3 tech pros share how they’ve risen through the ranks at their companies

by Liz Warren
September 12, 2018
tech-leader
image via shutterstock

There’s a reason why one of the most common interview questions candidates have for employers centers around opportunities for growth. When you’re in the same role for too long, ideas can go stale, tasks can seem monotonous and motivation often plummets.

We talked to three professionals who, through their own ambition and with the support of their companies, moved through the ranks within their teams. They explained how they were able to take advantage of new opportunities and even create some of their own.

 

Yiyang Wang
Account Executive

Though Account Executive Yiyang Wang has only been at HR-focused company Justworks for a little over two years, she’s already made a big mark on the team. She started in early 2016 as a sales development representative, where she was responsible for sourcing meetings for account executives. From there, she earned the title of sales associate and finally account executive — not bad for someone who came to the company with zero experience in tech sales. She walked us through her climb through the department.

 

How did you rise through the ranks at Justworks?

Justworks is a company where self-starters succeed and are also happy to help newer team members. When I first began my job here, I didn’t know anything about selling or the health insurance industry. I read up on everything in our internal wiki and also made sure to find people who I could check in with and get advice from — whether it be related to work or work-life balance. In addition, I made sure to demonstrate that I was open to taking on more responsibility by testing the waters in new sales territories, taking on formal mentorship opportunities available to me, and involving myself heavily in Justworks’ culture-building through diversity and inclusion initiatives.

I’ve kept an open mind and operated with the mindset that there would always be someone at the table who would know more than I did. Understanding that, my goal was to soak up knowledge rather than feel competitive.

 

How did your company help facilitate that?

We have an amazing sales enablement team and a really great training program. Overall, I think that from the top-down, we have a very collaborative and non-competitive culture. This allows people who are new to the team at Justworks to feel comfortable asking questions and learning from others at all levels.

 

What advice do you have for others looking to move up within their company?

I think my greatest piece of advice is to pay it forward. If you’re someone who has gained a lot from a workplace trainer or a mentor, it’s good karma to help newer people on the team. Beyond just being good karma, I’ve noticed that it’s usually the sort of thing that winds up giving me further opportunities in my role.

 

CTO Peter Kalmakis didn’t start off at financial services company Stash with a C-level title. Starting in September 2015 as the company’s first software engineer and VP of engineering, he was responsible for building a team and scaling the company. A little over a year later, he earned the title of CTO. Here’s how he did it.

 

How did you rise through the ranks at Stash?

The truth is that I didn’t exactly move up at Stash — I was able to build a team around me. One important thing I did was when I first started: I negotiated for the title of VP of Engineering. I knew that the founders would be looking for much more than just my programming skills, but for a partner in building the company.

 

How did your company help facilitate that?

Stash has invested in my professional growth in many ways. They have provided professional coaching, and have helped me find opportunities for networking and mentorship.

 

What advice do you have for others looking to move up within their company?

My advice is to be proactive about finding new opportunities to deliver value for your company. Find your niche. Not everyone has the chance to start as engineer number one, but there are often many ways you can create a new role for yourself — especially at startups. Being a pioneer is a great way to move up, because it doesn’t require displacing someone else or waiting until “the time is right.”

 

Eric Ma
VP Product and Engineering

VP Product and Engineering Eric Ma has been with trucking logistics company Transfix for less than two years and has held four different product-related roles during that time. Starting out as the principal product manager in late 2016, he quickly became head of product, then VP of product. In July of this year, he was promoted once more to his current title. He explained exactly how, through his actions and the support of his company, he was able to climb the ranks.

 

How did you rise through the ranks at Transfix?

I didn't have an explicit strategy to move up in the company other than to continually identifying the biggest challenges the company was facing at each stage and working to solve them as effectively as possible. Although I love building teams, I originally joined Transfix because the industry sounded fascinating, there was a great team and I knew there would be no shortage of opportunities because of the company's growth trajectory. As the company has continued to grow rapidly over the past couple years, various opportunities for more responsibility have organically arisen.

 

How did your company help facilitate that?

Since day one, I've felt very empowered by the company and team around me to have ownership and drive impact in the best ways I could identify. By working closely with other team members and other team leads, I've been very fortunate to have a collaborative, driven group of people around me with a shared north star of changing an antiquated industry.

 

What advice do you have for others looking to move up within their company?

My biggest advice would be to focus on the top problems your company faces and do everything you can to solve them. Work with your teammates, drive projects forward and prove out that you have an ability to make things happen. There is never a shortage of need for people who can make a big impact. Don't wait to be assigned the perfect project or hope for opportunities to fall into your lap. Proactively look for them and rally people to solve them collectively. When it's time for promotions or new initiatives, you want to make it a no-brainer that you're the right person for the role because you've already demonstrated that ability for the past few months.

 

 

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