Matt has been in the software development game since 2006, starting his tech career as a software engineer and climbing his way up to the Chief Technology Officer position at Reforge. In addition, he held several engineering leadership positions in different organizations. He was a senior software engineer at Lockheed Martin and MACH Energy, as well as the Vice President of Engineering at CoSo Cloud LLC and Credit Karma.
Matt joined Reforge as its Chief Technology Officer because the company had been considering reinventing the MBA program for tech talent. He saw an opportunity to transform the tried-and-tested insights of frontier tech leaders into learning tracks and make these insights accessible to a growing tech community.
Reforge is committed to building the next generation of professional networks, leveraging learning development. They run cohort-based programs on various topics to help product managers, marketers, or engineers learn from leaders with hard-earned insights and advance in their careers.
The following article covers our discussion with Matt extensively. However, if you’d rather watch the live session itself, here’s the link to the full recording:
Starting a new role or improving at your current role requires active steps and efforts. Most of the time, you don’t need to start learning new skills or have years of experience or natural talents to excel at the job. Instead, you need to be able to leverage the insights you’ve worked hard to gain so far.
According to Matt, “The skills you need to progress in your career are not necessarily new skills but skills you’ve been using for a long time.” For instance, if you can influence your friends to join a football team or convince your siblings to watch your favorite show, you’ll probably use similar tactics to sell a product idea to your team.
Similarly, if you lack certain skills or haven’t been using those skills for a while, you’ll struggle to perform functions requiring those skills. For example, if you’ve never really been organized, you may find planning a project very taxing.
In addition, as you progress in your career, you’ll learn transferable skills that you can apply in future roles you take at different organizations you join. These life skills and transferable skills make up your individual hard-earned insights that you can leverage for your career progression.
In the early years of your career, you’ll probably do a bit of everything and use a wide range of skills to navigate this stage. As you progress in your career and your role becomes more specialized, you’re likely to use more of your technical skills and less of other skills.
However, when you take up leadership positions, you’ll need to revert to your hard-earned insights you may not have needed to use for quite a long time in your career.
To become influential and advance your career, you’ll need to leverage those insights and not rely on your technical expertise to lead a team successfully. As Matt puts it, “Your impact is an average of the skills you have. As you grow in your career, you need to make your expertise more meaningful and sand down their sharpest edges, so they are not cutting you and others down.”
If you’re wondering how exactly to go about leveraging your hard-earned insights to progress in your career, here are some tips that should help:
Matt recommends making your hard-earned insights your competitive advantage when seeking new roles or leadership positions. In his words, “You should be able to decompose the skills you gained in one organization when applying for new positions in another organization and make this your competitive advantage.”
For instance, if you worked in a marketplace company, you can show competence in marketplace dynamics that will be useful to your new employer. After all, according to Mark, “Innovation occurs when transferable skills are applied to solve new problems.”
You don’t need to leave your current organization to leverage your hard-earned insights for your career growth. You can absolutely do so in your current organization.
Companies often think they need to hire externally to fulfill their needs. However, when businesses are scaling, someone internal may be the best fit to fill a job opening. Sometimes, new roles come up that were previously not available, and it might not be easy to find someone that fits the job description for such roles.
You need to be audacious enough to express interest in such positions and step into those roles. With training and self-development, you can grow and excel in the role. Also, your career growth will be faster if you seize such opportunities, proving to others and most importantly yourself that you can do them.
Solving already solved problems is way easier than solving unsolved problems. That’s why organizations hire problem-solvers to solve those unsolved problems. They identify a need and scout for candidates they believe could solve the problem.
If you want to get in the room, solving unsolved problems could be an easy way to do so. You simply need to leverage the right hard-earned insights and figure out which of the life skills you possess can be applied to solve the unsolved problems in your organization.
If you’re frequently excluded from making strategic decisions and focused on figuring out how to execute strategic decisions instead, your career is probably in a downward spiral.
As a line manager, you may spend less time on non-technical functions and more time executing technical functions needed for your organization’s growth. However, when you become a leader, you’ll suddenly need to do all these non-technical functions that you haven’t been practicing.
At this stage, it’s easier to focus on the “how” because your technical skill would be your highest leverage. Also, you might have worked in teams where attempts to be creative are shut down, leading you to develop an execution mindset and reputation.
However, most organizations need fewer technical skills from leaders. Because of this, your hard-earned insights should be your highest leverage as a leader, though you may not have fully developed your life skills and transferable skills over the years. And if your contribution is still just the “how,” you’re heading down the downward spiral.
Being stuck on “how” is detrimental to your career progression, since according to Matt, “People who get stuck on ‘how’ struggle to get the top roles because people who develop other skills get these roles. Your technical work may be better, but you won’t be promoted.”
While it’s easy to blame your organization, the ball is, as it always has been, in your court. Hence, it would be best to have a healthy career portfolio that balances technical skills and other skills to avoid being stuck in a downward career spiral.
If you’re looking to advance in your career or create impact in any organization, you need to pave the path for yourself strategically. One way to do so is by becoming the person who influences decisions and wins a seat at any strategy discussion.
It’s easy to assume that your organization should pave the way for you to go from line manager to Chief Technical Officer, but in reality, organizations try to keep the room small instead, and you need to break the door down yourself to get in the room. You can become that person by doing the following:
Knowing your organization’s “why” and “what” could be a game changer in your career, as you’ll understand why your company is working on its solution, the business problem your company is trying to solve, your company’s decision-making process, and how the industry your company operates in affects its decisions.
You can gain further insights into your company’s business context by learning about the following metrics for your organization:
With these insights, you can propose ideas on how to get the job done that are less likely to be shut down. As Matt says, “If your ideas get shut down frequently or if your team often disagrees with your ideas, your ideas do not probably align with the company’s context and decision-making rubric, as your company will not go with your idea if it lacks the company’s strategic context.”
So if you want to be able to influence decisions in your company, always think of your company’s “what” and “why” when making suggestions at strategy sessions and other meetings or conversations to make your contributions productive.
If you’re looking to progress in your career, you need to take your self-development seriously. You may not possess all the skills you need to excel in your current role or prepare for the next one, but you can become the best person for the job over time if you focus on learning all the skills you need.
Luckily, many companies have a budget for professional development that hardly ever gets used as much as it could. Leverage this to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to boost your career.
Your team members may suggest ideas that aren’t feasible due to the lack of technical expertise, budget constraints, or generally because those ideas aren’t in the company’s short-term plans.
However, if those ideas align with the company’s underlying objectives, it would be best to consider them regardless and start laying down the foundations for their implementation in the future.
As a leader in this context, your work would center around the following:
It’s always good to make preparations for enablement work if you’re looking to create impact. You don’t need to dedicate substantial resources to it, but rather allocate a small portion of your resources there over time. This way, you will have already made significant progress by the time you start implementing the ideas in the future and may even record early-stage success.
However, be wary of trends and popular methods adopted by competitors. You may get lots of suggestions from your team on following some current trend and doing exactly what the competition is doing. Weigh those trends and methods against your company’s strategic goals, organizational context, and decision-making rubrics.
According to Matt, “Time is your career currency, and you should treat your time prudently. Just like a venture capitalist invests in companies and hopes for a return after a defined period, you should hope for returns if you invest time in any organization.
If you spend years in an organization that is not helping you gain mastery, sufficient motivation, and benefits, and empowering you to progress, like an investor, do not put more money into a bad investment.”
Luckily, you can always leverage your hard-earned insights using the tips in this article to carve a better career path for yourself.
Thank you for reading our article on career growth and influencing decisions in business organizations. For further reading, we recommend checking out the following resources for managers on our blog:
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