“I don’t want to be a manager,” I said to my boss. Being at a new company in a new dedicated Backend Engineer role (before this I had always been Full Stack), it was a hard thing to say. It felt very much like I was saying I didn’t want to progress my career; that I was happy where I was at and didn’t want to explore new opportunities should they arise. At the same time, it felt good being totally honest. I didn’t, and still don’t want to be a manager.
Years ago when I started my career as a professional developer, the very small social media advertising startup (hope you have your Buzzword Bingo cards out) that took a chance on me was an odd introduction to “career paths.” It’s a veritable wild west of roles and positions because everybody does everything. If you get in early, your title will likely change several times if you stick around long enough. Or, in some cases, you start as a “CTO.” In reality though, it was all ultimately meaningless. Without some sort of guiding principles, titles and even compensation adjustments are just “attaboys” when you or the company does well. In a short time at such a small shop, I rose to the rank of Senior Developer. Whoa.
Then I left the company. I shopped that Senior title around thinking I’d be a shoe in wherever I wanted. Truthfully, it did get my foot in the door at a lot of places — but that’s about it. The interviews and code challenges given to someone applying for a senior position are rightfully designed to weed out candidates like myself who are senior only on paper. It was disheartening and eye opening to a fresh young developer, “senior” as I may have felt.
It didn’t take long for me to drop the “Senior” part of my pitch. I went back to looking for mid to junior level positions, and had a much better go at it this time. I found another gig, put in my time, developed my skills, and made some connections. The company and work stagnated, I moved, and started the search again. This time, I was senior, right?!
As the new “Director of Technology” at a startup of less than 10 employees (even writing that sentence was painful), I certainly felt senior. Once again, it was meaningless. I was supposed to build my engineering team — but of course I had no idea how to do that. I was supposed to build roadmaps, prioritize features, have meetings with the CEO: all things I not only didn’t know how to do and more importantly, didn’t want to do.
I did them because I thought I was supposed to. In my naivety I justified “the climb.” I did the junior developer thing; I moved up and changed companies; I got new titles and raises. That’s what a career is supposed to look like, right?
On paper, maybe. The headlines on your CV may tell a wonderful story of where you’ve been, what you’ve done, and what you’re capable of. Or they may have some fancy titles underscored by fluff and buzzwords attempting to legitimize the titles that supposedly tell your story. For me, it was the latter. On paper I looked like a rockstar. Personally, I never felt like a rockstar (imposter syndrome, anyone?).
Now, I work at Creative Market. I got hired as a Backend Engineer — nothing fancy in the title, just a focus. And I have focused. I’ve learned our code, I’ve improved my skills, I’ve watched the team grow around me and with me. And I actually remember the day (the call, more specifically) when I felt like a “senior” developer. A newer developer, myself, and an engineer from another team were discussing something at a high level, and this conversation was different than ones before it. I still haven’t been able to pinpoint what exactly the difference was, but at the end of the call I literally got up from my desk, found my wife in the other room (don’t worry, she doesn’t hang out at my company’s office or anything — I work from home), and told her that something felt… different.
Did you just get the warm fuzzies, too?
All the while I had been having 1:1s with my manager, and we talked about my career and aspirations regularly. Throughout our conversations, it was clear to both of us that I didn’t really want to be a manager, or a director, or a CTO — at least not now. At this point in my career, I really enjoy coding and growing as a developer. Those revelations steered us in an interesting direction: where do I go from here? Early on, Creative Market didn’t really have “senior” roles. As we’ve grown, the need and definition of a senior role has made itself apparent. If you’re still wondering where this tale is headed: I am now a Senior Backend Engineer at Creative Market. The best part? It actually means something this time.
It took a while for me to understand that your career is not a list of titles and roles. If you do things right, those titles and roles can be a neat little summary, but that’s all it is. Your career is what you make of it, what you do. Don’t waste your time like I did reaching for the next title to top your resume. Work hard, do what you love to do, be somewhere you love to be, and the titles will find you. And when they do, it will mean so much more.
We’re always looking for amazing people to join the Creative Market team (and we’re hiring engineers right now!). We value our culture as much as we value our mission, so if helping creators turn passion into opportunity sounds like something you’d love to do with a group of folks who feel the same way, then check out our job openings and apply today!