Mektup #12: Stairway to the Promotion

Hey friend,

Every second week, I write Mektup to share what I learned from reading many articles and books about software engineering leadership. Mektup is ideal for busy people such as engineering managers, team leads, senior & staff software engineers.

Now, on to this week's Mektup.


I talked about career frameworks, uncertainty, and ego in the previous Mektup. When all these come together, it would be awkward if we don't mention promotions.

In its heart, promotions require hard work, pride, humility, correct timing, and the right opportunity.

I'm sure you are hardworking and putting a lot of energy into solving problems while growing yourself and others around you. These are the first steps to promotion. Without these, the other efforts have no validity. But the next step is asking for a promotion.

Have you ever asked for it?

I come across many people who are afraid to ask for it, especially people from under-represented groups. I once had a discussion with a friend, and she said that she never asked for a raise or promotion and never negotiated what's offered to her. It still blows my mind!

It's good to be humble, but there is no need to be a pushover. Learning to take pride and humbly saying, "I did this, that, and I want this promotion." when necessary is one of the must-have skills for promotion.

When pride is used correctly, it helps tremendously. If used wrong, it becomes detrimental. There are helpful tools that can be used to keep pride in balance. The brag document is my go-to tool to pour out my holier-than-thou pride. I constantly write to it and use it in performance reviews. In the end, it gives a voice.

As loud as you say, "here are the things I've done, I deserve this promotion," the correct timing is the decisive factor. There might not be an available position, or internal promotions can be put on pause. If you ask for a promotion, you might get a "No," simply because there is no available seat. Talk with your manager and other people at upper levels to understand the environment.

Sometimes you get a "No" while there are positions available, and you think you are ready for the next step in your career. But many people are usually blind to the next level's requirements. Without fulfilling the requirements, it's probable to get rejected, especially if you ask for the first time. You need to build yourself and everyone around you.

When you are offered a role, you need to think and decide if it's for you or not. When all your friends, family, and parts of your inner-self say take the offer, you need to stop and say no, if your heart is not aligned. Many people are in the wrong positions because they didn't want to pass a chance and thought they wouldn't get another shot. However, there is an ocean of opportunities. Catching a fish in the sea doesn't guarantee that eating that fish will benefit your health. Be careful not to take a bite from a poisonous one.

You asked for it but didn't get anything. What now?

When you don't get a promotion because people think that you are not ready yet, be humble. Promotions are rarely given to the people who only want to go to the next level; they are usually given to those already operating there. Look for opportunities to learn and gain experience first. Find opportunities that you can learn from and ask your manager to help you get a chance.

Meanwhile, of course, you will have competitors. When someone else gets the promotion instead of you, you'll be angry and frustrated. However, there has to be a reason why the other person is promoted, not you. Businesses don't give promotion as a favor, look for what you lack. Don't compare yourself with the other person; compare yourself with yourself.

As Simon Sinek says,

“When you compete against everyone else, no one wants to help you. But when you compete against yourself, everyone wants to help you.”

Compete with yourself.

There are situations where everyone thinks you're ready, you show what you have done, and they promise a promotion, but nothing happens. If no one keeps promises, and they hold you in wait, put a timeframe and tell this to your boss. Be explicit. Create pressure. Sometimes this confrontation and transparency are necessary.

Although many people say getting a promotion via changing jobs is difficult, various companies are ready to onboard you. Though getting a title via internal promotion will be easier, it's still possible if you already have the experience from the next level.

Promotions are tricky, sensitive, and complicated situations. If you are looking to get one, you now know a few elements involved. These should give an idea about what you can focus on while navigating this complex situation.

Social dynamics are the bones of every promotion—the people who will give you the promotion need to trust you. The absence of trust beats all of the above. Create trust to be able to look for a promotion. I hope you'll get what you want in the end.

Until next time, take care.

@candosten

P.S. Totally unrelated news, I got officially promoted for the first time in my life.

What I Published Over Last Two Weeks

I published one podcast episode, one book notes and review and three articles.

🎙New Podcast Episode: #20: Designing Software Architecture | Systems and Architectural Thinking - 2

📑 Turn The Ship Around! Book Summary, Review, and Notes

🔖 How to Approach Software Architecture Design

🔖 The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of Career Ladders

🔖 Put Remote Work in Your Inclusion Efforts, not only in Diversity

End Note

As always, if you are enjoying Mektup, I would love it if you shared it with one or two of your friends. You can send them directly here to sign up. They will get this issue as a gift when they sign up. I try to make Mektup one of the best and actionable emails that you get to grow your software engineering and leadership career.

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Aug 24, 2021
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