TLDR: Not all promotions are created equal. "Flat" promotions may come with more admirable titles and higher pay but don't provide growth opportunities. The most impactful promotions involve increased responsibility, scope, decision-making power, and ability to drive strategic initiatives. Focus on your growth, not just a higher title. The path upward is nonlinear, but by staying curious and pursuing challenges, you will find the meaningful promotions and growth experiences you seek over time.
After many years of experience in the technology industry, I've learned that not all promotions are created equal. Some come with fancy new titles but fail to provide opportunities for professional growth and increased impact. Here I will:
- Share my background
- Explain the different types of promotions
- Offer tips on how to seek out growth-oriented promotions
I'm a computer scientist and entrepreneur focused on leveraging technology to advance healthcare and biotechnology to help people live healthier, longer lives. Currently, I am a Senior Director of AI at Genentech, where we develop algorithms to understand complex diseases better.
My career path has taken me from founding Maktabkhooneh, the largest Farsi MOOC serving over 5 million students worldwide yearly, to working on self-driving cars at Google[X] to developing algorithms to understand complex diseases. I've also launched several startup companies and gained experience across engineering, product, and executive roles.
Flat Promotions: More Title than Substance
Early in my career, I was eager to move up from "Software Engineer" to "Senior Software Engineer." The new title brought me a sense of pride, and I enjoyed the meaningful salary increase that came with it. However, my core responsibilities and day-to-day work did not change substantially. While this type of "flat promotion" helped me feel valued, it did not provide opportunities to take on new challenges or expand my impact. This type of promotion is not bad and may be the only thing available to you on some occasions, but you must know what type of promotion you are getting.
Growth Promotions: Increased Scope and Responsibility
The most career-accelerating and intellectually rewarding promotions I've received involved taking on far greater responsibility and scope, and decision-making ability. A key example was being promoted from an individual contributor to a Director of Engineering role with a significantly larger team, scope, responsibility, and strategic position in my organization. This allowed me to drive key initiatives across the organization, represent my group to executives, and manage programs end-to-end. The exponential increase in ownership over people, products, and technologies was tremendously rewarding.
Rather than focus solely on promotions for the sake of new titles, I've learned to proactively seek out opportunities to expand my skills and increase my impact. For example, I've taken on cross-functional initiatives, built communities, and helped others learn and connect within our industry.
How to Get the Promotion You Deserve
Managers often face constraints around the types of promotions they can offer, whether due to budget, headcount limits, or organizational restrictions. Some may try to provide "flat" promotions that come with just a new title or higher salary but no additional responsibility or scope. That's why it's important to have open conversations with your manager to identify opportunities aligned with your goals for professional growth and development.
I've seen many people, including myself, earlier in my career become disappointed when they don't receive the promotion they hoped for. But over time, I've realized the most effective approach is to position yourself in the role you want before formally receiving the promotion. If you can take on responsibilities and add value in a more advanced role, then the case for promotion becomes clear. But if the role itself is not central to the organization, it may not warrant a promotion, even if you excel at it, and you may want to reconsider it.
This mindset also puts you in a strong position when negotiating with your manager. It's much easier for them to grant a promotion when you're already operating at that next level and delivering concrete results and impact rather than simply asking for a new title.
I've found it most productive to focus conversations on how I can take on more responsibility to create value rather than specifically requesting a promotion. This allows my manager and I to jointly find opportunities aligned to the company's strategic needs.
The path to meaningful career growth is rarely linear. But by staying curious, seeking challenges, and focusing on making a difference, you'll reach your goals. Promotions will follow naturally when you position yourself to bring value to the organization.