This post was originally published as a story in Plato
I had a senior data engineer that started to become unmotivated and unhappy in his job. I began looking deeper to understand the source of his distress and I came to learn that he felt like he was hitting the perceived ceiling of growth in our company. He was a valuable asset to us, thus, I needed to strategize ways in which he could continue growing with our organization so that he did not feel bored nor like he reached the peak of growth within our company.
First, have a well-defined career ladder. If an individual contributor is making progress and would like to grow, have outlined track options that they may take in order to move up on that ladder.
Next, understand whether the senior engineer would like to stay on the engineering track or if they would like to move to the people management track. This is a simple initial question to ask, yet it might be difficult to answer. Help and guide your engineer to make this decision so that they may find their correct path.
Technical/Engineering Track- Determine whether the senior engineer has someone internally that they can learn from, or are they the source of technical knowledge.
Set up the engineer with a mentor. Find someone from either inside or outside of the company that has technical expertise in their field. There is always somebody out there that is better and knows more. Find that person so that your engineer can learn from them.
Assign an expertise acquiring project.
Get your engineer building. Have them work on an open source project, or better still, and open or closed source project within the company.
Have the engineer solve a problem end-to-end. Give them a problem in your current company, have them propose a solution with documentation, and get them to rally and convince others to spend the resources to fix that problem. It is a new skill for them to learn. They move through a business problem, the whole process from start to finish, articulate it as an engineering problem, and then deliver it back. It is an interesting opportunity that once completed is seen as growth experience.
Have them share their subject matter expertise. What have they learned from their years of experience?
Get them writing. It could be short blog posts- either personal or for the company, or lengthier writings for something in a longer format like a book chapter or contribution. Have them share and reflect on their thoughts and experiences.
Have them give a talk. Public speaking may not be the most comfortable thing, but it can be a rewarding experience. Sign your engineer up for a conference and get them to speak on their expertise.
Management Track: Decide whether the engineer would like to become a manager and if so, is there space to grow in people management within your company? This transition needs to come naturally and directly from the senior engineer. There is a large difference from being on the independent technical edge to managing people. The engineer needs to be sure that people management is the direction that they would like to take because if it is not, if it’s just an experiment for them, it will likely fail.
Remember what was extremely motivating to you as an individual contributor. Bring those experiences to the table and try to offer them to your senior engineers.
How do senior engineers thrive? By being challenged and taking on more technical responsibilities. Allow them to be the subject matter expert in the room and get them involved in the business aspect of the organization.
A senior engineer wishing to become a manager is not only an opportunity for the engineer to grow, but also a possibility to scale up your organization. Expand the scope of the team by promoting from within.
Show your senior engineers their value. There should be a correlation between the feeling of growth and that of accountability, deliverability, ownership, or (possibly) years of tenure in the company. Perhaps it is tied to compensation but more so it should be making sure that your engineer feels successful. If their value is not shown folks will likely get discouraged.