5 min read

Gunning For A Promotion

Gunning For A Promotion
Oh Arnie, you were (and are) glorious. All credit to 20th Century Fox

Over the course of my career, I've been promoted a few times. There's nothing unusual about that.

It usually comes as a bit of a surprise though.

Typically, I'm just trundling along, doing whatever I think is best, and then BLAM, all of a sudden I'm filling a different role and I have to learn a bunch of new things.

Long story short, I've never really had to plan or fight for a promotion.


Can You Tell Me What This Is All About?

In around June this year (aka 2023), Atlassian announced that the M50 role (the people who tend to manage individual engineering teams) was being abolished.

Not immediately of course, that would have been super awkward, and I probably would have written about it sooner.

It won't exist by the end of the year.

Instead the minimum level of a manager within Atlassian would be an M60, and they would be responsible for managing a larger number of technical people (~20), probably split across multiple squads.

The goal for this change is to reduce the total number of managers in the organisation. So, more people directly creating and making things, less people facilitating, organising, and managing.

At a high level, it feels like a good goal.

More people making things probably equals more things being made, which means more value being delivered to both internal and external customers.

Additionally, with Atlassian only having senior managers, the expectation would be that they are more capable, able to more consistently drive the delivery of value across the areas that they are covering.

In case it wasn't obvious, I am an M50, so I've got a bit of a journey ahead of me.

I Read The Instructions

For existing M50 managers, the internal announcement provided three obvious paths forward, with a shadowy fourth:

  • Get promoted to M60
  • Change into a P50 (i.e. a senior technical person)
  • Change into a P60 (i.e. a principal technical person)
  • shadowy Take a non-optional redundancy

Even though the internal announcement presented a set of options, the reality was that each M50 in the organisation had an option pre-selected for them, which they subsequently found out through a conversation with their manager.

I imagine that it was possible to negotiate on a case-by-case basis, but there were definitely default preferences.

I was lucky enough to be flagged as a candidate for promotion to M60, though the criteria for being flagged in that way was not immediately obvious.

I imagine that it probably had something to do with:

I've written a little bit about the Atlassian promotion process before, but the TL;DR is that you and your manager put together a case, a set of people disconnected from your you reviews that case and then a decision is made.

This promotion process is a little bit special though, being misaligned with the normal promo cycles and quite possibly containing a much larger set of candidates than is typical. As a result, there are e a few differences from the normal process.

The first is that it's not super clear what a "not ready for promotion" decision will result in. Normally it just means "sorry, try again next time", but given the M50 role simply won't exist. I imagine it's probably a redundancy, or maybe an emergency shift towards being a P50?

The stakes are certainly higher than normal though.

The second difference is that the case for promotion document is not the same as normal. Instead of something saying:

Show us 3 pieces of evidence of the candidate operating at the next level for an extended period of time

The new document is more along the lines of

Answer these very specific questions about impact the candidate has created (with data), or behaviours they have exhibited (with examples)

It's not entirely alien, but it was a bit unexpected, given most people are quite familiar with the old format.

Still, I understand why they would want a different process for this situation, as they have quite a few promotion cases to get through and the old format could be a bit of a chore to read.

Anyway, those are the facts.

But what about the feelings?

Time To Let Off Some Steam

My initial response to the impending demise of the M50 role was indifference.

At the time I didn't know that I had been pre-selected to vie for promotion, but all of the paths that were presented looked somewhat palatable to me.

If I got promoted to M60 I'd continue to do pretty much the same thing that I was already doing (i.e. managing a large and growing group of engineers across multiple semi-independent squads), except I'd get more money for it.

If I became a P50, I'd get to return to technical work, which is an entirely different feedback loop. I've been out of that world for a while, but I was confident that I could pick it up again given a bit of time. Also, I wouldn't have to worry about people management concerns, which honestly, would be a bit of a relief.

If I got made redundant, I'd get to continue the trend of leaving organisations with a small bag of cash, ready to jump into a new adventure. I'd be sad, but I've learned a lot at Atlassian and I'm a better manager for it, so I'm pretty sure I'd get over it.

I said as much to anyone who asked (and lots of people asked), but was always clear that my responses were my feelings about the situation. Plenty of other people were seriously disrupted by the announcement and I didn't want to minimise their response.

Once I found out that I was pre-selected to vie for promotion, things got a little bit more complicated from an emotional point of view.

It's a weird experience to have to go through all of the things that you've done and see whether or not they measure up to a set of expectations that you were never aiming for in the first place.

Having to put together case for promotion, especially when the ramifications of failure are unknown, provides an undertone of low-to-medium grade anxiety to pretty much every single day. Considering I still have to do all of the other things that make up my job as a manager, along with forming a new internal mini-org (to account for the future changes, even if I might not be in them), it's starting to wear on me a bit.

It doesn't help that I thought I dealt with the case for promotion document a few weeks ago, having put one together using the old format. Then they announced the new format and I had to scrap a lot of stuff and start again.

Ah well, sometimes the early bird gets the worm, sometimes the early bird gets eaten by a snake.

The Last Time Until A Next Time

The deadline for submitting the case for promotion is mid-September, and the timeline for the actual decision is the start of October, so I don't have all that much longer to worry about this situation.

I'm somewhat excited, somewhat scared, but mostly just tired.

With a big old dose of compartmentalisation and a dash of suppressing my emotions, I'm sure I can make it through the next few weeks.

I definitely need a holiday afterwards though.