A common buzzword in tech is growth. While more often applied to a product or business itself, the concept also applies to the individuals driving those businesses. The volatility of the paradigms and opinionated camps, most notably for a developer, makes it a challenge to level and grow in a sustainable and sensible way. Chasing the software framework of the month can lead to churn and burn out, disrupting the very curiosity that brought most of us into development as a profession.
At LaunchPad Lab, as a business looking to grow and as an agency looking to be well-versed in the latest and greatest tech, we feel this burden very acutely. Not only is this felt by the leadership, it propagates to developers of every level.
So how do we proceed? As a development team looking to tackle challenges head on, we went about improving this situation for us. We wanted to share our findings with you!
Our solution: a sustainable and adaptable growth framework (for our engineering team). Let’s unpack that some more.
Let’s rewind a bit to talk about how we got to now. As a company of 7 years, we’ve had to adapt and become experts in new technologies. This pattern mostly existed in the actions of the team and was never written down (as most things aren’t). While it is important to have this organic growth culture, we wanted to complement that with something more formal.
At LaunchPad, we have a series of committees meant to share learnings and best practices across the company that might naturally get siloed to an individual project team. Most relevant to this story is the development (“dev”) committee that meets bi-weekly and uncovered a pain point – how does a developer level up? While the default state is to reference the pattern set forth by those with more experience, we felt this lacked the level of clarity our technical minds crave.
We set out to document this in a framework we call our dev ladder adhering to the following design principles:
- Not exhaustive list of everything to be learned
- Not a checklist to be completed
- A series of guidelines to inform priorities
- Establish a proactive approach to leveling up
- Define priorities for where to focus growth
To embrace the inevitability of change in our industry, we built a domain model to capture the structure and content that generates our ladder. Those key models are:
- Pillars: overarching groupings for skill categories
- Categories: groupings of skills around a unified theme
- Skills: detailed abilities that can demonstrate expertise
- Skill Levels: grading scale for demonstrating skill
Launched in the Fall of 2019, we calibrated each person to a current level on the ladder as well as their next targeted level. We then used those associated skill and skill level targets in our individual one-on-ones to narrow each developer’s focus into quarterly targets we call rocks. We still have a small sample size of this ladder out in the wild, but so far so good. We’ve been able to move a few team members up levels as well as accelerate their progression towards that next level at a pace most have found welcoming and sustainable.
If you’re curious to dig in more see it live as part of our recent Demo Day!.