19. June 2024

5 Ways for Senior ICs to Maintain Relevance and Impact in Tech

Viktor Orekoya at StaffPlus

Meet Viktor, Staff Engineering Manager at Personio, who recently joined the team at LeadDev, StaffPlus London to share his expertise and insights. In his talk, he delved into the topic of architecting for scale, discussing scalable system designs that prioritize adaptability and fundamental principles over premature optimization.

With extensive experience in both leadership and hands-on technical roles, Viktor explores the challenges senior Individual Contributors (ICs) face in the fast-evolving tech landscape. He shares his top tips on staying relevant and impactful, ensuring they continue to drive success for their teams.

"With technology evolving at an exponential rate, the challenge for seasoned individual contributors (ICs) in tech isn't just about mastering the tools of today – it’s about adapting and finding ways to thrive amid the shifts that define tomorrow. 

Years spent working in the same field can easily lead senior ICs to set up a full-time residence in their comfort zone. Once you’re proficient with certain technologies, it can happen that you start to lag behind as the industry shifts and new innovations emerge.

This is certainly a challenge I’ve had to face in my own career. From my personal journey through multiple sectors – including energy, education, and fintech – I've directly experienced how important it is to constantly adapt. Over time, I’ve learned ways to pivot and embrace new challenges, which has sharpened my skills and enabled me to drive my teams forward effectively.

I joined Personio as a Staff Engineer almost a year ago and was very happy to find an environment of learning and mutual support that empowers all of us to continue uplevelling our skills to stay relevant. We work cross-functionally on our projects, have mentorship programs in place and have access to learning resources available. Of course, in the end it always depends on oneself to keep growing, but the right environment sets the foundation. 

Let’s get into it and go through some of my key learnings that have worked for me to stay up to date in the tech world. I hope they might be able to help you do the same.

5 strategies for growth and relevance as a senior IC

During my time as an IC, and especially as I gained experience and became more senior, there are five key strategies I developed over time to continue growing and ensure I was relevant for the team. 

1) Cross-industry exposure

Working across various industries can provide unique insights and foster versatility. This exposure forces you to adapt to different problem spaces, technologies and methodologies, broadening your skill set and perspective.

Over time, gaining diverse experience when possible makes you not only more marketable to employers, but also more impactful within a team.

2) Continuous learning

We all know learning is a lifelong journey, and the same goes for ICs. Whether through formal education, online courses, or self-study, I’ve learned that keeping up to date with emerging technologies is crucial if you want to be an impactful and successful IC in the long term.

Above all, curiosity is what ultimately keeps you moving forward: Look beyond the surface and find new ways to evolve the frontiers of your own knowledge. On a practical level, I aim to pick up a new programming language every 18 months or so. I find that programming languages, much like human languages, force my brain to explore new ways of expressing ideas. Another learning accelerator for me is working on “side” projects. If you can manage the time, finding an open source project to contribute to can be a really useful way of staying up to date.

3) Peer learning

Some of the best lessons can be learned from peers in your role, so make sure to engage with other ICs in your area (i.e. for me, that’s senior engineers). Understanding their approaches to staying relevant can offer valuable strategies that you may not have considered.

4) Feedback and reflection

Regularly seek feedback on your work and reflect on your opportunities for growth. This can highlight blind spots in your knowledge and areas for improvement. I’ve received a ton of helpful feedback from all levels, and it’s certainly shaped my approach to working as an IC.

5) Mentorship

Both being a mentor and finding one can greatly enhance your understanding and approach to new challenges. This reciprocal relationship fosters growth and learning, especially when it’s long-lasting.

Staying relevant as a senior IC means more than just keeping up; it’s about actively pushing the boundaries of your knowledge and comfort zone. By exploring new problem spaces, continuously learning, and engaging with peers and mentors, you can maintain a sharp, impactful presence in the ever-evolving tech landscape.

Returning to IC roles after leadership

This approach not only ensures personal growth but also enhances your ability to lead and influence within your teams. In the past, I hit a point where it felt natural to move into a leadership role – a choice many senior ICs are eventually presented with. The role of Engineering Manager (EM) felt to me like another opportunity for growth and expanding my horizon. 

Building software is about understanding both technology and people. As an EM, you have the chance to bring these two together successfully. My years in this role gave me a different perspective: Both on my work as an individual contributor and how I can better understand some of the decisions my previous EMs had made. 

I later moved back into a senior IC role – a move that colleagues of mine at Personio have also made. If you are given this opportunity and it’s something you’d want to explore, I can truly recommend going for it. I cherish my experience as an EM, but I’m also excited to keep learning and growing as an IC, adapting to different challenges and staying at the cutting edge of technological solutions to solve them."

Interested in joining a team like Viktor’s? Personio is hiring across many areas, including Product & Technology. Head over to our careers page to see open roles and apply!

Viktor Orekoya

Viktor Orekoya

Viktor Orekoya is an experienced Lead Software Engineer with a demonstrated history of working in the development of high performance applications across multiple industries including Healthcare, Energy, Telecommunications and IoT. He joined Personio in 2023 as a Staff Engineer, changing the world of HR tech together with his fellow engineers ever since.

Interested in joining Personio? Explore our open roles and find the right job for you!

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