We built a dual track engineering career ladder. Here’s why.
In my past experience as a software engineer I’ve had mixed feelings about the career ladder definition: more often than not the expectations for each role were hard to grasp. Now, as Head of Engineering at TUI Musement it’s my responsibility to craft a clear and transparent growth plan that can be used as a reference for our engineering department.
Our dual track career path allows engineers to evolve in two directions: Domain Expert or Management. The first one (in green) focuses on becoming an expert in specific technologies and broadening the scope of one’s impact, the latter (in red) aims at helping engineers to grow and lead teams to deliver high-quality solutions.
We believe that climbing the ladder doesn’t have the same end goal for everyone. In fact, being a great software engineer doesn’t mean you’ll be a great leader, so it accounts for two different types of career evolution.
Our objective is to make sure that everyone has a path that allows tailored growth.
A dual track protects engineers from making a leap towards the unknown, offering instead a clear path ahead and a picture of what’s behind each step in one direction or the other.
⚠️ engineering != engineering_management
Once you understand how and why management and engineering are two different jobs, the idea of two parallel tracks becomes quite obvious, but I learnt this truth the hard way 😔.
Early in my career, I was puzzled by the idea of having a manager doing ‘things’ other than coding with the team. I was surprised when reading about career growth that would explain how the two roles (crafting code and leadership) are different and require a different skillset. After all, as an engineer, I want my manager to be the best person to tell me how to move forward when stuck with a bug and to teach me the best practices. Yes, this is part of the role, but not even the hardest.
What does a manager do? Alignment, synchronization, conflict resolution, adds/removes processes. That’s it. There’s no Vue.js, C++, CQRS mentioned in the requirements.
A manager is the result of company growth, it’s the glue that avoids chaos.
Of course, you must be a great engineer to be an engineers’ leader, but that is not enough, you’ll have to update your skills toolbox 🛠
The dual track
The dual career path theme has been discussed a lot in recent years and there are many companies that support this type of career growth and quite a number of inspirations.
At TUI Musement software engineers grow (left to right) within the Domain Expert track until they reach the senior level. At that point in their career there are three possible choices:
- Follow the Domain Expert track, but amplify the scope of responsibility.
- Change job and start the Management Track.
- Stay at the senior level position (sometimes this choice is overlooked).
While we expect every engineer to eventually reach the senior level, there is no expectation to grow above that unless there’s the will to do so.
In the sections below I will highlight the expectations for each of the two tracks.
💻 Domain Expert Track
- Responsible for implementing high-quality software.
- Deeply cares, advocates, and applies testing strategies to guarantee bug-free code.
- Constantly improves the codebase by crafting new algorithms, refactoring, and participating in code reviews.
- Designs scalable, maintainable, and observable solutions.
If you want to know more about working as a Software Engineer in TUI MM you should check Gionatan Lombardi article 👇👇
A day in the life of a TUI Musement Software Engineer
In this article, I will present a snapshot of daily life as a Software Engineer at TUI Musement and give some insights…
👩👩👧👦 Management Track
- Regularly adjusts processes and timelines to ensure high-quality software is delivered.
- Improves team’s velocity and impact.
- Responsible for People Management (career conversations, performance management, objectives, 1:1, coaching, hiring…)
When taking this path, one should be comfortable with the idea of:
- Not writing code
- Leading people with a different skillset
Above all, the first responsibility of a manager is caring about the people he/she leads.
Now you know the dual track system and the expectations for each track, but how can you get there?
📈 Tools to climb the ladder
Unfortunately, there’s no recipe to move up the ladder, except for: always be learning. The best advice I can give to engineers looking to move up the ladder is: act as if you’re already at the next level and don’t hold back because “that is not my role”. Look at what fellow engineers at the next level are doing and try to do the same.
Act as if you’re already at the next level.
There’s one last piece of the puzzle. We believe that the best way to move forward is by having constructive feedback, so never lose an opportunity to get mentored and to get advice.
Growth requires high quality feedback.
For this reason, we have created two tools in TUI Musement to guide career conversations:
- The TUI Musement roles’ expectations cards. Here, you can find a detailed explanation for each role. It’s important to consider that each card isn’t a recipe but an ideal state.
- The TUI Musement engineering competency matrix. This tool is used to evaluate 27 specific competencies (hard skills and soft skills) at each level of the track and to identify gaps. (Follow our blog, we’re planning a deep dive on this one 😉)
✏️ PS. you can use the roles cards to decide what role fits you best when applying for our open positions 😉.
Most people consider growth within an organization as getting promotion after promotion to get to the top. Yet, it can happen that once you find yourself in a particular role you understand that it does not fit with your aspirations, what can you do then?
Choosing a career path between Domain Expert and Management isn’t a one-way door.
Management is a different job, thus it’s possible you’ll miss the dopamine hit of fixing something or solving something.
There’s value in going back and forth between Domain Expert and Management (the pendulum and sequel) and the move it’s always a tradeoff (you’ll lose some responsibilities and gain others). We try to make these lateral movements as easy as possible, but it’s true that whilst moving from a Domain Expert role to a Management role it’s frequent, the opposite can be more challenging.
At this point, by knowing our framework for engineering growth and how we operate it, you might be wondering…
Should you build a dual track at your company?
Don’t take advice from the internet people. Yet.
- Are you a startup with less than 10 engineers? No. You’ve got much more important things to figure out and the hype is fuelling everyone’s brains.
- More than 15? Start playing around with a few experiments.
- More than 50? Let me know how you’re doing without.
By now, I hope I’ve convinced you that a dual track ladder is the perfect tool to support engineers as they grow within the organization, and to set expectations about each level. At TUI Musement we adopt roles’ expectations cards to define clearly and precisely the required skills for each role, and we use a competency matrix to understand what are the skills gaps, and when one is ready to step up to a new role.
I hope that this article has opened a little window on our engineering culture, and that it is going to be inspiring for anyone looking to create a similar framework. If you’d like to have a chat about this or you’re interested in any of our open positions feel free to reach me out on Linkedin.
Kudos to Cristian Ronzio for advocating this engineering culture and to all the reviewers that have made this article so much better with their suggestions ❤️.