In my years as a software developer, engineering manager and tech entrepreneur, I’ve noticed a startling problem.
Many startup software engineers don’t take proactive steps to manage their careers.
This might come as a surprise, since in many cases these same engineers are the smartest people in the room. Remember, however, that many software developers are self-taught and haven’t necessarily conformed to traditional education and/or predefined career paths.
This is totally fine (as was my personal case). But, based on my experience, it seems that many startup engineers would benefit from some basic suggestions as to how they might think about their own career trajectory in order to optimize for growth, and then begin to visualize and plan their own career path with additional clarity.
I’d like to point out a few things from my experience that you, as a startup engineer, can do to get you to CTO level or, perhaps, prepare you to start your own company as a technical founder (if that’s your ultimate goal).
The truth is, many of the suggestions in this post will likely provide at least some help to most software engineers that want to move forward in their career – whether they happen to be at startups or not. This advice is simply couched in the context of my personal experience, which is as an entrepreneurially-minded engineer turned startup founder.
Please note that the things I’ll be addressing in this article aren’t so much about technical skills (although I’ll cover some thoughts on that topic, briefly) as much as some of the other, so-called softer skills I’d suggest you think about integrating into your career thinking.
(If you’re interested in ideas on specific technical hurdles, check out this article from Jason Rudolph that was an early inspiration of this post.)