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.

Trinity Method of Technology Management

In the Trinity Method of Technology Management, tasks and responsibilities are categorized under three types of roles: Creator, Guardian and Recycler.

If you are the CTO or VP of Technology at an organization, your team needs to do three things effectively and regularly:

  1. Innovate; improve; create new products, features, services & processes
  2. Operate; maintain; execute existing processes & systems with predictable results
  3. Seek & identify products, features, services and processes that are no longer necessary; Decommission systems; Free up resources for reassignment

The above are the roles of creator, guardian and recycler, respectively.

An example of a creator-type manager is someone whose primary background is software engineering and that their strength is in delivering client satisfaction & happiness via innovative products & services.

A example of a guardian-type manager is someone who does a good job heading up technology operations.

The dedicated recycler-type role rarely exists in many organizations, resulting in unnecessary systems (whole or in part), features and processes consuming money, causing unnecessary complexity and slowing down productivity and innovation. Recycling should be a part of everyday work in a technology organization. Reduce waste by recycling.

There are many benefits of having a dedicated recycler role in your management team:

  • Higher productivity due to reduction of complexity, removal of obstacles and availability of freed-up resources
  • Helps eliminate or minimize ‘process creep’
  • A happier workplace resulting from the above
  • Cost savings

I recommend that you have these three distinct roles, with a manager focussed on only one of creator, guardian, or recycler type tasks & responsibilities at a given time.

The table below gives some examples of tasks and responsibilities under the three areas.

Creator Tasks & Responsibilities Guardian Tasks & Responsibilities Recycler Tasks & Responsibilities
Develop new products, functionality, services, systems & processes Operations, execution, delivering predictable results, maintenance & support Examine existing systems, products, processes and resource assignments seeking areas for recycling
Add a major new feature to an existing Web application Track expenses to budget, monthly Decommissioning a system no longer in use
Develop a new mobile application Compile status reports, weekly Elimination of unnecessary steps and waste in a process or workflow
Mentor and coach employees on a regular basis Identification of areas for cost reductions
Review and approve requests like vacations, expenses and When an employee leaves, don’t immediately assume that you need to fill the position. The recycler manager should urge the team to determine if this work can be absorbed elsewhere. This will help eliminate waste and avoid or minimize layoffs in the future when business requires reducing staff.

This article was inspired by the Indian concept of Trimurti in which in which the cosmic functions of creation, maintenance, and destruction are personified. It was also inspired by the Harvard Business Review article titled “What 17th-Century Pirates Can Teach Us About Job Design” by Hayagreeva Rao, Professor of at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business.

This post about the Trinity Method of Technology Management is part of a series on technology leadership & management.

How to Avoid Duplicate Search Results when using Apple Mail.app with Gmail

I use Gmail’s IMAP feature with my Apple Mac OS’s built in Mail.app program. Mail.app keeps local copies (on all my personal Macs) of all my email messages that I’ve kept (since 1994). It enables me to:

  • Effectively work offline with all my emails (searching, reading and composing), when my computer is not online. That’s sometimes the case when I’m traveling, especially in places where Internet access is unavailable, unreliable, slow, insecure or too expensive.
  • Regularly back up all my saved emails using Apple’s Time Machine. It is also a precaution in case I someday no longer have my Gmail account and/or move to another email service. With email account theft rampant these days, it is important to have up to date backups of all your emails.
  • Send digitally signed and encrypted emails when needed.
  • Compose greeting cards and other visually rich emails with pictures on Mail.app’s stationary.

The Problem:

When you initially set up Mail.app to use Gmail via IMAP, you will observe that when you search your mail using Apple’s built in Spotlight feature, the search results will show duplicate (or more) copies of your email. This is because Gmail’s labels and special views (like “All Mail” or “Starred”) appear as separate IMAP folders in Mail.app. Messages in these seemingly “separate IMAP folders” appear to be duplicates to Mail.app and Spotlight search.

The Solution:

To solve this problem, I suggest showing only essential Gmail special views and labels as IMAP folders to Gmail and then telling Spotlight search to only index the master copies of the messages in Gmail’s “All Mail” folder. To accomplish this, I did the following.

Note: I do the labeling of my messages via the Gmail Web interface and do not need to see the labels applied to messages when I’m using Mail.app. My solution below hides all my custom Gmail labels from Mail.app and that’s fine with me.

In Gmail (via the Web interface)

Go to “Settings > Labs” and activate “Advanced IMAP Controls“. After enabling it, go to “Settings > Labels” and uncheck “Show in IMAPfor each custom Gmail label you have created. Also uncheck it for “Starred” since Mail.app shows to do flags in messages in other folders.

Leave “Show in IMAPchecked yes for “Inbox“, “Sent Mail“, “Drafts“, “All Mail” and “Trash” since these are system folders and Apple Mail.app should be configured to use them. Also leave it checked yes for a label folder called “Apple Mail To Do” which is an Apple Mail system folder.

On your Macs

Go to “System Preferences > Spotlight > Privacy“, exclude the following folders from appearing in search results. Where it says [email protected] below, use your Gmail account name.

~/Library/Mail/IMAP-[email protected]/INBOX.imapmbox

~/Library/Mail/IMAP-[email protected]/[Gmail]/Sent Mail.imapmbox

Also, if you are displaying your starred folder via IMAP, exclude:

~/Library/Mail/IMAP-[email protected]/[Gmail]/Starred.imapmbox

Now when you search messages in your Mac’s Mail.app, only results from your Gmail All Mail folder will appear.

Build and maintain a cohesive leadership team

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For an executive, having a management team of people who are good at their jobs and work well with each other is one of the most important factors that lead to success together. Observing a number of successful projects, I realized that it is critical that your management team members care for each other, work well together and give to each other. Their sincere collaboration is far more important than their individual strengths.

I began to write this article impressed by how well the management team comprising of my direct reports functioned, collaborating with each other towards shared success. I was pleasantly surprised by how these directors shared responsibilities, how closely they worked with people in each other’s teams and how comfortably they gave credit to each other. When conflicts arose between them, they frankly, respectfully and nicely expressed them to each other, often one-on-one. Every time, they resolved them quickly and came out with a closer professional relationship. They actively and regularly talked to quell any turf battles between each other’s departments before they could form.

They had a wonderful professional relationship. They barely knew each other outside of work, having busy personal lives with their families on most evenings and weekends. I felt that my management team and I were like a work-family, sticking together through good and bad times, always believing that our success comes as a team.

When you manage and organize your company or your department, spend time multiple times a week with your direct reports together so that you all work well with each other towards shared success. In turn, they should ensure that their direct reports care about each other and collaborate. If you have, say five direct reports, make sure that just the six of you get together in a room to work openly and collaboratively at least twice a week (assuming you are in the same geographic location). The forum for this need not be always a staff meeting, it could be a working session on a project.

I was struggling to come up with suitable words to describe this and its importance. While reading the book The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive: A Leadership Fable by Patrick Lencioni, I found that the first discipline described in the story talks exactly of this and hence is the title of this article. The book is written as a fictional story that teaches leadership lessons. It is easy to read being under 200 pages in large typeface which you can read in one evening. I highly recommend it.

Organizing a Digital Technology Department of Medium Size in a Media Company

There are many good ways to organize your technology department. This article presents some of them. It is written for a CTO or VP Technology leading a medium size department looking for suggestions on organizing or reorganizing your Digital (Web, Mobile) technology department. It is best suited for you if your organization has the following characteristics:

  • You manage software engineering, implementation and technology operations for 3 or more digital brands.
  • Yours is a medium size technology department with somewhere between 20 to 100 technology staff.
  • Internal corporate IT functions such as desktop support, telecommunications services and internal business systems are beyond the scope of this article.

The Venn diagram below presents one model of organizing your department into 3 sub-departments.

Web Technology Department Organization
Web Technology Department Organization Venn Diagram Illustrating Purposeful Overlap Among Sub-Departments

Some CTOs in smaller companies organize their technology departments as 2 sub-departments: Software Engineering and Technology Operations. Software engineering is the function that is responsible for developing and implementing Web & Mobile application software. Technology Operations is responsible for running, maintaining and supporting the Web applications.

If you operate 1 or 2 digital brands (Web sites), having these 2 sub-departments is a good approach. For 3 or more Web sites, organizing Software Engineering into Site Engineering and Platform Engineering has some benefits.

Site Engineering is focused on working on the Web sites’ direct projects. Its work includes

  • Small and large projects for adding or changing functionality on the Web sites
  • Bug fixes on the Web site applications

Platform Engineering is typically smaller than the other two organizations and typically includes functions like:

  • Architecture across sites
  • Shared applications across sites
  • Common libraries across sites
  • Research & Development (R&D)

Technology Operations includes functions such as:

  • Systems & Applications Administration
  • Infrastructure Management
  • 24×7 Tech Support
  • Builds & Configuration
  • Release Management
  • Testing & Quality Assurance (QA)1
  • Technical Analysis
  • Technical Project Management
  • Budget Management

These three departments have purposeful overlap of responsibilities as illustrated in the Venn diagram above. That helps minimize the chances of the departments becoming silos with walls between them. For success, it is important that your entire department functions as one integrated unit. Some shared goals & responsibilities are required for mutual success.

DevOps2 is a set of processes, methods and systems for communication, collaboration and integration between departments for Development (Applications/Software Engineering) and Technology Operations. Its purpose is to facilitate meeting business goals by producing good quality software products and services in a timely fashion. It is where development methodologies (such as agile software development) occur in an organization with separate departments for Development, Technology Operations and Quality Assurance. Development and deployment activities that need deep cross-departmental integration with Technology Support or QA require intimate multi-departmental collaboration.3

DevOps
llustration showing DevOps as the intersection of Development (Software Engineering), Technology Operations and Quality Assurance (QA)

To make this work, you need 3 directors who head up these departments who work well together, collaborate often and are not sensitive about their turf. They should know that a successful technology manager is not an individual-only contributor, but a great team player with peers. They should have strong goodwill among each other and welcome each other to work directly with their teams. Such a collaborative team is essential.

Article Updated: September 25, 2010

  1. QA can also be set up as an independent department. []
  2. WikiPedia entry on DevOps []
  3. Article: What is DevOps? []

Management & Technical Career Growth Tracks

Described here is one way to enable technologists to grow their careers in your organization while still allowing them to focus on the type of work they are best at and enjoy most.

The typical management career growth path does not suit some technical people. These information workers need to grow in their careers (gain greater compensation, responsibilities and influence) without having to become managers of other people. A good way to achieve that goal is to create a technical career growth track in your organization.

The following diagram and table illustrate management positions alongside technical positions of similar levels.

Click on the diagram above to view it as a zooming presentation.



This system isn’t meant to be rigid. It is designed to find a good balance with most organizations. That balance, i.e. how many “levels of authority” there are will differ across organizations. The focus of this article is to provide a technical track as an alternative to management tracks, whether there are 3 levels or 13. There are pros and cons of having fewer “bands” or ranks. (As a side note, some organizations like the military1 require lots of ranks.) Ranks need not signify a strict hierarchy where one can only go from one rank to the one immediately above. The ranks could simply be used as “salary bands” and the levels of “hierarchy of authority” could be fewer.

In this model, for example, an architect role is at the same compensation and influence level as a manager role, assuming that the particular manager and architect being compared add similar value to the company. To accommodate more ranks, a senior architect would be at the same level as a senior manager.

If the organization prefers consistent titles for levels regardless of track, the system could name them like this: vice president & fellow, senior director & architect, etc. In the case of a fellow who is at an SVP level, they could be named SVP & distinguished fellow.

Here is a definition of the fellow role from WikiPedia:2

Large corporations in research and development-intensive industries3 appoint a small number of senior scientists and engineers as Fellows. Fellow is the most senior rank or title one can achieve on a technical career, though some fellows also hold business titles such as vice president or chief technology officer.

Such a technical career growth plan brings many benefits to your organization.

  • It helps retain good technologists who want to grow in their careers, but want to do keep doing the type of work they are best at and enjoy doing: technical work.
  • It avoids brilliant technical people from being “pushed” (by themselves or their supervisors trying to “reward” them) into people-management responsibilities.
  • It reduces situations of having too many people-managers but not enough people-management positions over time as people get promoted.

Care should be taken to recognize that some technical people do enjoy making the transition to people-management roles and the presence such a technical track should not discourage them. Having an alternate career growth track option is about presenting employees with more than one choice.

Similar system are also used to enable non-managerial career paths at editorial and design departments at newspapers, magazines and other newsrooms.

Related Articles on Other Sites

Some updates to this article are published at http://www.rajiv.com/blog/2012/12/17/tech-career-tracks-v2/

(Thanks to Brian MurphyBobby Chowdhury, and Janet Kasdan for their contributions to this system.)

(Updated: 2012-Dec-17)

  1. US Military Ranks []
  2. Definition of Fellow at WikiPedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fellow and Wikitionary http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/fellow []
  3. IBM or Sun Microsystems in information technology, and Boston Scientific in Medical Devices for example []

Business Travel Checklist

Suitcase

 Clothes & Shoes

For a trip longer than 1 week, carry 1 weeks’ worth of clothes and plan on using laundry and dry-cleaning services.

 1 suit (2 suits for 3 or more days’ trip)

If carrying more than one suit, it should be of a color that the same shoes and belt can go with it.

 1 tie (2 ties for 3 or more days’ trip)

 1 leather belt

 1 shirt (+1 shirt for every additional day)

 1 set of cuff links

I like to wear shirts with cuff links

 1 set of undergarments for each day

 1 pair of formal shoes

I’ll be wearing one pair of shoes during travel, so pack the other in the suitcase.

 1 pair of workout/hiking shoes

I prefer Vibram FiveFingers for this. They are lightweight and take less space.

 1 pair of merino wool socks for every 3 days

Merino wool socks are comfortable, versatile and can be worn for 3 days without causing odor.

 spare shoelaces

I’ve had shoelaces break during trips before.

 shoe bags

 1 pair of jeans

Jeans can be used as workout pants, hiking/trail walks and for casual wear.

 cloth (or plastic) bag for used clothes

Cloth laundry bags are preferable as they are better for the environment and less noisy than plastic bags.

 bathroom kit

 comb or hairbrush

 hair product

 toothbrush

 toothpaste

 razor handle with 2 blade cartridges

I use Dollar Shave Club’s “Humble Twin” blades: http://shaved.by/zMvP

 shaving cream or shaving soap

Solid shaving soap bars are more economical than shaving creams: http://www.rajiv.com/blog/2010/04/17/cleaning-soap/

 bath soap bar

Solid soap bars are more economical and easier to carry: http://www.rajiv.com/blog/2010/04/17/cleaning-soap/

 deodorant

 nail clipper

 First-aid kit

 Empty space to bring back things acquired during trip

Whether on personal or business trips, I always end up acquiring and bringing back things. Be sure to keep some space in my briefcase empty for them.

▾ ☐ Briefcase/Backpack

 MacBook Pro

I’ve found that my iPhone and iPad (even with physical keyboards) are not yet satisfactory for my content authoring and editing needs on business trips.

 iPad (optional)

 Kindle (optional)

If I am planning to read books in sunlight, then the iPhone and iPad are not suitable.

 Power Adapters Kit

 MacBook Pro Power Adapter

 iPad/iPhone/USB Wall Charger

 iPad/iPhone/USB Car Charger

 iPad/iPhone/USB Portable Battery Charger

 iPad/iPhone Lightning Charger Cable

 Micro USB Charging Cable for Kindle, Android Phone and Motorola S-11 Wireless Headset

 Power strip with surge protector

Useful when only 1 power outlet is available or convenient to me, which is often the case during travel.

 Audio headphones

I use Motorola S-11 HD Bluetooth headphones.

 Documents & Information

These could be all in digital form on my smartphone, but if so, should be quick and easy to find on my iPhone.

 airline tickets and schedules

 hotel reservation info

 car rental reservation info

 addresses and directions to and from key places

 to do lists

 complete contacts info / address book

 contact info of people in the area grouped together

 tourism info for the area

Carry a physical tourist guide book only when traveling internationally. For domestic travel within the U.S., use my smartphone.

 Backup eyeglasses

 Eyeglasses cleaning cloth and liquid

 Paper tissues

▾ ☐ Additional Wallet for Travel

 100 business cards to give out

 Passport, if traveling internationally

 Global Entry card, if traveling internationally

 Foreign currencies, if traveling internationally

Keep cash in a separate wallet in the unfortunate event of being pick-pocketed or robbed.

▾ ☐ Miscellaneous

 iPhone

 Wallet

 Keys

Even though I don’t need my keys during the trip, I do need them upon return. Keep them in my briefcase upon commencement of travel.

▾ ☐ Do Not Carry

 More than one physical printed book to read unless necessary

I haven’t gotten time to read all the books I carry on trips in the past. Too many printed books are a burden to carry. Examples of unless necessary include textbooks for classes, book gifts for someone

 Bulky audio headphones

I’ve personally not experienced a need for bulky noise isolation or noise canceling headphones. To me, they are not worth the bulk of carrying.

 Digital Camera, unless required for an event

These days smartphone cameras are good enough for many types of casual photography. Carry a digital camera only if I need it for taking high quality or low light photos at and event or when visiting family or friends. If carrying my digital camera, also pack my camera accessories pouch.

 Portable GPS unit, unless traveling internationally

If traveling internationally (even to Canada), consider carrying my Garmin nuvi with international maps loaded. Using data on my smartphone internationally is expensive. I should also research a navigation app that pre-downloads maps and can work without using data internationally.

 Food to eat on the plane or train

On a business trip, meals are reimbursable and carrying food is an unnecessary hassle, especially considering the risk of food leaking in my bag.

 Towel

While sometimes needed on personal trips visiting family or friends, a towel is not needed on business trips since hotels provide them.

 Handkerchiefs

I have switched to paper tissues as they are more hygienic.

 Anything else of value that is not necessary for this trip

Avoiding carrying things that are not necessary for the trip keeps the weight and space manageable and reduces chances of loss or damage.

▾ ☐ Before leaving, do the following

 Change voicemail message at work. provide alternate contact person and number.

 Enable email out-of-office auto-response at work. provide alternate contact person.

 Ensure that any tasks one-time or recurring that I had scheduled for the duration I’m away are assigned to alternates.

 Plan itinerary, including confirming meetings including personal visits.

 Reach out to some family and friends in the places I’ll be visiting.

 Back up and secure portable computer I’ll be carrying with me in case it is lost or stolen.

 Back up and secure smartphone I’ll be carrying with me in case it is lost or stolen.

 Allocate a pocket or pouch in my briefcase dedicated solely to storing receipts required for reimbursement of business related expenses.

 Ensure that will, insurance and emergency plans are in place and communicated to immediate family.

▾ ☐ After returning, do the following

 Change voicemail back to usual message.

 Disable email out-of-office auto-response.

 File for reimbursement of business related expenses.

Document updated:

  • 2014-Feb-09: Revision 4. Updated to keep up with the times.
  • 2010-Jan-24: Revision 3. Updated to reflect changes due to technologies like smartphones.
  • 2001-July-20: Revision 2.2.