You are in charge of your career

| 6 min read

That may not be my most positive post of the year, but as far as advice go, especially toward (new) developers, this one is probably the most important: you are in charge of your career. You should not trust anyone else with that responsibility - especially not your employer.

I wish it was different, but it's not.

This means taking care of growing, getting (more) money, getting opportunities, etc.


In order to grow, you need opportunities - ie jobs, positions, tasks that are slightly above or at least different from the ones you are used to do. This is generally a question of balance - too much of the same and you are stagnating, too different and it can be very stressful.

The main point is: doing the same thing for 2, 3, 5 years is going to "cost" you in terms of career. There are very few chances any of us can find employment for doing the same thing for 40 years - so at some point you'll need to change/update, and the latter it is, the more painful it will be.

So you need opportunities for "new things" - either in your current job or by jumping ship.

If you work for a big company, that means moving internally, getting on larger/different projects, asking for horizontal moves.

Again, I don't believe this will happen "by itself" - so it means keeping track of what's happening in the company, building an internal network so that when something open you know about it and can make a move.

The downside of this is that most of the value of a network you build inside a company will be worth nothing once you move on - something that will most probably happen at some point. Again, 40 years is a very long time.

If the opportunities do not materialize at your current job (because there are none or you can't get them), then it's time to start looking around. This means possibly leaving "good" jobs "just" because they don't provide enough opportunities. It may feel weird or even wrong initially - but on the long term, it's a very pragmatic position.

Learning / Growing

This is very related to the previous point - you can't make your whole career on what you learned in your studies or at your first job. Seeing other things opens perspective. As a programmer, the usual example is language/ecosystems. While I understand some value of specialization, I think betting your career on single eco system is always a dangerous game. 40 years is long in term of technology - JavaScript will be legacy long before I'm retired, replaced by much "better"/"hyper" languages. I did use Pascal at some point, something that would be very difficult to find a job with today, etc, etc.

Same as above - when you stop learning, it's time to reevaluate your position.


Generally speaking, I've not see a lot of examples of "work hard and you'll be recognized" (as in - get raises, etc). I do believe you need to do the work - but also that when that's done, you better come and ask for the money that comes with it.

In other words: it won't happen "by itself" and even if it does, you'll generally have more chance by asking - politely but firmly.

I don't think this is (generally) due to cruelty or greed - more to oversight. As a manager, it's easy to "forget" about the person that do the work & never complain/create problems - especially when you have crises to manage on a regular basis.

I would also advise against "sticker-like recognition" - giving you a title does not cost the company a dime but won't help anything but your ego. Getting "more responsibilities" is a scam if you don't get more money (it's basically thanking you for your work with... more work). Actual benefits are, well, money, or (more) days off, etc.

There is a also a high signal value in raises - it is something that cost the company something - which means it's the only way to validate that they indeed value you.

So when the time come (after a big project/realization or during the yearly 1-1 or anything like that) - come prepared to bring the topic on the table if the company does not. Come with the receipts about your work, about what you delivered and ideally about how this is different from last year/what you were hired for.

If the company deflect by saying they don't have the means, start by focusing on getting them to say (ideally write) that the raise is deserved - then go back to the "we can't afford that" by being "reasonable" (maybe you can have half now and half in six months). Again, go for written/precise/contractual statements - avoid the vague ones as much as possible.

It's about leverage

A lot of this come down to working toward a situation where you are generally more valuable to the company than they are to you. When you know you can find another job, having sane relationship with your boss/employer because much easier. Asking for a raise is easier when you have a good idea that you could get that amount - there or somewhere else.

The point is not to go "Give me X or I'll get them somewhere else" - that's unnecessary rude - but knowing you can helps a lot. The example is about money, the general one is "Is it more difficult for me to find another job or for the company to find another me?".

Once you've gotten through the "leaving, interviewing, signing another job" a couple of times, it become much easier and less scary - this is a skill too, one that can be practiced and improved upon.

It's about time

Careers are long - I started working at 23 (after university) - if I respect Belgium rules, I'm supposed to work until I'm 67. Which means that at 46, I'm only slightly past the "half time".

This makes the chance that you'll do your whole career in a single company, "just" moving "up" very unlikely. Which means most "company linked" elements have to be considered as "short term"

  • My company have a very good training package - what if next year results are bad and this get shafted?
  • My manager cares a lot about my learning path - what if she move to another company? Or is promoted herself?
  • It's a huge investment, but it will make me very valuable to the company - what it the company is bought? Or go bankrupt?

Even facing the markets, the skills you have now and are in high demand on the market may be much less hot in 5 years - and irrelevant in 10. That's a long time - but it will still happen during your career time, and if you wait for it, you'll face a very difficult battle to reskill. Do you know about Clipper? It's a programming language. A bit before that I started my career it was suddenly the rage - everything was to be made in Clipper. Well, look at where it is today.

It's a long game - training and retraining gets easier as you do it - and more difficult when you don't.

Having to learn your second programming language at 45 after 20 years doing the same thing is going to be terrifying.

Practice working in uncharted waters. Take jobs that you know 80% (or 50%) of the required skills, not 100%. Take that new project that's different from the other.

Where it gets sad

I realized that this view (which is mostly the way I ended up behaving) is all about individuals and leverage and power dynamics - something not exactly aligned with my own values.

I'd like for our work relationships to be more about common good and interests of the many - but our industry generally scolds at unions or other forms of organization on the employee side - probably because we think we "don't need that". I'm quite sure we're going to regret it.

I found HR departments or equivalent to be generally at best hypocritical, at worse really dangerous (to employees) - I tend to agree with the general "HR is not your friend" sentiment.

Most people posting about the "glorious meritocracy" of the IT sector are generally delusional - they may be in privileged positions (like I am) now - but all of this could disappear at the next economic downturn.


I still believe in communities - that is strength from groups. Join a union (if there is one active), join interest groups in your industry, especially if you are from a discriminated group. Talk with your colleagues, notably about money. Contrary to what people think, not talking about this with colleagues makes your position weaker, not stronger.

Requests to the company (for better work conditions or anything else) made by a group are generally much more powerful than the one made individually - hence have higher chances of success.

Networks does not have to stop at company boundaries - as time pass you'll probably have more colleagues in other companies than in your current one - you can leverage that too. I touched that point in The lone freelance and his 50 colleagues


Despite all this, I've mostly worked for and with nice people - my point here is not a cynic "everyone is bad/wants to take advantage of you" more a realization that my career is my own to manage. I've seen my goals align with a company goals several times already, and we made good journeys together.

I just know that it will end, and I've less qualms than I used to at being the one that decide that it's time.

Opinions? Let me know on LinkedIn!