By: Abhay B. Joshi (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Note: This is article 1 of the series on “Happiness and Professional Growth”.
I was interviewing a candidate for a senior position in my software services firm. The position required project management experience, team management experience, and a technical background. When we advertised for the position, we thought it was a standard position, since most people in the IT industry start out as engineers, pick up leadership skills on the way, and then even some project management experience. So, we thought we would have no problem attracting a pool of qualified candidates to choose from.
The person (let's call him Sam) who entered the interview room showed his age - he was probably in his early 40s. He looked confident, but at the same time a little anxious, as if he was keen to get this job. He had a broad forehead - probably an indication of the recent economic recession causing a hair recession. There were dark wrinkles around his eyes peering from behind a thick pair of glasses. A slight onset of a paunch was clearly visible just above his belt.
When we started talking, I soon realized that Sam was a "nowhere man". He had close to 12 years of experience on paper; his resume indicated a meteoric rise from 'junior engineer' to 'module lead', to 'project lead', and then to 'project manager' - all rises coming at regular intervals. He said he was now ready to be a 'senior project manager' - someone who could manage multiple projects concurrently. But it was obvious, from his answers to my questions, that he had risen through the ranks simply because he had demanded of his bosses that he be promoted based on the number of years he had been at each position. And now, he had nowhere to go. He had long forgotten his technical skills. Nor was he even a proper team manager.
To make matters even more difficult, Sam himself was unaware of his true capabilities and was confused about what he wanted to do next. One moment, he said he liked to be "hands-on" and missed "writing code". Another moment, he said he loved quality management and process auditing. When probed about what he was learning on his own, he first said "not much". And then upon realizing he was in an interview room and not in a "confession booth", he quickly corrected himself. He said, "Oh, I often look up websites to read about CMMi." So, it was clear he didn't even remember what "hands-on" meant in the software services business.
So, instead of interviewing, we ended up doing a bit of career counseling, for which Sam appeared grateful. But at the same time, he was disappointed at the sudden turn of events. Just before parting he said, "I feel I have hit a glass ceiling in my current organization, and I was really hoping I could snare this job opportunity." So, I asked, "How did you sense that you had hit the ceiling?" Sam replied, "Oh, it's clear from the way people treat me. My bosses don't consult me in strategic discussions, nor involve me in customer meetings. My juniors make fun of my technical knowledge on my back."
Sam is a classic example of people feeling obsolescence as a result of 'unnatural growth'. Unnatural (which implies untimely too) growth is one of the common causes of unhappiness in the IT industry. People carry the obsolete belief in their minds that growth - change in title and role - must happen at specific time intervals. That might be true in Government bureaucracy, but it is certainly a dangerous expectation in the knowledge industry. One must grow based on potential and capability to really enjoy the new role and do justice to it.
So, why do companies promote employees even if they (the employees) are not ready for promotion? Some of the reasons are obvious:
In the demand-driven IT industry, people are a precious resource, and so, to retain talent, HR is happy to concoct nice-sounding titles and bestow them upon their employees. In most cases, the actual duties of the person change only slightly, if at all. One easy litmus test of this phenomenon is to compare your duties with the duties performed at similar positions in other well-known firms in the industry. I know of a company (that indulged in such unscrupulous promotions) in which a 'tech manager' would have had no chance of becoming even a 'tech lead' in another competitive firm.
Secondly, there is a mistaken belief that, the so-promoted employee will pick up the required skills in a week-long training workshop. So, the HR efficiently arranges such workshops and assumes the employee is promoted and is ready to play the new role. Training alone is rarely able to make a dent.
And finally, most IT companies are vast armies of project teams performing routine work requiring routine skills. It is easy for incompetent employees to hide in such environment, because there are always some superstars who manage to carry the burden in spite of such low performers.
Stay tuned because in our next article we will discuss what we should do to effectively manage our own career growth and stay happy!
Last modified: 27 October 2016