by Sihui Huang

The Fastest Way to Get Promoted as an Engineer

We all want to live up to our potential, grow in our career, and do the best work of our lives. Getting promoted at work not only proves that we have advanced our skills but also shows that the hard work we put in is being recognized and appreciated.

As I was going through my bi-annual performance review with my manager, I learned that I missed that one thing that could have helped me grow faster and would’ve led to a promotion.

The fastest way to get promoted at work — act as if you have already been promoted. If you want to be promoted to be a level 6 engineer, start to think and act like a level 6 engineer. If you want to become a tech lead, start to think and act like as if you are already a tech lead.

Observe the types of work engineers at the next level do that are different than yours, and start looking for opportunities to take on those types of activities. Ask your manager about the expectations for the next level, and start to work on meeting those expectations. You can even work out a reasonable target date for your promotion with your manager and plan backward from that date.

What I’ve learned from experience

Here is my story. In the past six months, my responsibilities at work grew a lot and my role changed gradually. Before, I was a pure individual contributor. My main focus at work was to read, write and talk about code. In the last six months, I acquired new responsibilities, such as leading projects, facilitating technical discussions, leading cross-team collaborations, and onboarding new team members.

While these new responsibilities provided a tremendous amount of growth opportunities, I was one step behind in recognizing the changes in my role and the new exceptions from my team.

For example, one piece of feedback I received was that while facilitating technical discussions, I should make sure we stay on topic and not get lost in details. My first reaction when I heard the feedback was that I didn’t even realize I was the facilitator for the discussion. I thought I was just a participant providing technical expertise.

Another bit of feedback I got was to focus more on the big picture and overall timeline of a project instead of only the part that was right in front of me. The feedback makes sense. After all, a major responsibility for a tech lead is to monitor projects’ progress and communicate them in a timely manner to external stakeholders. But in my mind, I was still thinking of myself as an individual contributor. Even though I knew I was leading the project, I was late to recognize all these new expectations and responsibilities.

In other words, I was acting like an engineer at my current level, instead of a tech lead, the next level I wanted to grow into.

This way of thinking — acting like you are one step ahead of yourself, or “fake it till you make it”, is applicable to many other things besides getting promotions. Many self-taught developers tell me they aren’t sure if they have learned enough to be a professional developer. My answer is always to act like you are ready and apply for jobs — that’s the only way to find out.

This is a simple but powerful mental shift. I will start applying it at work and post updates on my personal blog (not Medium) reporting how it goes. Subscribe to follow along. I hope to see you next week in your inbox :)

My career plan for the year is to grow into a tech lead. I’m excited about all the learnings ahead and would love to share this journey with you in a brutally honest fashion. I will be sharing my weekly learnings on my personal blog (not Medium).

In the next few months, I will focus on growing in the following areas, so you can expect to see learnings related to them:

  • focusing on the big picture of the project instead of near-term implementation details;
  • balancing my efforts between leading projects and coding;
  • work-life balance for long-term productivity;
  • the human side of software development: making sure everyone riding with me enjoys the ride and feels fulfilled and inspired.

PS: My coworker, Noa, also has a great piece of advice on this subject: “If you’re interested in a career transition, tell people about it.” Let your manager know, so they can look for opportunities for you. Let your peers know, so they can provide constructive feedback.

Originally published at on January 16, 2019.