What does it mean “You own your career” ?

Many companies are in the process of doing their year end reviews this time of the year. This means that a lot of people are thinking about their career, where they stand and how to move ahead and make progress.

I am a firm believer that we own our career ourselves. This is also the advice I usually give to anyone who asks me “how can I grow?”. One of these times my team member bravely asked – What exactly does it mean to own your career? While I understood what it meant for me (I think) I realized it’s genuine and probably a very valid question. How do we define this? What does it translate to?

I will make an attempt to describe it in my way what does it mean: “You own your career”

What is a career?

In order to talk about career, I need to talk about the big picture. Without that we are just travelling with no destination. In my opinion we all should have a big picture, a destination in mind on where we want to reach. It does not always need to be achieving high ranks (although there is nothing wrong with that if that’s your goal e.g. to be a CEO). It should be what’s meaningful for you. A few examples could be, being a visible voice in your industry, being financially independent to retire early, a significant contribution in your field or org. It should be something that is organically yours and does not change from company to company.

Ultimately the professional journey towards your big picture is career.

Lot of us, spend most awake hours everyday working and making a career.

What is ownership?

There are so many amazing articles and books about ownership that describe it in so much more elegant manner.  In simple words, it means taking charge. Taking charge to change or maintain something is ownership and when we act like owners, we empower ourselves to make decisions that impact that ownership for the better.

Breakdown: You own your career.

Most companies I have worked with, there has been a career ladder. A level 1… to level n and a tool that drives what are the expectations and needs from a certain level. Performance reviews are benchmarked against those levels and as the company grows they get to tweak  accordingly.

The most common story I hear is, “I want to go to the next level and I need help from my manager to get there”. It is very important that your manager knows about your plans and intent to move to the next level. This is actually one of the steps in owning your career. What’s critically even more important, is that you and your boss know about your big picture goal. I believe most people miss this latter part.

It’s important to understand that current level and next level are mere tools to your big picture. As I said earlier, ideally the big picture wouldn’t change from company to company. It is likely that climbing that ladder is necessary to achieve that goal (it may help you with skills, relationships, money etc needed for the big picture). Being aware of the big picture helps you and your manager to see other paths to get to the bigger goal.

Let’s continue on what would be a good example of owning a career, where the immediate next step would be to go from level current level to next level.

  • Establish a baseline
    • Get an idea of where you stand today (are you performing above, at, or below expectations of your current level x) after discussing it with your manager.
  • Understand the why
    • Why do you stand where you stand? It is easy to interpret as, understand your weakness, but also understand your strengths. if I had to pick one, I would advise focus on your strengths1
  • Understand the level next level
    • Does your company have a written guide on what are the expectations on the next level, what are skills needed?
      • If your company does not have a written guide, ask your manager to provide that guide for you. Ask your manager to review job descriptions of the next level and help you figure it out.  (It might also be smart to go work for a company that has thought about growing their employees and have invested in written guidelines)
    • If so, have you read them?
    • It is probably more generic than you like, have you thought how does that apply to you?
    • Have you asked clarifying questions to your manager?
  • Who in your org is working effectively at that next level?
    • Understand few people in your org are working really well at that level?
    • Try to understand what are the things they are doing that makes them effective.
  • Workout a plan
    • Based on all above understanding, plan on how you will get to the next level.
      • Understand what skills you need to perfect.
      • Understand what relationships you need to build.
      • Understand what short term and long term projects/problems your organization wants to solve. Solving these projects will act as a tremendous catalyst for your growth.
        • How can you help solve that project/problem by your skills and relationships?
  • Team up with your manager
    • Share and align your plan with your manager.
    • Confirm that the projects/problems you have identified are worth going after.
    • Confirm the skills/relationship you need to build.
    • Adjust the plan after collaborating with your manager (make the most of your managerโ€™s extra visibility in the org)
    • Utilize 1-1 to effectively communicate progress and gather input.
  • Adjust the plan as business pivots
    • Your company will grow over time (new managers, new business, change in priorities, pandemics) and everytime that happens, understand how it affects your plan and discuss with your manager.
  • Repeat until you reach the next milestone.

You may have noticed that the ownership of most of the work I described here falls on the person seeking to go to the next level. Your manager can and should always partner with you to tune your plan to have the most chance of success, but your manager cannot build the relationship and/or skills you need to gain to perform well at that next level.

Your manager will act as a facilitator, enabler and advocator for you, but not a doer for you.

Your manager also has a lot of responsibilities that will indirectly help you achieve your next steps.

  • Provide a written guideline of what are expectations at each level.
  • Provide clear feedback/feedforward on where you stand today and how you are progressing.
  • Help in finding the specificity that you need in your growth plan.
  • Create enablement for you so you can learn new skills or master what you have, build relationships.
  • Hold you accountable to your goals.
  • Think wider than their own org, i.e help you grow, even if it means you won’t report to them anymore. Identify new opportunities
  • Understand your unique style and find you mentors as necessary.
  • Build a team that supports each other’s growth.

In simple terms, if you have taken the time to think about the big picture, break it down to smaller accomplishments and next steps, worked towards understanding what your business values, partnered with your manager on a plan and are working towards that plan, then you my friend have owned your career. 

Thank you Praveena Johnson, Ailene Kim, Joe Chung, Binal Parikh for making this article better.

Related reads: 


Solving the problem is the interesting part, providing finishing touches – not so much. What to do?

Developers are usually problem solvers, we solve problems and once we solve the core of it we have a tendency to call it done. However completing the rest of it, the finishing touches takes a looong time.
The 99% complete syndrome is a documented fact that aligns well with software development and developers.

I have noticed this in many people and not all are developers. Once they solve the hard part, rest of them is unexciting/boring/tiring to them. Do not get me wrong, that remaining part is also as equally important in a process of making a thing complete, but the drive is usually gone. I am guilty of this too, once I am done solving that’s challenging, solving that was new and interesting, the drive, the motivation slightly decreases.
Why is that? How do you stay motivated and driven to complete it completely?

This can really happen if you are working on a side gig, Once a thing is 99% complete and 1% incomplete.
Deep inside my heart, I wish that was it. I know it is not and I know I will eventually do the rest of it, but when is that eventually going to come? I do not know.
I also noticed that, if you are working in an office or a product driven by other people you may still have this feeling but then there is someone at your shoulders waiting for it to be completely complete and so you complete it. There you go, nagging works ๐Ÿ™‚

I do not want to include everyone here, I know developers who will completely complete the product before saying its DONE, done whether its office or a project they do in their garage. I am proud of those guys and one can really learn from those guys. I hope you have seen or met some of these guys around you too.
Its good to have them around.

Here is what I do to keep me going on my side gigs in those times,

  • Try and set deadlines, real deadlines, the one that goes on the calendar.
    • Share deadlines with your close ones who keep you motivated.
  • Demo the product to people who can be nit picky.
    • Being nit picky is good. It leads you to become a perfectionist.,which is good. Most times.
  • If you have a TODO list, DO NOT check the item until is completely complete.
    • If you do not have it, have one. TODAY.
  • Credit yourself after completely completing it.

What do you do to stay motivated and driven after 99% completeness? I would love to hear

Interviewing: The other side of the table.

Hey Friends,

It’s been a while since I have made a post, I have a lot to write but I have been bit busy with work, family, friends and some side projects. Today I want to dedicate this post to “Interviewing“.

In my new job I have been given an opportunity to interview people for various roles. Not sure about you, but I still have memories of my interviews (all good and bad, stupid and smart) and therefore I know what it’s like to give a technical interview for a job and now I know what it’s like to take one. I feel I shall share my early experience with you. I have not counted them all but I have taken some tech interviews till now and overall I feel, I have collected some knowledge that I can share with you guys.

While all this is good and I feel esteemed to do so, It’s also bit of a concern, specially when I know that the person I am interviewing has twice the experience I have and sometimes is going to be designated a role higher than me. I mean, what do you ask a candidate like that? Are my questions going to be too easy for them? And this sometimes apply to guys whose resume and projects looks outstanding. So after some early experience for me It turns out that it does not matter. If your questions are reasonably sound and tests basic knowledge, you can test the deverloper/problem solver in them. I have had people from fortune 500 companies do massive blunders when they write code on board and yes I have had people write error free compilable code on white board for the same questions. No, the questions were not given from “Crack the coding interview” or similar :). Sometimes I see someone making mistakes that I made or may be still make and sometimes I see a totally different approach that I didn’t thought of and it gladly surprises me. I have also had some bad interviewers interview me and I try not to be one myself during the interview.

The point is, If in your job, you are trusted to interview some one, feel proud, feel glad that you are given an opportunity like that but prepare/spend some time thinking about your questions and knowing about the person. In an interview you sort of are the representative of the company to that person, It becomes your duty to give the best of yourself, they do not know the company yet, but your approximate forty five minutes with them can give a general sense of type of people working in your company.

In all, I feel every developer should get a chance to interview other people in course of their career, Doing it the right way can give you insights about your mistakes in the interview and it also gives you a chance to represent the name on the door that you walk in every morning, five days a week.

Share your experience and stories in the comments.
Happy Coding.

New Year, New Things, again.

Happy New Year friends,

2013 passed in blink of an eye and it was an amazing year for me. 2014 on the other hand brings so many new things in life. Before I go on about 2014, I would like to mention a few highlights about 2013.

Of Course the highlight of 2013 was that I got married to my girl friend and had an awesome time with family in India, but on the other hand I left Polaris Library Systems and snowy Syracuse, NY in Nov’13 and moved to sunny Mountain View, CA to work for a company called Adara Media.

2014, brings new challenges to me personally and professionally. Professionally- being a .Net nerd for so long, now I have decided to work in a “non windows” environment here in CA where I will be doing Java, MySql on a Mac instead of working with .Net, Sql Server, on Windows machine. This is not only just a technology change for me but an idea to widen my scope of technology that I can grasp and make better software on. Why did I do that? The heart wants what the heart wants…

Personally- Leaving Syracuse wasn’t easy, I have lived there for 4 years, had my masters there and worked in a company with awesome people making awesome software, It will always be a part of my life and in 2014 I will do my best to make this new place my new home.

Look forward to my upcoming posts, Happy coding.

Times Square on a New Years eve, an amazing experience.

It is always a great experience to do something that has been sitting on your wish list for a while. Being at Times Square, NY was a amazing, tiresome, unique experience, which CAN’T happen anywhere in the whole wide world. I love New York City an…

It is always a great experience to do something that has been sitting on your wish list for a while.

Being at Times Square, NY was a amazing, tiresome, unique experience, which CAN’T happen anywhere in the whole wide world. I love New York City and Times Square. For me It was awesome to be around 1 million people celebrating the new year. Practically the biggest celebration of the new year in the World!!

Yes It was crowded, It was even almost impossible to move your feet without falling or to dance on a song without crushing someones legs but It was all happening, We were a group of 6-8 guys who were waiting on the 46th Street from 2pm for the midnight (Yes we went there around 2 pm and still could only reach around 46th – 47th street), the countdown and the ball drop (42nd street).

Frankly speaking, there is nothing special about the ball drop that 1 million people gather to see. It is just the way it has been, and It’s just the way I think It will be. Its city’s own style of celebrating the new year. The lights of New York City and the music there was the only thing that can make you survive the crowd, the time.

You get the see the live performances by some good singers, for 2012 celebration we had Drake, Justin Bieber, Pitbull and some really cool Spanish singer, I don’t know the name. I don’t care to mention Lady Gaga, as she was boring as hell. If you ever wanna go there, have some quick bites for you handy like chocolates, chips etc. You don’t want to take sodas and drinks with you, unless you wish to rush out to find a place to pee, We had one of that kind in our group, he ended up seeing ball drop from the place where you can not actually see the ball, ๐Ÿ˜›

The best part for me was that I was with some of my very close friends and we were having a great night, when hungry the pizza guys showed up distributing pizza (NOT FREE…). We caught some flying caps and hit some beach balls around. The crowd near us was friendly and pretty so there was a little to complain except crying feet. The weather was surprisingly awesome which I thought was a great plus point. There is not much you can say, its the energy you feel when you were around the crowd, the music and the event.

And the most awaited midnight came, the countdown was amazing, the shout outs were loud, people were happy, the ball finally dropped, the songs were great, It was as if the most lively city was never alive before. Lovers kissing, Friends hugging, millions of colorful paper flakes fell from the sky.. It was awesome. For me, my girlfriend wasn’t around for the midnight kiss ๐Ÿ™ but I survived that somehow..ย 

Times Square at New Years eve was one of the thing that I wanted to do while I am on the east coast and It finally happened and I loved it.

If you ever want to go, make sure, you are okay with HUGE crowd, have patience, and can stand for more than 6 hours. If so, you should definitely go with your best buds, girlfriend/boyfriend or your spouse if you are still young for this :P.

If you think you would enjoy that, You will have a really tiresome experience but It will all be worth in the end.

Here are some pics if you want to see them..Of course these are just iphone pics in the crowd, If you would like to see really good images search google images for “new years eve 2012 time square”





















Getting Started…

For all of you, as you may or may not have read in my profile I am Bhavin Surela. I call myself a Software/Web Developer and that’s what my designation says at the place where I work. If I had to judge myself I would call myself a pretty decent de…

For all of you, as you may or may not have read in my profile I am Bhavin Surela. I call myself a Software/Web Developer and that’s what my designation says at the place where I work. If I had to judge myself I would call myself a pretty decent developer with lot of scope to learn and grow. I have two degrees related to software development and quite a work experience which provided me wisdom for software development in big/mid range companies.

As I plan for now, this blog will be about some things which I found interesting across my programming practices, and some ideas on efficiency and life [ if I ever found a good one ๐Ÿ˜‰ ]. If you are an experienced developer, you may have already attained expertise about things I will post. Your comments/ideas would be appreciated.. 

Recently I am working on Windows based application as well as Web based application for my company. Till now things have been pretty nice, I came across some interesting scenarios already, I will be sharing them with all of you soon…

Hope you will stick around…