Interesting reads around career paths for individual contributors

Schibsted has recently introduced a dual career ladder. Someone can pursue the management or individual contributor track. However as this is new to the company, which traditionally followed the traditional mindset of…

“Manage a bunch of people, don’t screw up, ship on time and then do it again at a bigger scope until you stumble and get fired.”

To better understand the concept of senior individual contributor / expert as a career I went searching around the internet for some resources.

Dan McKinley previously of Etsy, Stripe and now Sky Liner shared his thoughts here —

General take homes

  • Management just happens, we need someone to manage this team today.
  • Individual contributor promotions happen post hoc.
  • Whats the ratio of individual contributors to management. This indicates the culture of the company.
  • What super powers do senior individual contributors get that management don’t?

Jeffrey Snover who is a technical fellow at Microsoft shared some thoughts on becoming a senior IC.

  • Focus on doing your current job well. Master that before you start to think about moving up the ladder. In general focus on making good technical contributions, having impact for the business and getting good feedback from your peers.
  • Become a Development Lead or Manager at some point in your career. This will help you understand the nuances of working with managers and management teams.

Spotify and Zalando are two companies that have grown significantly in the last few years. They have communicated some pretty significant details spent some significant time trying to define a culture that scales in organisations that grow their engineering departments very quickly.

The take home in this question is how do you provide opportunities which provide growth and mastery of abilities as opposed which can be seen as horizontal shifts to moving vertically in a ladder

There is a lot of material in there that should be considered when trying to understand what does an individual contributor career look like. It’s even more difficult to implement if the culture has been historically driven by people managers as they have no context to relate to.

Updates: I’ve worked with a few companies with less than 100 people in helping to build out these types of ladders. Someone shared a great link which also summarises a few other companies approaches to this problem.

Circle CI listed a detailed competency matrix here —

While dbsmasher shared their thoughts on getting to a principle enginer level — which had a pretty long hacker news discussion.