maintenance. I didn’t know much about effective technical writing, either. Knowing those things didn’t necessarily make me a better coder, but they made me more valuable as a part of the company. 
Later, I decided to work for companies that used their own software as part of their business. Everything I knew before was still relevant, but now it was also important to know about automated testing, reliable deployments and monitoring. There’s always something new to learn.
There’s always something new to learn.”
 
Management isn’t for everyone, but many engineers feel it can be difficult to progress in their career without making the jump. What steps have you taken to keep pushing your career forward?
I feel lucky to be a software developer at Acrisure: The compensation is better than for most other professions, the schedule and work environment are flexible, I get to work with smart people, and I can work on interesting problems. I don’t care about advancing up a career ladder. That doesn’t mean I want to coast, though, either. It’s still important for me to work on challenging projects that have significant impact on the business.  
At most of my jobs, when I wanted more responsibility or more challenging projects, all I had to do was ask. It wasn’t a difficult conversation. There are always difficult problems to solve.  Sometimes they were technically challenging, and other times they required good people skills or organizational skills. Sometimes they required all of those things. I’ve found almost any problem can be interesting and rewarding if you are curious and open-minded.
 

What types of growth opportunities exist at your company for software developers who want to remain in an individual contributor role? 
One way to grow is to learn about how whatever you are working on relates to the rest of the business, such as how people use your software or how it relates to other systems. If you are deliberate and intentional about identifying problems and fixing them, you will grow.   
Our parent company is the aggregation of hundreds of insurance agencies and other financial institutions. ATG’s goal is to make that aggregation much more than the sum of its parts through the effective use of data and technology. Making that happen will mean solving all kinds of challenging technical problems. What you will learn helping to solve those problems will make you more valuable to ATG or to whoever you work for later in your career.
 
 

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