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The Peter Principle in the Software Field

The Peter Principle in short is a person get’s promoted to a level of incompetence showcasing an issue of promotions. If you aren’t familiar with the Peter Principle read this article from Investopedia. I’ve been reading a book based on this principle from here for those who are interested.

Note: This isn’t about the Software Peter Principle, however this is worth a read as I stumbled across this on accident.

Reference: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Peters_principle.svg

In my brief time being a software engineer, I’ve noticed a lot of careers lead to a few paths for promotion. While the field is brand new and careers are still being formed (such as software engineer vs data engineer) with a lot of details needing to be worked out. The real question is, with such a few amount of paths to promotion, where does that leave most of us engineers? If you think about it, it really doesn’t leave a lot of room to grow without switching companies or being stuck. Do you want to get into management or alternatively some sort of architecting? If you say yes to any of these, this isn’t a bad thing, but look at the limited number of places you have to go in this field. This is a huge problem within our field as the current skillset starting off doesn’t translate over.

Now if you’re a good software engineer, you write the best of code, and customers are constantly complimenting the features added (this world isn’t real, but let’s have fun). So by this fact that means you should be promoted to another level of engineering, this initial promotion will give you more responsibilities and allow you to take on your own projects. After being a good engineer for a bit you hit a fork in the road, which way do you want to go? Do you want to become a manager or some other technical role that requirements management level of meetings? Either way you’ll either hit a level of incompetency going down this route unless you happen to be good at the role. So why forcefully promote a good engineer? Does writing good code make you a manager? Obviously no, maybe you aren’t the best telling people what to do, or sitting in 6 hours of meetings a day or being hands off on a project. Maybe a better fit would be to keep you engineering and help guide others on projects.

Reference: https://pixabay.com/photos/frustrated-business-frustration-4201046/

So now I rambled on, how does this tie into the Peter Principle? This seems to be a new kind of phenomenon on this field that is forced Peter Principle. Not only do you get promoted to a level of incompetence within the corporate world, but you don’t have a choice in software. I mean what can you do, just hop company to company and retire with pay raises? That may be unnecessarily stressful, but it’s an option. The next thing you could do is write books and do talks as well. If this doesn’t fit for you then you’re in a odd position as is.

My main point is the emphasis on getting engineers to managerial type roles needs to be halted in the industry unless a good reason can be given. Sure plenty of people will do great in these types of roles, show leadership qualities and can get people behind their ideas, but this isn’t a one size fits all just like anything else. The field is way too young to have such limited mobility in the workplace that forces people into these types of roles.

Finally, this is coming from me who has seen with these live, but it seems to be a common theme that engineering doesn’t have a way up without being hands off in the field. Just a tidbit to consider for everyone.

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