Culture

How being a self-starter helped my career thrive

Kevin Chevallier
Kevin Chevallier August 30, 2021
How being a self-starter helped my career thrive

It is a known motto that being proactive is an essential trait for a successful career in the corporate world. Although this statement was overused in the last few years, it doesn’t mean this piece of advice has lost its value.

But how does taking the initiative do translate into doing actions with value for our colleagues and company? I thought it could be of value to share some experiences I had on how being willing to contribute and do things beyond my “job description” has helped my professional growth – both at VTEX and for my career path.

Being open to learn

When I started working at VTEX as a front-end engineer in 2017, the internal structure was quite simple. All engineers had free access to our CEO, who guided us on what we should be aiming for the company’s growth.

Though we were a few front-end engineers in a predominantly back-end team, it didn’t stop us from creating rituals and meetings to share experiences frequently. Among our current job routine, we quickly understood we needed to establish processes to align our long-term projects and the skills we needed to acquire or sharpen to improve the services we were building.

At that time, we didn’t have mentoring, one-on-ones (1:1s), or a growth plan structured. But since VTEX is very open-minded about how teams & chapters manage themselves, the senior members of the front-end team started to offer frequent talks to those willing to chat in a more private environment than the public meetings.

I offered my help and started to chat with one periodically. Then this number turned to two, and when I saw it, I was helping way more developers solve their doubts, using the experience I had gained at the companies I have worked at and at VTEX.

Those reunions became something that I cared about, and I felt reasonably confident about my mentoring skills. From the start, I organized myself with documents for every 1:1 I ran. I even started my first remote mentoring in 2019, before the 2020 all-remote status.

Always seek growth. And help others grow as well

This process went on, and I eventually started acting on behalf of my teammates, helping them when they felt their work wasn’t receiving fair value. I tried to explain to them the need to show off our work and make the whole company aware that we do not only build “little user interfaces” to display data, but develop solid solutions for our clients to manage their operations.

With this plan put in action, we started presenting our work to the rest of the company, helping out each other when needed, sharing more during weekly and monthly events, and building internal guilds to improve processes.

As a result, we got recognized by other engineers as being a very well-organized chapter. These steps were not something the leadership of VTEX told us to take; we just did them and improved our processes over time.

At the beginning of 2020, VTEX was evolving its internal structure and decided to create a team to build career tracks for all engineers officially.

The project was open to anyone who wished to participate in it. I raised my hand to help write the tracks’ descriptions to improve the engineering well-being and give them more clarity on their career paths and abilities

Do not be afraid of taking chances

At the same time, I got called to take care of a group of engineers in another team and act as a “tech lead”. The concept of Engineering Manager was not well known at the time, but some of us were already studying this new position, which already existed in other companies. We started doing most of the work naturally, delivering value not only by directly coding features but also by increasing the output of individuals. 

When the creation of the engineering track was about to end, VTEX made the Engineering Manager position official, and the company assigned me to a second team with the task of looking after the professionals who worked there and help them grow professionally.

Right after that, the project of building a new admin started, and I quickly jumped on board as I had always wanted to improve the quality of our admin system from a design and front-end perspective. 

Again: no one told me to do so. It was only up to me to say, “I’m in!” Taking the initiative led me to move into the position I am today, managing a squad in charge of VTEX’s admin platform, providing tools for its modules, and overseeing its security/observability. 

Shortly after we delivered the first iteration of the engineering track, VTEX went on to do the same for its Engineering Managers, and I hopped on board as well. It took us not even half the time we spent on the first Engineering track and, when doing this project, we had a better idea about the path all engineering managers need to ride when seeking growth.

Key point: create your opportunities

As the years went by, I realized that a critical factor that allowed me to be in the position I am — and with clear paths of growth still ahead of me — was to get to know things that are not straight on related to my job. Gathering those new abilities helped me acquire the skills I needed to be able to help others thrive.

Do not point your finger saying it’s someone else’s fault, but instead tackle the existing issues, take ownership and help improve them. It is also important to let others conceive they can do the same. Ask for help and guidance, recognize when you do not know something and learn new things frequently.

Getting started

For the engineers who ask me how they can grow and improve, I tell them pretty much the same story I’ve just written, but in a shorter version:

  • Find something you’re passionate about, something that motivates you, whether performance, security, testing, accessibility, or any other field;
  • Start small to impact quickly. Gain confidence;
  • Share your progress with your squad, then your team or chapter. Make frequent demos on this topic;
  • Why not start contributing to the community? You can do it by writing a blog, making posts on LinkedIn, giving internal talks or meetups, etc. Choose the format you are more comfortable with and start sharing!
  • Be always keen on what aspects of your life you want to work on short and medium-term, and don’t lose track of them. Who knows where they might take you.

If you are looking for a company that fosters autonomy and values people who take the initiative to improve things, you should get to know VTEX. Take a look at our career page for Engineers and work at a company that understands that real growth only happens when everyone can be part of it.

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