We don’t do enough with momentum in the workplace. I tend to think of momentum in military terms. A lot about breaking down an offensive is sapping it’s momentum. We need momentum on projects because when they stop moving forward the projects tend to get bogged down and sometimes never start moving again. For you, momentum is about your career moving forward.
If you’ve ever heard the phrase “progressive experience” in a job listing, this is what momentum is about. To be considered for a position at a certain level, they want to see that you’ve actually moved through everything before. Think of it this way.
Senior Software Developer
Senior Software Engineer
Those are all positions I have held. The job titles may not match exactly, but those are the functional roles. A job advertising for a Senior Software Engineer also wants you to be able to demonstrate you’ve done the other roles as well. Why? Well, I know someone who has a title of “Senior Software Engineer” but he is really a senior developer. There is a difference. If he were to apply for an actual senior engineer position, his resume would not reflect progressive experience.
The other part of this is if you’ve skipped a step. Can you be a technical lead without being a senior software engineer? Yes! However, some companies want to make sure you are a technical expert before they give that position to someone. No progressive experience? You may be a bad fit.
This is the other part of momentum. Fast momentum is difficult to maintain. I knew someone that due to circumstances of the company he was hired at he was the Director of Software Development by the time he hit 26. That means less than 4 years out of college he was in middle management! That is tremendous momentum, but now he is stuck. As long as his current company employs him he is fine, but looking for a new job is tricky. He is considered not experienced enough to be middle management and due to his current job title may have difficulty finding a job more in line with his level of experience.
The reverse can be an issue as well. I mentioned briefly the other day about a 35 year old who works in the same codebase for 10 years not being dynamic enough. I was actually thinking of a former employee when I said that. He wasn’t exactly 35 and it was more like 8 years, but you had someone who was intelligent and capable who was limited because they had no career momentum. Not just slow growth but no growth. They had allowed themselves to get pigeonholed and never tried to break out of it because they were comfortable. Since his position was eliminated he has had trouble finding work because he has little to show for the past 8 years.
Fast is not necessarily bad and you are going to have periods where things slow down. You will also have ups and downs (I’ll talk about career trajectory later). Do you have momentum? Where are you at? Have you advanced quickly? What can you do to offset that? Fast advancement is not bad but you have to be ready to mitigate a meteoric rise if career plans have to change. Are you moving slowly? That’s ok to be at a slower pace so long as you are showing progressive experience along the way. Are you not moving at the pace you would like? Talk to others in roles above yours to see what you can do to advance.
Do not allow yourself to get stuck. What I hear as an excuse is “I don’t want to be in management so I’m not worried.” Most jobs I know of, not just in technology, still have progressions to move through. You don’t have to have management ambitions, but to retain value and even increase it you need to keep developing yourself.