4 min read

The Green Coder [Issue #6] - Promotions and Brag Documents

No matter what the process is for your workplace, you're going to need a firm foundation to pitch your promotion on. But what does that look like?

This is an archive version of issue 1 of The Green Coder, a short experiment which has since morphed into The Fresh Engineer Podcast. Check it out for a continuation of these thoughts!

Here's a question I get a lot.

I feel like I've been doing really well at my job since I started and think I'm ready for the next step. How do I start thinking about landing a promotion?

You'll have to jump through a variety of hoops for any promotion within any organisation. These will differ from company to company as well. Some have a well understood formal process, some may require you to apply for an open position, and sadly many still don't have a well defined method.

No matter what the process is for your workplace, you're going to need a firm foundation to pitch your promotion on. But what does that foundation look like, and how do you start to build it?

Lets start with the first question, "what should form the basis for my promotion, and how do I know when I'm ready?". This is a pretty simple one, but it's important to answer it from a few different perspectives.

  • Your perspective - Once you believe you're operating at that next level, you probably want to look at a promotion of some sort. It's useful to remember that this isn't based on time in the role, but instead on whether or not you're showing that you are capable of working at that next level up. The duration of time it takes individuals to be ready for that step may vary wildly! Some of your peers may race up a few steps, others may take a bit longer.
  • Your managers perspective - For a manager, a promotion is a bit of a risk. Promoting someone too early can be problematic, as you have filled a position with someone who is not yet able to carry out the requirements. That can bring a world of pain. Firstly, the job the manager needed performing is not getting done, and secondly the person in that role is now under performing and that can lead to performance improvement plans. Your manager will want to make sure you're definetely ready for a promotion, so that you can succeed and their team remains healthy with the work getting done by the right people to the right level of quality.
  • Their managers perspective - You can think of this as the perspective of "the business". The business will want to promote you when there is a need for someone to fill a position above your current level. There will always be a need for you to move from a junior engineer to a mid. This is because the business needs you to become self sufficient in your work. This is quite different from trying to move from a senior engineer to an engineering manager, for example. Companies need engineering managers, but you don't need more managers than teams, that would leave someone with little work to do.

A promotion looks very different from each perspective, right? That's okay though, in most organisations you won't have a problem, you just need to make sure you satisfy each persons needs and risks.

So, you're operating happily in some of the areas of the job above yours, and the business has an opportunity for you to move into. How do you bound a foundation to sell your promotion to your manager and the business? That's where our brag document comes in!

A brag document is quite simply a list of your achievements. In particular ones which demonstrate that you're operating at the next level up. When the time comes to kick off the process of getting a promotion you don't want to be relying on your memory, you want to have a list of everything you can feed from.

What should your brag list look like? Well it's completely up to you but here's a few suggestions.

  1. Start with a date and a few words describing the achievement, this will make it easy to scroll through later on.
  2. List the situation, your contribution, and what the business or social impact was. You might hear this called SBI (Situation, Behaviour, Impact).
  3. List some of the other people who were involved.

You might end up with something like this:

2021-03-20 - Found bug in order payment process and worked with payments team to fix.

While doing some testing of my work I noticed an issue with payment processing in production. I couldn't see anyone had reported it so I raised it with the payments team. I provided screenshots and a detailed description of the issue. Payments were able to alert the SOC and raise a production issue ticket. We tracked down the issue and I was able to confirm the final fix. This solved a case which was preventing 1% of users from completing their orders. My raising of this issue saw that resolved within 1 day of the issue being introduced and minimising our loss.

Others involved:
- James Jameson - Head of Engineering for Payments
- Abby Abbort - Principle Engineer for Orders

It's not an overwhelming amount of information, but anyone reading that can clearly see you prevented further loss to the business. That speaks to your manager and shows you're pro-active and have a sense of urgency with production bugs, and it speaks to the business and shows the bottom line impact your work had.

I recommend trying to maintain something like this and setting yourself a reminder to update it every few weeks. That way the information should be fresh in your mind when you come to write it.

The act of turning this into a promotion will depend on your organisations process. Some will have forms you need to fill out, which will likely need information from your brag doc. Other orgs may have a less formal process, and you might choose to take some examples from your doc and turn them into an application for an open position. The aim with this document is to keep an ever growing log of your achievements so they're ready to go when you're ready to take that next step.

This body of evidence should form that foundation of your promotion request. With it, you are able to clearly communicate to your manager and the business in a language which speaks to them. Without it, you'll be stuck pulling these from possibly years back in your memory.