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    Clarification on how ownership makes careers

    A few readers wrote in with questions and objections to last week's Ownership makes careers email. Here's a few clarifications.

    Objection: Swiz, you're delusional

    A few readers said I'm delusional or that I live in fantasy land. VPs never get fired and never bear the cost of poor decisions.

    They do. But it may not look like it from the individual contributor level.

    Firstly, it's important to define what "project didn't go well" means at a VP level. It has to be a business failure. Cost a lot of money, fail to achieve a big deal, never launch, cause a compliance issue, get the company sued, that sort of thing.

    To know a VP is failing, you have to know what their OKRs were (objectives and key results). You can find out by asking how your team's OKRs ladder up into the VP, even the CEO. Follow the chain.

    Consequences happen when a VP is consistently red on their OKRs. Yellow with a good plan of action is okay. Yellow with a shrug of the shoulder is not.

    Secondly, VPs don't get fired in disgrace. They have a tough conversation and are asked to resign.

    In bigger companies they get reassigned to a lesser position. Like going from VP of search to VP of that side project we're killing next year.

    You know a VP got fired when a product or area of your company feels like it isn't quite working for a few quarters and then you get an announcement that "So and so VP has decided to spend time with their family". Or otherwise move on.

    Then their LinkedIn says they're a consultant for a few months.

    Objection: But I don't have real ownership

    Yes. None of this works unless your company gives equity as part of your compensation packags.

    You need real ownership. That's what makes this fuzzy ownership stuff worth your time.

    You get real ownership by exhibiting the other type of ownership. Via promotions, bonuses, and better offers. The higher up you go, the more of your compensation comes in equity.

    Few companies pay more than $300k in cash.

    Objection: But I'm not incentivized to care

    Change jobs.

    You want a job that rewards great work. Creating your own is the ultimate version of this.

    Question: What if nobody wants to give me ownership?

    The phrase is take ownership πŸ˜‰

    Everyone wants ownership when things are going well. But ownership is awarded when things are going poorly and need someone to step up.

    I have a coworker who's a mid-level engineer. He saw that our marketing folk need more engineering support. But nobody wants to do that work.

    He stepped up and became the go-to person for marketing. He champions marketing's needs in engineering meetings, looks for ways to help out, and is working to improve the integration between product and marketing. Even got to own compliance-critical changes and vendor integrations! πŸ’ͺ

    It's been amazing to watch. If he keeps going like this, he'll skip senior and go straight to staff.

    Question: Can I ever have as much ownership as a VP?


    Unless you're a VP-level engineer on the IC track. That's principal or distinguished in most companies. And even then it's weird because business folk control the purse strings and thus have true control.

    Accountability flows upwards. Everything you own, your VP owns.

    When things are going poorly, the CEO isn't going to say "Wow, my engineers are shit", they're going to ask "Hey VP, why didn't you create a culture of excellence?".

    Your CEO won't get in the weeds.

    Question: Is all this even worth it?

    Yes. A common career jiu-jitsu trick is to learn the ropes at a big (or growing) company, then jump into a bigger title at a smaller company.

    You work as a X-level engineer at your company. Learn how to think and act like an X+2 level engineer. But maybe you don't get promoted or don't feel like you're getting enough equity.

    You then jiu-jitsu by getting hired at a smaller company as an X+2 engineer. Now with the right amount of equity and responsibility.

    Then you grow the smaller company until your bigger slice of a smaller pie is worth more than your tiny old slice of a bigger pie.



    Published on June 26th, 2023 in Mindset, Career

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