Inside Out

Dropping the ladder

A ladder stands for two things. A template of steps that can lead the climber to a goal. And it imparts a promise of growth on the journey. Every next step is ought to lead us to the better. E.g., next level in a career ladder in a corporate may imply more expertise.

What are the caveats?

Sometimes the templated path may make us forget the bigger picture. We get lost in the steps. We never question the template. What if there is something better than the average set steps? Does growing from “a Software Developer to a Senior and further to Staff” the only path? Why not consider the Manager-IC pendulum1?

Expertise signalled by the steps in a ladder are subjective and noisy. Our movement across steps is not controlled by us. E.g., for the software career, there are a handful of factors including the budget, scope in a team and so on. Individual skills does matter but is not the whole truth. Compare this to another ladder - how does an athlete measure their growth?

How do we deal with expertise and template?

First, we must control the factors and the metrics that define progress. E.g., the athlete may rigorously measure themselves against their past performance. This doesn’t give way to subjectivity, and no scope for excuses either. Expertise is a function of self. E.g., we ask, are we a Senior developer now, irrespective of the external economic conditions, or the budget constraints in a team?

Similarly, can we define a larger template that encompasses the smaller career ladder within? E.g., on a forty year career, career ladder at company X takes us through the first N steps; maybe the next M steps follow something else. In other words, instead of letting the career ladder at company X dictate your next step, let’s ask what does the role at company X give us? How far does it take us in our global ladder. E.g., why wait for the Senior role at X if we already believe we have learned enough for the next step in our ladder?

What do you think?