Creating the right conditions for your team to grow and flourish is one of the most important parts of being a leader. That’s critical every day, but it’s even more critical when planning your people’s long-term career development.
Structure, clarity, and trust are pillars of high-performance teams. I intentionally weave them into the fabric of our culture – whether that’s by building new processes, investing in relationships, or aligning on expectations. For long-term career planning with my team, I’ve found nothing more valuable than outlining and sharing clear career paths.
Career paths help your employees to gauge where they currently stand and how they can grow in the future. I’ve found they serve technical teams particularly well. Clearly defined paths help engineers calibrate their performance and envision aspirational levels to strive for.
A critical component of career paths at Slack is archetypes – a series of personas that engineers can identify with. For individual contributors, having career paths that clearly map to different archetypes provides a clear progression path that’s intertwined with the type of work they enjoy most.
Career Paths at Slack
At Slack, we update our technical career paths every year, and use them to outline expectations and progression plans for every engineering role. Career paths eliminate ambiguity, support our people, and ensure we award promotions in an equitable way.
“Having easily digestible examples of traits for engineers at each level helps me affirm I’m on the right path and identify areas where I can improve as a leader at Slack.” – Curtis Allen, Staff Engineer, Developer Platform
Every rung on a career path comes with increased responsibilities and opportunities to have an impact on Slack’s mission.
We use the analogy of a mountain climber: an engineer at the start of their career will be comfortable with routine hikes, but a Principal Engineer at the peak of their career is a trailblazer that inspires fellow climbers to reach new heights. Career paths provide our people with a compass and map to climb the mountain.
“Having a career path sets a baseline for all engineers to strive for. Personally, it gives me a tool to introspect in the areas I should grow in. Career paths are a consistent calibration tool I can use to measure my impact, role and responsibilities.” – Nupur Goyal, Staff Software Engineer
But not every engineer wants to climb the same mountain. There are many types of engineers, with different goals, interests, and skills. It’s important that career paths provide a variety of routes that best fit the goals of our engineers.
The Role of Archetypes
Archetypes serve to outline the different types of engineer you can be at Slack. All told, we have five different archetypes: builders, generalists, organizers, technologists, and kickstarters. No archetype is better than any other – one of the key functions of archetypes is to publicly equalize different strengths. We actively encourage engineers to pursue projects and roles that align with their archetype.
“I align most with the Organizer archetype. I feel like my superpower lies in understanding and bonding with people. I love being a part of the initial team that sets culture and code patterns that stand the test of time.” – Curtis Allen, Staff Engineer, Developer Platform
I firmly believe that engineers do their best work when they have clarity and enjoy the projects they’re working on. By encouraging engineers to find their archetype, we help them discover the work that’s most important to them, and then partner with them to build their career around that.
“Archetypes enable me to reflect on the work I’m doing and whether it aligns with the qualities I’d like to have as an engineer. Seeing examples of different archetypes across the company inspired me to transfer to another team where I would be able to focus more on building those qualities.” – Nupur Goyal, Staff Software Engineer
It’s certainly possible to be at the intersection of different archetypes – in fact, most of us are. Apply archetypes flexibly: Nupur uses them to mentor younger engineers, while Curtis applies them to engineers he admires to better understand their success.
Applying Career Paths and Archetypes
As a leader of engineering teams, I’ve always intentionally pursued clarity, particularly when it comes to career planning.
I encourage my team to reference career paths often, and openly talk about them in 1:1s with their manager. Use career paths to identify strengths and development areas, and to select interesting projects that align with your skills and interests. At Slack, we encourage our team to create an internal resume that maps their accomplishments against the behaviors outlined in their career path.
For managers, career paths are a valuable tool for setting expectations, providing honest performance feedback, and removing bias and inequities from promotions. Decisions become more clear, it’s easier to support your team’s development, and hiring becomes easier, with well-defined expectations for each role.
I’ve had a courtside seat to the transformative impact of career paths and archetypes on my team. They’re invaluable for individual contributors by removing ambiguity and providing clear goals to strive for. In my view, one of the ultimate expressions of clarity is investing in career paths; use them to build a brighter future for your team and you’ll reap the rewards for years to come.
Thank you to Nupur Goyal and Curtis Allen for contributing to this article, and to Jamie Scheinblum , Chaitanya Ravula, Tracy Stampfli, and Danna Rubin for their partnership in co-creating archetypes for Slack’s career paths program.