In some way or another, most people in a field they’re passionate about strive to be the best. It’s that ambition that pushes growth and fast maturation. However, in all reality, does that desire push us to the top of the corporate ladder? Hardly ever! Engineering is no different.
Being the best engineer is a tricky task. You get a lot of freedom and leverage, but opportunities do dry up or disappear. I know this is probably coming as a big shock, and a bit egotistical, for most, but it is reality. That’s why we’ll be diving into it here!
The Talent Cap
As an engineer, the talent you need to progress caps at around the high end of mid-level engineering. Good enough to understand how code works well, and can communicate well while being eager to improve. This will definitely come as a contrast to what most are probably taught their whole lives, to be the best and reach for the stars. However, when you think about it more, it really doesn’t.
At the end of the day, advancing as an engineer is simple. It’s solely based on being able to asses situations and communicate strategy well enough for everyone to understand. Ask yourself, who is more likely can communicate well with everyone. The super talented engineer, or the engineer closer to everyone else’s talent level with articulation ability?
Most Don’t Understand The Work You Do
If you’ve ever been truly the best in your organization/team, the work you do tends to be done in a silo. It’s never really intentional, or initially meant to harm you, it’s just the best way to manage resources and meet deliverables. This silo tends to be work that doesn’t directly impact the bottom line or increase revenue. Instead, it’s more oriented towards developer experience and untangling messes that cause bigger problems down the line.
Imagine trying to explain that, in a world where the majority of engineers flood their resumes and Linkedin profiles with how much of their company’s bottom line they impacted. It’s incredibly difficult! Having to explain to recruiters, engineers that never reached this talent level in their career, or anything in between, is never fun.
Career Advancement Is Difficult
In the simplest of terms, moving up from the middle is the fastest and easiest. You’re not at the bottom of the pack, so you don’t have to worry about low-performance issues or someone trying to replace your headcount. You’re also not at the top so you never have to worry about intimidating those around you and the work you do not get the full credit it deserves.
Thus everything you do above average gets praised, the work you do always goes noticed and is easily understood, and people are more likely to want to level you up without feeling insecure about your growth.
Being the best isn’t as ideal in corporate America. Being at the front of the pack in a small pool, in a scenario where groupthink and social dynamics control your outcome, doesn’t bold well for anyone. The middle is always the best place because wherever you can be with the most people pushing you up is where you’ll get the most out of the system. So focus on that, and less on being in the front of your organization.