Experiment : Operating at 2 levels ahead

Last week a senior software engineer who has deep knowledge in a very specialized and high value skill (Machine Learning) for our company asked me for advice on getting more exposure and impact for her work.  She was in a situation where her skills and opinions are sought after by senior leaders in engineering, product management and individual contributors.

I suggested that she start drafting up a 2 year plan, pretend that she has already been promoted 2 levels higher than she is now, and when she meets people at different levels, she can talk to them about that specific level that fits the audience.  The most interesting part of my proposal is that she mentally get over the hump that she is not senior enough.  I have seen very high potential individuals who are not as qualify as her really shine by operating in the next level.  She is uniquely qualify because she is so deeply knowledgable in her area.

The artifact of this 2 year plan, is that she is able to pull it up and talk  to product mangers to plan what the next step is, it’s a way to communicate an idea and roadmap clearly, it’s a great way to talk with VP of engineering about what to invest in and an anchoring document to validate whether new architectures align well with the plan.  The plan should spell out very clearly the gap between where the company wants to be and where we are now.  It should also spell out the level of investment that is needed to get from point A to point B.

I do hesitate whether this is way too bold.  Whether this is even possible to operate at 2 levels removed.  I personally have not done it, but I also never process the skills needed to be deep in one area.  My suggestion would collaborate with someone who is the right place organizationally and also already operating at 2 levels above.

Tony Tam (Li Zhi)

Senior Principal Engineer @ Splunk, ImpactfulEngineer.org & SFBadminton.org