Advancing your career through organizational mobility

Photo by Jordan Madrid on Unsplash

I wanted to share my experience on an important topic that I have been asked about a few times, organizational mobility for career advancement.

What I mean by organizational mobility, is joining an organization in one role (maybe not your ideal one) with the idea of moving internally to a better role over time. If you are looking to transition to a new role, this can be a viable approach. I am not saying it will work for everyone, but it was my story and one I have seen over and over.

In this post, I’ll share my own experiences over the past 10+ years.


My journey

In mid-2005 I was a developer leading a team at a small software company near San Francisco. I had about 10 years experience. I had wanted to work at Microsoft for a long time and suddenly an opportunity came. It wasn’t the opportunity I had hoped for, but it was in the place I wanted to be. The role was as a product planner for Microsoft Learning, where my focus would be on developer e-learning.

I had no experience with product planning or even understood what it was. I had zero experience with e-learning. What I did have was a lot of passion for software development and a good number of years of experience. That, combined with caring a lot about developers I believed would help me to succeed in the role.

I had my goal, I wanted to be at Microsoft. This was a foot in the door. I knew I delivered good work and I believed I could do this. Getting where you want to involves taking calculated risks. I knew there was a possibility of failure, but I might actually succeed! If I didn’t try, I wouldn’t know. I was willing to take the risk in order to grow and attain my goal. Worst comes to worst I told myself, I’d broaden my experience, and learn areas where I was weak.

Getting where you want to involves taking calculated risks. I knew there was a possibility of failure, but I might actually succeed! If I didn’t try, I wouldn’t know.

Working as a product planner for e-learning did not turn out to be a great fit for me. My job required me to do a lot of what I perceived as mundane tasks that were just not in my DNA (at least not in those days). There were areas I was strong, and that was in understanding the domains we were creating content for, and in my passion for doing the right thing. That passion also got me into trouble, as I was not the most politically correct in my work with the vendors that built our content. That burned some bridges.

My passion for doing the right thing and knowledge of software development did, however, cause people to take notice. In particular, it caught the eye of the partner teams (mostly Program Managers) I was working with from the dev platform side to build training for. It also was something my peers recognized.

The more I worked with the partners, the more I realized I wanted their job and it would be a better fit. I wanted to be working on the platform, I wanted to be out there talking to customers and understanding their needs. I felt that role would be much more satisfying to me, and I believed that I would be able to have a greater impact.

I reached out to one of the the PMs I worked with, Shy Cohen. He saw my desire and ability and took me under his wing and became my mentor. Shy showed me the ropes and encouraged me (thank you Shy!) to continue down the path. He saw my technical depth and my care for satisfying customers. Both were in his mind a good combo for a program manager.

Through his help and support I found the confidence to make the transition in that direction. He helped me to start to build out and work my internal network. He introduced me to other PMs who talked to me and gauged my interest. The more I heard about the job, the more convinced I became that is was right.

Finally, after about a year as a Product Planner, I started doing internal 1 on 1s. I looked at jobs on our internal job site, I found out who the hiring managers were, and reached out to chat (otherwise known as an informational). Both meetings went well though there were no available roles. However, one of the hiring managers, Shaun, told me that he thought I could be a good fit and that he would have roles opening up in a few months.

I sat tight, and sure enough a few months later Shaun reached out. I interviewed and got my first PM job! That position, which was in the patterns & practices team ended up being another turning point for me which paved the way for my next 10 years. I still carry the amazing things learned there. p&p is also where I first met Eugenio Pace, and Matias Woloski, our current execs at Auth0.

From there, I continued on as a PM. My journey took me to working on the .NET Framework, building a new API platform, and to Azure where I worked on adding support for Node.js applications running in the cloud. I continued on to Splunk, where I went through another (though smaller) transition to Product Management, and ultimately to the job I have now helping to run Extend.


What worked

I was very fortunate and had a lot of good things fell into place which helped make this transition. It was not all just all accidental. Here are a few tips on things that consistently paid off.

  • Do good work. It probably sounds trite and overused, but doing good work matters. Establishing a good track record matters. Being consistent matters. Being easy to work with matters.
  • Be persistent. Again may sound overused, but in my experience, being persistent definitely does pay off.
  • Be curious and a continuous learner. Really this means have a growth mindset. Be open to new experiences, be willing to learn new ways of doings things.
  • Be transparent. Let people know that you are interested in transitioning to a new role and ask them for any advice.
  • Rely on mentors. Having a mentor was key to helping me make the ultimate transition. Finding a mentor in the role you are looking to do can really help. Ask them if you can shadow them and learn what they do. Mentors can open many doors, and you don’t have to limit yourself to just one. I had many.
  • Network. If you don’t have a network, build one. Work on both your internal and external network. Doing good work helps with building up your internal. Grab coffee with peers. Attend brownbags. Nowadays it is incredibly easy to build out your external network. Social Media, Meetups, Blogging, LinkedIn all help. I can’t emphasize the value of networking enough. In my own path, several of the people I networked and collaborated with, ultimately ended up becoming future bosses.

Summary

Looking back in my career, the defining moment for me, was joining Microsoft in one role to get to another. Life is full of surprises though, as the role I thought I wanted (Developer) is not where my journey took me.

If you are at a crossroads and looking to make a career transition, one approach to add to your arsenal is to use organizational mobility to get there.

What are your experiences in transitioning to different roles? Have you taken a job with one role in order to get another?