I've been reflecting on my job title recently. I've always said the job title doesn't matter. But that's my perspective. It presents barriers when those around you see that job title rather than the person.
This post is me trying to work through those thoughts. Maybe it can help someone else navigate their situation.
What is a "Senior Engineer"?
According to ChatGPT, a "Senior Engineer" is an experienced professional with increased expertise and responsibility. On paper, I'm a "Senior Engineer". But what exactly is expected of me?
🤖 A "Senior Engineer" typically refers to an experienced professional in the field of engineering who has attained a higher level of expertise and responsibility. The exact definition and responsibilities associated with the role can vary depending on the industry, company, and specific engineering discipline.
That response from ChatGPT is quite vague. Let's set the stage a bit more. Are there any commonalities across various "Senior Engineer" roles that I've been labelled?
🤖 While there are distinct differences between the roles of a "Senior Engineer," "Senior Frontend Engineer," and "Senior Design System Engineer," there are also some commonalities across these types. Here are a few commonalities that can be observed:
1. Experience and Expertise
2. Technical Proficiency
3. Problem-Solving and Decision-Making
4. Leadership and Collaboration
5. Continuous Learning
6. Communication Skills
That gives me a more structured scope to explore. On paper, I excel at the 6 commonalities .
Throughout my career, I have navigated through all types of barriers. Let's explore "internal" and "external" barriers.
I've placed walls around me as a way to focus on growth. "I'm a Frontend Engineer". I put a lid on my identity as a Fullstack Engineer to fully thrive into growing into a Frontend Engineer.
I've also placed walls around me as a defence mechanism. "I'm a Fullstack Engineer". I used that title to lower the expectations others had of my Frontend skillset.
I've used the concept of a job title as a tool to steer my career.
Walls placed around you because of your job title present more complexity to navigate. "You're an Engineer, and this meeting is for Designers." Or "You're a Senior, and this meeting is for Leads."
I've had to break down too many barriers to make things better. That's really all I want to do. Make things better! Better not only for me but also for those around me.
The journey from the centre outwards
It's a sign of growth to venture from the comforts of these internal walls to the unknown world beyond the external walls.
I've always had a strong sense of the direction I wanted to take in my career. It's been present since the beginning, over a decade of breaking down barriers and creating paths forward. That doesn't mean it has always been clear.
I've spent a lot of energy pivoting throughout the years to ensure I'm heading down a path I still believe in. Each experience has allowed me to hone in on the tools I use to determine if I'm still on track. If I'm facing an internal barrier, if I'm facing an external one, or if I'm completely lost.
I've learned to become comfortable with the discomfort of not knowing what the future holds. It's part of the journey.
It's become easier to break through the internal walls. I placed them around me. I know why they're there. I know when to take them down.
How do we break down the external walls? Historically I've taken the path of "show, not tell" and being consistent. I've shown how I can lead. I've shown how I can engineer. I've shown how I can design. It's so satisfying when others are the ones to tell you and validate the things you've shown to them.
"You're a leader." "You're a designer." "You're a hybrid design engineer." Yes, I am. All of the above 🙌.
Recently, I've learned that sometimes it's ok to also tell. It opens up communication, and those around you understand where you're coming from and where you're going. Then, rather than placing barriers around you, they're helping you walk down the path you've set for yourself. I should change my perspective of those around me. If I want to make things better for others, that must be others that want to make things better for me. Let's make things better together 🤝.
The world beyond
What's beyond the foreseeable future? I'm not sure. A future milestone is to be a Design System Leader. I don't know what form that will take shape into.
I've really found a space I thrive in. Design Systems. It's the perfect combination of design and technology. It really fits who I am as a person. There's even an overlap with how I approach photography. I love the technical aspects of the camera and the software when editing in post, but I also love the creativity and vision when creating a photograph.
So design and technology. I'm a UX Engineer, a Design Systems Engineer, and a Frontend Engineer. Those all blend design and technology. I've described what I wanted to do next as "evolving a design system." I want to grow design systems and make it better for the creators, the consumers, and the community. This requires vision and strategy. I've heard the term "Design Architect" in the past. According to ChatGPT, it may be exactly the role I'm headed towards.
🤖 The Design Architect is responsible for the strategic planning, creation, and maintenance of the design system. They collaborate with designers, developers, and other stakeholders to establish the vision, principles, and standards that govern the design system. The Design Architect works to ensure that the design system aligns with the overall brand identity and user experience goals of an organization.
Why am I writing this?
I didn't have a goal for this post when I started writing it. It was more of a self-reflection exercise. It's time to re-evaluate where I am. Is it still the right path? Or do I need to change course?. I'm facing fewer internal barriers. I know my direction. I am on the right one. The external barriers still exist. But I'm learning new ways to navigate them. I've come a long way. I'll get to where I'm going.