How To Use Your Manager’s Help To Get Promoted as a Software Engineer

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Many software developers I chat with don’t take advantage of the assistance their manager can provide to help them advance in their career.

Being promoted as a software engineer can be a challenge. Even if you are the most talented developer and hardest worker on your team, there are no guarantees that you will be promoted. A big blocker to being promoted is not letting your manager know you want to be promoted and getting their advice and feedback.

Moving up the software engineer’s career ladder isn’t only about your coding abilities.

Other talents, such as mentoring, teaching, planning, and explaining technical concepts to nontechnical individuals, come into play. Or you may need to complete some projects or duties that aren’t part of your regular responsibilities. Unfortunately, reading books, asking for advice online, and other general advice might not help you get promoted where you work, as every company has different requirements.

Working closely with your manager is one of the best ways to learn what you need to do to advance to the next level.

The first step is to talk with your manager about your career goals.

Be upfront and honest about what you want and where you see yourself in the next few years. Being open with your manager will give them a better sense of where you want to go and how they can help you get there.

Your manager may be able to give you specific assignments that will help you develop the skills you still need.

For example, if a requirement for promotion to senior software engineer is you need to be able to lead teams but lack experience leading a team, your manager may assign you to lead a small project. This will allow you to prove that you have the skills to take on a leadership role.

Additionally, your manager may be able to help make sure you are aiming for the correct position for you.

I always thought I would want to be a manager, which would be the best way for me to move up. Talking with my manager about my career goals, he was able to help me realize that I may not like being a manager. He knew how much I liked to code and that I may not like the day-to-day life of a manager.

Now settled into a software architect role and seeing more of what managers do every day, I know he was 100% right. I would have regretted being a manager.

Ask for feedback and then act on it.

Feedback can be difficult to hear, but it is essential if you want to grow and develop in your career. It is not enough to ask for feedback from your manager; you also need to take that feedback and use it to improve your performance. Remember, your manager wants you to succeed and will only give constructive criticism to help you reach your potential.

If you are doing a good job, your manager may not give you anything but positive feedback if you don’t ask for more.

Many managers are always keeping team morale in mind. They don’t want to upset a good developer with constructive feedback (which is sometimes taken negatively) if the developer is doing a good enough job for their current role. The feedback they are willing to give will change if you ask for it.

I made asking for feedback a normal part of my check-ins with my manager for my entire career.

During my bi-weekly check-ins, I would ask what I could do better and what I needed to do or improve to get to the next rung of the career ladder. Over the years, my feedback changed based on my experience, skills, and the next position I was shooting for. Whether it be to do more of something I already did, to improve a skill, or start doing new tasks he always had something specific to help me go to the next level.

I don’t believe I would be where I am if I didn’t regularly ask for this feedback.

Start and share a brag sheet with your manager.

A brag sheet is simply a document that lists out all of your accomplishments. Julia Evans has an excellent article about them you should read to learn how to write one. You aren’t going to remember your accomplishments as time goes on. Even worse some of your accomplishments might go unnoticed by your manager. Your manager is also unlikely to remember your accomplishments come review time with everything else on their plate and an entire team to evaluate.

A brag sheet is a way to keep track of everything you have done, so when it comes time for performance reviews you have a reference to why you should be promoted.

The brag sheet should include both your small and big accomplishments. It can include the times you helped a peer overcome a problematic bug, the extensive rewrite you led over the finish line, or the small lunch and learn you did to teach your team a new concept. You don’t want to leave small, or team accomplishments out as those may be the crucial things for you to get promoted.

Your manager can also use brag sheets to help them push for you to be promoted.

At many companies, a manager can’t move you to a new position without approval from other managers or their manager. Committees approving promotions become more common as most developers become more senior. A brag sheet is one way your manager can make a case for you to get promoted to these committees.

It is never too late to start a brag sheet and you should maintain it throughout your entire career.

I started mine after over a decade in the field, and it was difficult to remember even the biggest accomplishments that happened just a few years ago.

It may not be easy to talk to your manager about your career goals and ask them for feedback.

Many people may feel it may come off as asking for a promotion. Your manager will appreciate the initiative. Many managers are always looking to help their employees reach their career goals and are happy to hear employees want to move up in their current company.

Taking the steps to get your manager’s help will only help you move up quicker.