#26 – Growing as an SRE (Part 2)

In part 1, we covered the first truth – that you don’t grow in your career merely through tenure. That was a simple one. 

Let’s explore 2 more truths that are somewhat trickier…

Truth #2 — Career progression is not a start-stop journey

I like to call what a lot of people do for the next rung in their career a campaign.

They may have been doing literally the same thing over and over again for 2, 3, or more years.

And then they suddenly decide they want to get a promotion or work in a more demanding area of their field.

So they go on an all-out campaign to get to the next level.

But the problem I see is that many end up being grossly underprepared and overwhelmed.

They might go out there and take on a much larger workload than they can handle.

Or they go to study for a Master’s degree to give their case a little more strength.

But here’s the thing: it’s not a start-stop journey.

Unlike most rags-to-riches stories on Netflix that cut about 95% of the struggle, career progression is a steady journey.

It’s better to keep walking steadily and learning as you go, like taking small steps forward.

The actual promotion circuit will be like a zig-zag while your internal growth of knowledge and ability will be a curve formation.

I’ve made a career progression graph to highlight this:

Graphic explainer of career progression comparing requirements of role to the your technical and soft skills

I define “Career Growth” on the y-axis as relevant to both your skills AND your promotions.

My belief is simple: even if you don’t ever get promoted, you are still growing in your career by growing your skill base.

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But it’s more likely that you will be a solid candidate for promotion if you grow significantly in skills.

You want to have your technical and soft skills (aka ability curve) sitting above or at least close to the line to avoid a feeling of imposter syndrome.

Let’s talk about some of the zones marked in the above graph:

  • The right mix is a very close or exact match of your technical and soft skills to the role requirements
  • Things start to get a little tough when you hit a risky zone where your role requirements surpass your abilities
  • And things really heat up in the danger zone where you get promoted to a level noticeably above your abilities

You always want to keep your abilities at least a little above where your next possible promotion could take you.

Imagine a situation where you spent little or no time working on your abilities and you suddenly decide you want to hit the next level in your career.

There will be an uncomfortably HUGE gap between where your abilities are and what the next level requires.

Taking a campaign-style approach to filling the gap means putting in a HUGE effort.

This means long hours of study for which you might already not have the time or mental bandwidth.

This also means a HUGE risk of you burning out trying to get up to speed with the abilities needed for the next level in a short time span.

So when I say that career progression is not a start-stop-start journey, I mean it.

It’s better to keep moving forward and gaining experience and knowledge consistently.

Related article:  #27 – Growing as an SRE (Part 3)

Just like you keep walking on a path to reach your destination.

You will otherwise risk falling into danger zones and amping up your imposter feelings.

Truth #3 — Certifications alone do not drive career progression

There’s a whole industry based on tech certifications.

Sadly, a not-insignificant portion of it has perverse incentives to convince you they have the silver bullet to a higher-paying role.

Mind you, I am not negating the benefits of certifications entirely.

I can put the value of certifications into 3 buckets:

  1. Some of them support your hiring or progression in the early stages of your career
  2. Some may be essential to secure higher-clearance jobs e.g. government
  3. But most will only count as a signal that you have done something

I’ve helped SREs reach out when they struggle to get rehired, let alone progress in their career.

From reviewing their LinkedIn profiles, most had a myriad of impressive-looking certifications.

Interestingly, AWS Solution Architect certification was the most common.

CKA for Kubernetes was also up there.

But the true test for every single one of them came when the hiring manager asked them questions that only real-world experience could help answer.

“Can you tell me what could go wrong with this architecture?”

I will let you imagine what happened next.

Certifications are the baseline.

And thousands of other candidates may have done the same certification as you.

This issue doesn’t exclusively affect people looking for a new job.

It’s also hard to stand for an internal promotion with the usual certifications.

Larger organizations may have several people vying for the same promotion as you.

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Many of whom will likely have taken the same obvious certification path.

What makes you stand out?

A less obvious path of building both practical and knowledge that’s right for that next level up.

Sure, take the ones you know are essential for the specific job or promotion you are seeking.

Still keen to put your mind and efforts, and draw some luck into your career progression?

Stay tuned for the third and final part of Growing as an SRE.

And if you are a friend who cares, share it with your SRE friends 😉