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Alex Villa

Collaboration, the Catch-22 of Tech

January 31, 2021

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It seems to be the right time to acknowledge that not having mechanisms for the growth (and open door for recruitment) of junior/entry-level team members seems to be a recurring, modern-day problem for tech companies.

Tech companies are not betting on fostering the talent of junior workers, and in some cases, not even opening up their doors for entry-level hiring. And it is a problem. Not only a socio-political one that creates a gatekeeping culture of knowledge obscurity, but also: it is bad for business. Senior tech workers are scarce, and therefore, more expensive. Also, in the case of companies that hire entry-level contributors but do not invest on their growth, is not that a leak of return of investment?

You are harvesting the talent that will grow your company in the next decade, if you play it right. And if you diversify that talent, your product will speak to broader audiences.

But we keep on looking for them seniors, and betting on them to teach by example, expecting that the rest will follow and learn just by execution. But in reality, this often sets up the field for never-ending chases of confused juniors and mids that are not given the chances to do the work that is expected from the next level. How do you get there if the only way to have the title is to prove you are doing it? It is a catch-22 type of situation.

Part of these expected tasks of senior level contributors is to be high-performers and tech hard-problem solvers, elevating the technical discourse in order to build the future.

But we need to pause and look in the present and our pasts, in order to move forward. This type of actual compassionate and caring tech leading is underrated.

It is naturally still possible to grow from entry-level roles under the rules the current environment, lacking on prioritizing mentoring properly. The thing is that growth is more of an uphill than it should be like. And sadly, identities and privileges come a lot into play when looking into moving forward.

This problem of growth extends to mid-level tech workers as well. Mid-levels are a limbo, recurrently a make-it-or-quit, and it is harder to "make it" when the systems around you do not account for your type of strenghts (or do not care to foster them), and particularly when there is no one doing knowledge sharing labour on the higher levels.

But then again, it is not illuminated peacefulness as a senior either. The existential dread of what is next hits you. And then, most companies will not really see a senior staying as a senior forever as an issue.

Not every senior is expected to grow from there, so direction and clear career pathways for seniors often feel like a dead end then.

That is when the concept of growth through titles becomes a more evident problem.

We need tech environments where the professional currency for moving forward is more than how much your code reviews sound like an academic paper.

I do not know how to solve this either. There are more questions than answers on this space, but this may be a time as good as ever to start thinking about new approaches to engineering-heavy cultures.

My bet is that we can start by fostering environments where knowledge sharing is an important value, one that is rewarded and that has space to be developed into.

What tech-workers in junior and mid levels need the most is the trust and opportunities for taking on the work that will help them grow and learn, with the right support of senior peers.

This is fundamentally a culture of collaborative oriented team dynamics, it is not rocket science.

It is time for large tech companies to realize that human oriented approaches are necessary when your workforce includes people that have different identities, and that this identities come into play in the traditional power structures.

These thoughts come from both experience, observation and listening to experiences from friends in different tech companies across the west. We are sharing more challenges than we notice. Collaboration as an industry standard work-style may be a path worth considering.

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