Management & Technical Career Growth Tracks (v3)

In follow-up to earlier work on a) versions one and two of these technical and related career tracks, b) pathways for career development in product engineering, c) job titles, and d)  employee evaluation & career development, here is an updated version three of the career growth tracks.

This version 3 includes software engineering & architecture, quality assurance & test engineering, data science & engineering, infrastructure & systems engineering, product & product management, and design & user experience. This version moves “chief” and “head of” type titles to the discretionary column, keeping only four main levels (contributor, manager, director, and vice president) with three sub-levels designating seniority within each.

This is presented in a Google Sheet embedded below with tabs containing areas like engineering and product. I’m also providing a direct link to to the Google Sheet you can copy and edit for use in your own organization.


As always, I’d love your feedback. Thank you.

My next chapter

This isn’t something I thought I’d be writing – if you read my recent piece on Thrive Journal, you’d know how excited I was to join Thrive Global. I’d long admired Arianna, and when we met it was immediately clear that we share so much: mission, values, a dedication to science-based approaches – along with a lot of common friends and even our foreign accents. And I wrote about the twist of fate – several twists, in fact, that it took to bring me to Thrive.

And now life has thrown me another twist, which is that I’ve just accepted a job as Chief Product & Technology Officer at The Wall Street Journal. It was an emotionally difficult decision – when I joined Thrive I felt then, and still do, that living my life by the Thrive principles and helping others do the same was my calling.

Working with the team at Thrive has been everything I thought it would be, and has only deepened my passion for the mission. And personally, it’s been especially rewarding working with Arianna. We hit it off right away and that’s only continued since. I’ve learned so much from her that I’ll take with me in my life ahead. Most of all, her incredible ability to connect warmly and authentically with everybody around her — not just about their work, but about their lives away from the office. You don’t just join the team, you become part of a family. And that’s why this was such an emotional decision.

But this role at The Wall Street Journal is no ordinary opportunity, and I certainly wouldn’t be leaving if it were. There were several considerations: this is a newly created position and represents the culmination of what I’ve been working towards my entire career. It’s also a chance to reunite with several former co-workers who have remained dear friends. In the end, after a lot of persuasion, and an opportunity too good to refuse, I decided to make the move.

I’m excited, but also sad to leave. I’m incredibly proud of what we’ve built at Thrive Global. In three months we launched a media platform, a behavior change platform, an e-learning site, an e-commerce site and a number of specialty apps, including for Android, iOS, Amazon Alexa, and Chrome.

I am incredibly grateful not only for what I’ve learned but also for the friendships I’ve built and that I know will continue. And I’m especially grateful to Arianna for bringing me into Thrive and into her extended family. If I’ve learned one thing from this experience it’s that we never know what twists of fate the future may bring, but what I do know is that incorporating our Thrive principles into my daily life and my work at The Wall Street Journal will make both me and my colleagues healthier, happier and more productive.

Why I Joined Thrive Global

Sometimes in life, we reach a new starting line where we sense that everything we have experienced and done so far has been preparing us for this next step. When I met Arianna Huffington and we talked about her new venture, Thrive Global, I immediately knew I wanted Thrive to be the next chapter in my life. Before I tell you why, let me give you some background.

Background

I have had the honor to work as a CTO at great companies with exceptionally talented and effective people including some of the best software developers in the world.

Since I left The New York Times, I’ve been through a learning journey in my professional and personal life. I joined a promising startup full-time pledging 20% of my equity to charity. When the venture funding I had hoped for didn’t materialize, I transitioned to an advisory role and continue to root for their success. I co-founded a consulting business which led to a client asking me to join full-time to build their team in New York City. In a twist of fate, soon after I joined and hired some exceptional talent, the company had a change in ownership and asked us all to move to Los Angeles. While the relocation offer was compelling, I couldn’t bear the thought of being so far away from Fitz Raj, my 4-year-old son. My (now former) wife Julie and I had recently separated. If you think persuading your spouse to move the family across the country is hard, imagine trying to convince your ex-spouse. Yes, I tried because LA offers great opportunities in her line of work. No, she politely declined.

If you think persuading your spouse to move the family across the country is hard, imagine trying to convince your ex-spouse.

So, I decided to return to my consulting practice in NYC. While I was consulting, two well-known, highly-respected companies asked me to join them full-time. While I was mulling over whether to join one of them as CTO & chief product officer or to continue building my consulting business, I was invited to a party. It was there I met Arianna for the first time and we talked about Thrive. It was the professional equivalent of love at first sight.

We found numerous connections we had in common: mission, shared values, the scientific evidence based approach, former colleagues, friends, and foreign accents. Arianna had even spent some time studying at Santiniketan Visva-Bharati University in India, where my grandmother Jayanti Devi Pant had studied for her advanced degrees under Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore. (My grandma was reasonably fluent in eleven languages, a family record I can only surpass if I count programming languages.)

Meeting Arianna and discussing Thrive was the professional equivalent of love at first sight.

What makes a great match? Why do we work?

When you seek to join an organization, you should look for three things:

  1. Do you support the organization’s mission?
  2. Do you have the skills, experience, and knowledge to help the organization succeed?
  3. Do you fit into the organization’s and your team’s culture?

They are three dimensions to help determine the location where you should be. In Thrive Global, my answer to all these is a strong yes, and I also found spiritual connections that transcend them.

Even before I learned about the company Thrive Global, I have passionately believed in the practical wisdom that Arianna’s works present, practice and teach. Having had my own wake up calls, I’ve worked to incorporate some of these lessons in my life and work, and I’ve championed them to colleagues, friends, and family.

Intentional Serendipity

In her book, Arianna describes coincidences as “life’s secret door to wonder”. The philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer referred to coincidences as “wonderful pre-established harmony.”

Soon after I decided I will not move to LA, my friend and coworker Melanie sent me a Business Insider article about Thrive Global followed by the text: (quote) “Your new job?!”

screen-shot-2016-12-23-at-10-08-55-am
(published with permission from Melanie)

Two months later, I received another message from Melanie: “Hi Rajiv! So great to see you last week! I read again about [Arianna Huffington’s] new venture and thought of you. Looks so interesting and I’m sure she can use your help!” This time she included a link to an NYTimes article about Thrive.

screen-shot-2016-12-23-at-10-12-04-am
(published with permission from Melanie)

A few days later, an invite to a speakeasy-themed party showed up in my Inbox. What caught my cybersecurity-enthusiast brain’s attention was it said you needed a password to get in.

During our interviews at Arianna’s home, I also had conversations with her coworkers, family, and friends. She greatly values a personal connection in additional to professional experience. After all, as a CEO, she needs people she can rely on.

Like most CEOs, Arianna looks for competence, skills, experience, knowledge, and cultural fit when interviewing candidates. However, I found that for critical roles, she also looks for a spiritual kind of personal connection: Someone who shares her values, but also brings complementary traits; Someone she can trust, but who also has the courage to disagree with her. Someone who is kind at heart, but one you don’t want to mess with. I fit right in.

Working with her for four months has upheld what I had initially felt about Arianna’s leadership style. She sets a high bar, demands excellence, and does not hesitate to be direct and tough but she respects, empowers, and supports teammates who earn her trust. She respects and defers to others’ expertise. As a fellow human being and as a friend, she genuinely cares about the well-being of other people. Despite being a well-respected and well-liked celebrity CEO with power, I’ve experienced firsthand that she has both the humbleness and courage to apologize to someone in her team.

img_7995-for-web

I met Arianna on a Thursday evening. Following intense conversations about work and life and reference checks over the next three days, I started full-time at Thrive the following Monday before either side had signed any papers. Genuine trust beats legal contracts any day of the week, twice on a Sunday. Yes, my longtime employment attorney couldn’t believe it either.

I met Arianna for the first time on a Thursday evening and started as CTO at Thrive the following Monday.

I feel that I serendipitously found the job that is my calling. After all, the party where I met Arianna required the password ‘Intentional Serendipity’ to get in.

Genuine trust beats legal contracts any day of the week, twice on a Sunday.

It seemed the ancient Greek and Hindu Gods had rigged the decision in both Thrive’s and my favor. Which reminds of something Arianna said to me quoting the 13th-century Persian poet Rumi. “Live life as if everything is rigged in your favor.”

“Live life as if everything is rigged in your favor.” – Rumi

Besides serendipity, there are rational reasons why I feel Thrive is my calling.

5 Reasons why Thrive Global connects with me

  1. Feel – I’ve felt passionate about this mission since long before I had heard of Thrive. My family, friends, and I personally experience the problems in this world that Thrive aims to solve. I’ve always wanted to work in a job where we aim to help anyone and everyone, not a select demographic. Thrive fits the bill.
  2. Improve –  During the past year, I faced tough challenges in my personal and professional life. Thrive principles are the way for me to improve using behavior change science. Continuous personal development is necessary to be able to thrive in life and work. Application of behavioral, social, and cognitive science is necessary to bridge the knowing-doing gap.
  3. Learn directly from Arianna. She accomplished multiple great successes while facing life’s challenges and imperfections.
  4. Evangelize –  Be a public face and spokesperson for something I deeply care about: Thrive Global’s concepts and the science supporting them.
  5. Grow professionally in and beyond product, technology, and design. Master organizational culture, well-being, and productivity. Gain the most effective, science-backed skills to manage organizations, teams, and myself.

Application of behavioral, social, and cognitive science is necessary to bridge the knowing-doing gap.

As an engineer, I have a strong preference for data, and Thrive’s scientific approach with evidence based learning resonates with me.

As a technologist, I am concerned that we are more worried about recharging our devices, than recharging ourselves.

That brings me to what organizations should do to succeed. There must be a clear, well-known, and good primary reason behind every product, service, and project.

3 ‘M’s: Why we do projects at Thrive Global

  1. Mission: Thrive Global’s mission is to end the epidemic of stress and burnout by offering companies and individuals sustainable, science-based solutions to enhance both well-being and performance.
  2. Money: To be successful in its mission, Thrive needs to make substantial and recurring revenues and be profitable.
  3. Marketing: To achieve the first two, Thrive needs to continuously become increasingly well-known, widely-respected, and highly influential.

All work should primarily support one of the 3 ‘M’s: mission, money, or marketing.

Where we go from here

Practicing what one preaches is often hard. I have a long way to go in my own journey and won’t pretend I have already incorporated the practice of most of the Thrive principles in my own life. If it were that simple, you wouldn’t need Thrive Global as a company. Everyone could just buy Arianna’s book and need nothing more.

There are no shortcuts to success, but there are microsteps.

In the book, Arianna writes “The second truth is that we’re all going to veer away from that place [of being centered] again and again. That’s the nature of life. […] The question is how quickly we can get back to that centered place of wisdom, harmony, and strength.”

As Confucius said, “Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”

There are no shortcuts to success, but there are microsteps.

Arthur O. Sulzberger, Jr. Chairman & Publisher, The New York Times

letter-from-arthur-sulzberger-address-redacted

Arthur O. Sulzberger, Jr.

CHAIRMAN
The New York Times Company
PUBLISHER
The New York Times
620 Eighth Avenue
New York, NY 10018
[phone and email redacted]


July 27, 2015

Mr. Rajiv Pant
[address redacted]
New York, NY 10019

Dear Rajiv:

I am writing to extend to you my congratulations on your position at Some Spider and to thank you for the excellent job you did at The New York Times over your four years with us.

Your insight and expertise were enormously valuable as we built the technology needed to launch and grow our digital business. And, your eye for talent helped us to fill our ranks with top developers and technologists. The spirit of collaboration and enthusiasm you brought to your work will surely live on.

I thank you again and wish you continued success.

Sincerely,

Arthur O. Sulzberger, Jr.

A career is like a garden (farewell memo to nytimes colleagues)

 

The following is the farewell memo I wrote to my colleagues at The New York Times.


Subject: A career is like a garden

Dear Colleagues,

As you may know, I have accepted an offer to join a startup on June 1st, and therefore have made the difficult decision to leave The New York Times, an organization I have loved being part of for the past four years, and a brand I have admired all my life. I will continue to be a loyal reader, vocal supporter and paying subscriber.

I care deeply about The New York Times. Let me know any way I can be helpful. I remain personally invested in your continued success.

Working with you has been an honor, a pleasure, and a learning experience for me. I would love to stay in touch. You can connect with me on social networks and find my contact info via rajiv.com.

Over the past four years, many of you have become close friends to me. The Times building has felt like my second home. I will leave with fond memories of being part of this wonderful institution.

Paraphrasing Leonard Nimoy’s farewell Tweet:

A career is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory.

Live long and prosper.

Rajiv

On Mon, May 4, 2015 at 12:21 PM, Marc Frons wrote:

Dear Colleagues,

I am writing to let you know that our CTO Rajiv Pant is leaving The Times to join a startup focusing on community, commerce and content, where he will be heading up technology, product and design. Rajiv told me he has long wanted to be an entrepreneur, and this new position gives him the opportunity to roll up his sleeves and help a startup he co-owns become a successful business.

In his four years at The Times, Rajiv has made an invaluable contribution to the company. He has played a leading role in building and managing the technology behind the growth of our digital business, and the expansion of our mobile and data science teams. Always a magnet for top talent, Rajiv’s proteges can be found in every area of the technology department. Most of all, he has been an unflagging champion of the culture of technology innovation at The Times, and a model of collaboration and good cheer.

Rajiv has agreed to stay on for the next two to four weeks to aid in the transition and help in the search for his successor. Although we are sad to see him go, we wish him every success with this new venture. Regards,

Marc

Management & Technical Career Growth Tracks (v2)

This second version of the diagram illustrating technical career tracks reflects the following updates since version one:

  • A product management track is now included. (Future updates may include other tracks like design, editorial and marketing.)
  • There is no longer a contributor-level position on the people-management track. This is because most organizations do not have an entry-level position whose main job is to manage people yet is below the manager level.
  • The number of levels is still 5, but we have merged the two contributor levels below manager into one. We have added the C-level (as in CEO, CTO, CFO, …) band above the VP levels.
  • The director-level position in the technology track is now called principal architect or simply principal.
  • In the people management track, we suggest that a manager directly supervise at least 3 contributors and that a director supervise at least 3 managers. Exceptions can be made to this guideline when it is well-justified, but these are suggested as the default requirement to hold these titles.

(Thanks to Brian Murphy and Brad Kagawa for their contributions to this system.)

Some Pathways for Career Development in a Product Engineering Organization

The diagram below illustrates some pathways for career development in an engineering-focussed product development organization. It shows an organization where software engineering is a major discipline. The pathways shown here map out career paths that we have seen work well in a number of organizations. (There are also other pathways that work well that are not shown here, for example from VP Engineering to VP Product.)

 

Shorter paths (fewer arrows along the way) do not indicate a quicker career growth path. To the contrary, often gaining experience in multiple areas helps develop as a well-rounded executive prepared for senior leadership roles.

Certain roles are not listed explicitly but are combined into other roles in this illustration. For example, the roles of Security are merged into Systems in this view. Also, roles like Senior Engineer and Lead Engineer are not shown separately, but covered by Engineer and Engineering Manager. Similarly, Senior Manager and Senior Director are also not shown separately. Incorporating that level of detail would have significantly increased the complexity and decreased the readability of the diagram.

CAREER-CLEAR: An Employee Evaluation and Career Development System

CAREER-CLEAR is a system for doing fair, consistent and constructive employee performance evaluations and determining employee rank, title and compensation. It is meant to be used by supervisors to identify areas for improvement for their employees and to guide their career growth.

Employees are scored in a total of 5 categories. Upto 10 points can be earned in each category for a total of upto 50 points. The final score is then multiplied by a factor of 2 to give a standard scale of 0 to 100. Using a normalized 100 point scale allows it to remain consistent (by adjusting the factor) even as companies add/remove categories and items.

If you want to jump directly to the system first and then come back and read the text, click here.

The scoring for each item follows a simple but strict 3-level scale of 0 (below baseline), 1 (at baseline) or 2 (better than baseline). There are no fractional “in between” scores. For example, you must not score someone 1.5. You must pick either 1 or 2. This 3-options-only scale is meant to minimize vagueness. For the same reason, a wider scoring range like 1 to 5 (commonly seen in star rating systems) is not used. A score of 0 in an item is not neccessarily bad. If you are not seeing at least a few 0 scores for most employees, you have set your baselines for each item too low.

The baseline for each item is the same for everyone from the programmer-apprentice to the VP of Engineering. The baseline level — i.e. what quality of performance in that item rates a score of 1 — must be defined in advance for each item as unambiguously as possible. This can be done by senior management or by management consultants hired for this purpose. Doing this in consultation with the employees (who are to be rated) and clients/stakeholders is recommended.

The resulting total score is meant to be mapped to the employee’s level of seniority/rank for title and compensation. That means within a job functional area, employees at senior levels should score higher than employees at junior levels.

For example, a score of 81-100 could map to director/VP levels; 61-80 manager; 41-60 engineer/contributor; 21-40 junior level/apprentice. Since different functional areas — for example, software engineering and quality assurance testing — may have different pay scales, this score maps directly to rank/title, and those are mapped to salaries corresponding to the functional areas’ market rates.

You will notice that a lot of emphasis is given to leadership and management qualities. This is designed for the system to work across the wide range of skills from intern to VP. At first, this may seem like the system is unfairly skewed in favor of seniority and higher level employees. The system, however, is designed to favor skills and better level of performance in multiple areas.

The first four categories are described below. The fifth category is defined as discretionary/user-defined. CAREER-CLEAR is designed to be used in the real world, in a diversity of organizations and on a regular basis. The system won’t succeed if it is too rigid. On the other hand, the system must meet its goals of being fair, consistent and constructive for all employees. To accomodate and balance these goals, 20% of the criteria is meant to be user-defined at descretion of the manager within the fair, consistent and constructive guidelines.

It is inspired by systems described to be in use at Microsoft, Construx, FogCreek (Joel on Software) and Conde Nast Digital Technology. The latter was developed by Bobby Chowdhury, Brian Murphy, Janet Kasdan and Rajiv Pant.

The 5 categories are: Caliber, Leadership, Expertise, Role and Discretionary.

Caliber

This section measures the talent of the employee in general (non-technical) areas.

Scoring: Above Average=2, Average=1, Below Average=0. Add the score for each of the heuristics. Max Score=10 points.

  1. Ownership – Has identifiable long-term ownership of projects. This is a measure of the criticality, complexity and / or number of projects the employee has ownership in.
  2. Responsibility – Is consistently reliable in terms of deliverables and time.
  3. Communication – Communicates effectively with peers and other colleagues. Listens to and understands others’ viewpoints, challenges, needs and desires.
  4. Consistency – Is approachable, predictable, receptive and consistently applies good judgment in all interpersonal interactions in the work place.
  5. Innovative – Innovates and stays abreast of emerging technologies and finds ways to incorporate those technologies into systems.

Leadership

This section evaluates the positive influence the employee has on others.

Scoring: Above Average=2, Average=1, Below Average=0. Add the score for each of the heuristics. Max Score=10 points.

  1. Teacher, Coach & Motivator – Mentors others, makes great use of all information sharing tools available and is an active presenter. Rallies the troops and improves morale.
  2. Enabler – Empowers and enables others to succeed.
  3. Exemplary – Leads by example and goes above and beyond the ‘requirements’.
  4. Maturity & Humility – Embraces others’ solutions, even when incompatible with one’s own. Incorporates feedback from others to find the best solutions.
  5. Connector – Has familiarity with the ecosystem beyond one’s own projects. Functions as a hub which others are drawn to for a quick answer or a quick redirect towards an answer.

Expertise

This section quantifies the skills and experience of the employee related to the job function.

Scoring: Above Average=2, Average=1, Below Average=0. Add the score for each of the heuristics. Max Score=10 points.

  1. Fundamentals – Understands of the core technical concepts aligned with the given job function. This may include data structures & algorithms, testing, networking, etc.
  2. Breadth of Expertise – Is a subject matter expert and go-to person for many areas of technology.
  3. Pragmatic – Has a demonstrated ability to identify the best solution to balance what’s most theoretically ideal against what might be the most practical due to concerns about security, scalability, time to market pressures and cost.
  4. Automator – Consistently works to drive improvement in processes and systems.
  5. “Boy/Girl Scout Rule” – Leaves code and systems better off than they found them.

Role

This section enumerates the employee’s role and areas of contribution within the organization and beyond.

Scoring: Above Average=2, Average=1, Below Average=0. Add the score for each of the heuristics. Max Score=10 points.

  1. Strategic – Provides sound vision for broad, long-term goals.
  2. Tactical – Oversees many projects or activities that move the organization towards strategic goals.
  3. Operational – Steers day-to-day processes that achieve the tactical goals.
  4. Executional – Implements repetitive tasks that make up the operational processes. A measure of quantity and more importantly, quality of work produced.
  5. Industry Recognition – Is recognized externally as a leading technologist through contributions to open source projects, blogging, writing books, participating in technical committees, speaking at conferences, etc.

The following are some examples to illustrate strategic, tactical, operational and executional.

  • Strategic: “Our new Web application will become one of the top three, preferably #1, in its space in the US market.”
  • Tactical: “We will hire a small team to develop and launch it. An office location would be required to meet partners and clients. We will also need additional funding.”
  • Operational: “We will hire a great software architect, 2 expert engineers, set up office in Manhattan, and have goal of reaching $500,000 in additional funding by the end of the year.”
  • Executional: “The architect designs the Web application in collaboration with the engineers. The engineers and the architect implement it. The team then makes it live and markets it via social networks and other channels.

Discretionary

Please be sure to adhere to the goals of being fair, consistent and constructive for all employees in using this discretionary section. This category is not meant to be used to justify favoritism nor meant to be arbitrary. Good descretion comes from rational, reasonable and relevant criteria. Place items here that are not already covered in other categories and are important to your organization. A good rule of thumb is that you must be able to justify any criteria you apply here.

Scoring: Above Average=2, Average=1, Below Average=0. Add the score for each of the heuristics. Max Score=10 points.

  1. discretionary / user-defined item 1
  2. discretionary / user-defined item 2
  3. discretionary / user-defined item 3
  4. discretionary / user-defined item 4
  5. discretionary / user-defined item 5

CAREER-CLEAR version 2.1 2010-Oct-13

I Love New York City

I’ve now been living in Manhattan for two weeks and I love NYC. New York is a wonderful city. I’ve wanted to live here since I was little.

My new job is at Conde Nast Publications as VP of Information Technology for CondeNet. My office is near Times Square, a major tourist attraction which is every minute, every day teeming with a diversity of people from all over the world.

So far, I’ve visited the Village, Union Square, Central Park and Times Square areas, all of which I’ve found lovely. I see the city will provide ample sights for one of my favorite hobbies, photography.

Moving to Atlanta

I look forward to living in Atlanta, a major city in the southeastern state of Georgia. I will, however, miss being around my friends in the the Philadelphia and San Francisco areas where I previously lived.

On June 1st, I start work at COXnet as Chief Technology Officer. COXnet is part of the Cox Newspapers Division of Cox, one of the nation’s leading media/communications companies and providers of automotive services. I’m excited!

Effectuation (my business venture) has been handed over to new management. I wish them the best.