Ján Raška: Career Ladder is the most objective and transparent way team members can grow
Throughout his career, Jan worked his way from entry-level jobs to more senior positions, and discovered a passion for management and mentoring. It led him to pursue management roles where he could really make an impact and help shape others' careers. In this blog, we follow Jan's journey and discuss Career Ladder, a complex growth framework, that Sudolabs has been rolling out in the Engineering Lab.
Let's start with your professional journey. Can you tell us how you got started in your career?
At the beginning of my career, my friend and I started a company that was aiming to build a cloud-based accounting system. Unfortunately, we didn't plan it so well and had to take on projects that didn't advance us forward. It was at this point that we decided to move on and begin working for a start-up company now known as "MeWe" (which I worked for 9 years). During my time there, I transitioned from a Backend Developer to a Backend Team Leader, and then eventually became CTO of the company. I realized after this experience that I was more attracted to managerial positions, which helped guide my current career path.
What is your position at Sudolabs and what does it entail?
I work here as a Senior Engineering Manager. Mentoring and guiding other engineers to develop their careers is the most significant part of this job. Also, I take part in the hiring process and work with the Engineering Managers on improving our processes and practices in the Engineering Lab, but we also cooperate with other departments on company-wide improvements.
What is the challenge of being a Senior Engineering Manager?
I'd say the biggest challenge is the fact that everyone has a different personality. You see, while I can mentor or coach the engineers - my direct reports - on growing their careers, it's them who need to walk that path. While I can accompany them, I can't fast-forward it. It's therefore crucial for me to get to know them and understand their motivations. There are people who take time to build trust and discover what motivates them, while others are very open about it right away. Since there's no universal approach or strategy to use, this job is both beautiful and fulfilling - because you're never stuck in a rut - but also demanding because you're constantly changing it up.
Sudolabs has been working on a Career Ladder, which isn't a very common concept in Slovakia. What is it and how does it work?
The Career Ladder is a rather complex growth framework that we're rolling out these days in the Engineering Lab. Traditionally, employees' growth or progression within the company depends on their managers, and can thus be very subjective. At Sudolabs, we value transparency a lot, and therefore we wanted to create a framework that is transparent, fair, and as objective as possible. We're also committed to helping our team members grow not only their technical skills but their whole personalities. This will allow them to communicate and collaborate better and become the leaders of tomorrow. After researching what other companies have done before us, we've come up with a framework comprising 28 objectives divided into 4 main categories: Technical skills, Delivery, Collaboration, Leadership. Every objective then has several levels that one can achieve. Throughout the year, every team member writes down their accomplishments, which support the claim that they meet the requirements of a particular level for a particular objective. As a result, the filled-in career ladder supported by accomplishments paints a rather complex, yet clear picture of where the team member currently stands. It also shows improvements that must be made to achieve a higher position or a higher amount on the payroll. In summary, the Career Ladder is the most objective and transparent way team members can grow within the company. They are, of course, not left alone when it comes to those improvements; it is our job as Engineering Managers to guide them in the right direction.
What is your role in the whole process?
When I arrived, the process had already begun and the objectives and levels were defined, along with examples. I was able to quickly get up to speed thanks to the excellent documentation my colleagues prepared. Currently, I am involved with the second stage, which is mostly about Engineering managers' calibration on evaluating the accomplishments. The responsibility of every Engineering Manager is to guide their reports when mapping the accomplishments to the Career Ladder - that is, to which objective and level does it relate? Therefore, it is vital that all Engineering Managers evaluate these accomplishments equally. That's what calibration is about. We review the accomplishments, either with all of us or in smaller groups. If our evaluation doesn't match, we discuss it and find an alignment. We are aware that we will never match 100%, but with regular calibrations, we hope to get as close to it as possible.
You mentioned accomplishments, can you tell us what they are.
Accomplishments are any memorable contributions, events, or activities that point to or prove that the team member is meeting the requirements of a particular level for a particular objective. The main idea behind them is that some contributions are more visible than others, even if they're of the same importance. Therefore, by recording them, the team member ensures they won't be overlooked. This way we also avoid recency bias, where things that happened recently tend to overshadow anything that happened in the past. We then map the accomplishments to Career Ladder objectives and levels. In other words, you need to have some accomplishments to support the claim of meeting a particular objective and level. At the beginning of their journey, team members will write as accomplishments even things that to some might seem trivial or part of their daily routine. It is still crucial to write them because what might seem trivial to one, for the other it's a true milestone in their career. Of course, once a team member is at a certain level, it doesn't make much sense to include an accomplishment pointing to a lower level.
How does the Career Ladder fit into Sudolabs' values?
One of our core values is personal growth. We're building an environment that allows self-improvement and career growth and providing team members with the support necessary for this growth. Career Ladder helps us to make the career growth path and the skill requirements clear and transparent. It not only shows where one currently stands, but it also shows opportunities for improvement. The team member can then discuss with their Engineering Manager what area/objective they want to focus on and what it takes to get there. Eg. If one's goal is to have a tech lead role on a project, they might already have the necessary technical skills. On the other hand, the Career Ladder will help us determine which soft skills they lack, such as communication or teamwork. Their Engineering Manager will help them craft a path to get there, consisting of concrete actionable steps. Without Career Ladder it would require much more effort to determine these areas for growth.
You also had a chance to be one of the speakers at Tech Night (an event that Sudolabs organizes every two months). What was the topic of your presentation?
The topic of my presentation was “Backend architecture of a prospective start-up”. As I mentioned earlier, throughout my career I have gained valuable experience working on a quite complex software. Having been through start-up growth (from a green-field project to a 20 million user project), it was a chance to share my knowledge with others. In my talk, I discussed scaling the backend for a startup with the possibility of growing by adding complexity one step at a time. Basically, I was trying to show that we don't need to build complex architecture like we're going to become the next Facebook tomorrow.
Did you enjoy your experience?
Even though I have spoken at conferences before, the atmosphere at Tech Night was much cozier. This is because I also got to interact with people and discuss matters in more detail while sipping a beer. So yes, I really enjoyed this experience!
What is your guilty pleasure?
Flying a small plane. I strongly recommend this to every person in a managerial position as it teaches me to be more present, mindful, and take fast, quality decisions without panicking.
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