The Secret to Keeping Your Career On Track


Dr. André Martin is author of “Wrong Fit, Right Fit,” former VP of PeopleDev at Google, and was Chief Learning Officer for Nike, Target, and Mars.

— Technical talent was highly valued at Google versus more traditional companies like Nike, Target, and Mars. Gene asked, on a scale of 1-10, to what extent do you think technology leaders can thrive in the non-tech giants. (1 = not at all; everyone should go to the tech giants, 10 = you can be just as successful.) His answer was: “10*” (with an asterisk). He believes you absolutely can, but with a couple of caveats.

— If I know where I want to go, how do I know if I’m actually making progress?

— Is there a limit to how high I can go here? if so, how high is it? To what degree does the Venn diagram of “what company wants” and “what I want” sufficiently overlap?

— What advice would you give to technology leaders who are looking to redefine their career paths, especially when they feel undervalued or overlooked?


Dr. André Martin

Chief Talent and Learning Officer, Author, Wrong Fit, Right Fit


Gene Kim

Author, Researcher & Founder, IT Revolution



Okay, next up is Dr. Andre Martin. And so I've introduced him in, uh, many ways over the years. Uh, for those of you who don't know, uh, you know, the, uh, in the state of DevOps research, one of the kind of another markers of organizational performance, uh, was the employee net Promoter score. And, uh, that question actually got introduced into the instrument, I think in 2017, uh, in a, uh, series of text message exchanges with, uh, Dr. Andre Martin. So, uh, he is the author of the amazing book, uh, right Fit, wrong Fit and Wrong Fit, right Fit. Uh, he is, uh, a former Chief learning officer for Nike, uh, target, Mars Corporation. Uh, we're talking about Project Aristotle earlier. Um, and, uh, he actually took over that program, uh, when he was the VP of People Dev at Google. So he is very much, uh, has been exposed to this community.


And, um, I'll just mention one more thing before I, uh, uh, ask Andre to introduce himself. One of the focus areas of the enterprise technology leadership, uh, semi going forward is around career development. And this is based on my observation that, uh, many technology leaders, I think, uh, feel that they might be hitting a ceiling that they aren't being able to establish, uh, achieve some of their own goals and aspirations. And so, uh, this is one of a series of sessions we'll be doing over the next two days, uh, exploring that to help bring their expertise to, uh, help you as a us as a community, uh, better achieve, uh, community goals. So, uh, Andre, with that, I'm so delighted you're here. Uh, and can you introduce yourself and tell us what you've been working on these days?


Sure. Jean, it's great to be here. Uh, hello everyone. I, so I'm an organizational psychologist by training, recent author of the new book, wrong Fit, right Fit. I spent many a years, probably 20 plus as the Chief Talent Officer at Google, Nike, Mars Incorporated Target, and now I'm an independent, uh, consultant. I'm an operating advisor for a number of technology based SaaS firms and in some growth equity spaces. And then, you know, really just helping to make work less work, gene. That's really what I've been doing these days. <laugh>


So good. And by the way, I found your, uh, your book was absolutely fantastic. And I think to call it a, uh, the book is many things, but also forces you to really examine your own personal goals, right? So that work, uh, isn't like work. So the question that we're exploring is what can technology leaders do to keep their careers on track? And you had this, uh, I had, uh, we had initially proposed a role play, but you actually had a far better idea of like what would be meaningful. Uh, so can you start, like, what might be a better way to, uh, examine a technology leader's career?


Yeah, I think we're gonna do a couple things today, Jean. So first I wanna set up, um, just the question we're gonna talk about and then be able to spend a little bit of time with the audience talking about what executives are actually looking at when they're looking at the talent that they're going to choose for higher and higher levels within the company. I wish it was only good work, but unfortunately that's not all it takes. And then we're just gonna open up the, um, the space to you and I to have a conversation, maybe get some questions from the audience if we can, around, Hey, what are the questions that you're struggling with the most when you think about advancing your career? So you wanna just jump in? Full speed ahead. Let's go. All right, let's do it. Awesome. So, so let me start with this.


Is that, you know, a lot of us would love to believe that a job done well is all it takes. And actually what's true is that a career for it to work out over the long term, it's gotta be curated, it's gotta be cared for, and it's gotta be constructed over time. And this little visual is one of my favorites. It talks about this idea of career progression. And what we wish we had was careers that just go like this. You know, that with every good piece of work, I get a promotion. The next piece of work, I get another promotion, I just move, move, move all the way up the organization. But the truth is, it's more like the visual on the right, right? That our careers are winding and they're curving and they go up and down. And sometimes it just feels dizzying as we try to try to understand how do I create a better career for myself.


And so one of the questions I hear technology leaders ask, I hear leaders in general ask is, why does it feel like everyone else is progressing when I work as hard as they do? And so what I want to do is sort of unpack that a little bit, Jean, and then we can have a conversation about, about what that means. And the way I thought we'd do that is talk about, I've spent my career working with top executives doing succession and talent work. And as I look back on that work, here's what I'll tell you is that executives don't just look at output alone. There's a few other factors that are on their mind that influence who gets chosen for different positions. And I'll just run through these real quick and then we can, we can get to the q and a. The first one is, when you think about what executives look for, they hire a narrative, not just a person.


They look for people that can tell a story about the future that is compelling and aligned with what they believe. And often when we're in the company already, and we've been working for a boss that's probably been there for a long time, unfortunately, we become a part of their narrative. So the assumption is, because I worked for Eugene for 15 years, I am your narrative. I believe the same things you believe in. And when executives are looking for a change, of course they might not see me as someone who holds a different idea of what the future could be. Secondly is you have to embody the archetype of the company, right? The archetype of the company of Nike is very different than, Mars is very different than, Google is very different than, target is very different than gm, right? So when you think about progressing your career, if you don't embody the archetype, if you don't act show up, have the same sensibilities as successful executives in the company, you'll always probably be passed over for someone who does.


The third one is you have to have strong ties to the voices that are in the executive's head, right? So think about that for a second, is executives have eyes and ears out in the company all the time, and they have often pretty small trusted networks. And so people who tend to be part of those trusted networks tend to have a leg up in their careers. I think the fourth one is you need external street credit or reputation, right? So one of the things that's always interesting to me is when executives or HR goes out to the external market to recruit, often what they hear from recruiters is, Hey, you have this unbelievable talent who's already in your company. We know them. They're highly sought after they're doing some of the best work in the world. And so by having an external reputation, it actually helps you be seen as someone that's a thought leader and progressive for the future.


And last but not least is you need a die on the sword advocate. You need someone who's in those talent conversations on the executive team for when the moment comes up when we're talking about who's the next technology leader we're gonna invest in. Someone in that room is thinking of you. And so I know a lot of these might be discouraging to folks, but I was hoping just we can present the reality of what executives use as they think about who's gonna progress through their careers up and through the organization. And that sort of brings me to this sort of question, gene you and I were playing around with over the weekend, which is, you know, if we had to ask the audience or you could represent the audience, what is the question that you are struggling with right now as a technology leader when it comes to your career? And we thought we could just do a little bit of coaching for a few minutes about that, and then you and I can have a little bit deeper conversation.


Yeah, absolutely. Uh, so I put all of the questions I POed to you over the weekend, <laugh> in the, uh, slack channel. I'm asking people to vote, uh, but in the meantime, and we'll decide let those percolate to the top. Uh, but here's a question that I had, um, which is, you know, you spend time at Google, and so that is a, uh, that is a technology company. It's a software company, um, and they valued, uh, technology talent. And my question, uh, when I asked you on a scale of one to 10, to what degree, you know, do you think, you know, non-technology firms, like, you know, people coming from organizations, represen here across all industry verticals, you know, uh, to what degree do you think, you know, they will eventually recognize or will do they or can they appreciate technical talent? One was like, no chance to be appreciated and technology you have to do what many did, which is go to the tech giants 10 is, uh, no, it's absolutely possible. And you actually said 10 with a star. So can you talk a little bit about like what, uh, why is it a 10 and what, why do you put a star by it <laugh>, and how,


Yeah, so here's what I would say is I, I think technology leaders can rise in those non-technical firms. Now, it's easier in places like Google because those companies are typically run by technologists who appreciate engineering talents, kind of, if you don't have a technology background, you're sort of in the opposite place. But in these other firms, there's kind of three things I would say. The first one is, like I said before, you have to represent the archetype. You have to be able to show that you have the same sensibilities as the company. I think secondly is, you know what Jean is that technology's becoming a more and more central part to sustainable growth for these companies. You know, you look at Target, you look at Nike, the amount of technology transformations that they've gone through in the last 10 years means that executives are thinking a lot more about technology in strategic ways, whereas before they thought about it through the lens of infrastructure, right?


And I think third is if you want to have a career in those places, you need to be more of a t-shaped leader. That is, you need to have depth in technology, but you need to be able to show that you are as good as running a p and l as you are coding the next app that we need for our, for our, uh, infrastructure or our company. And I think those are a few things that say it's possible, but again, you have to do a little bit harder work than maybe if you were in one of the big tech firms.


Yeah, that's, uh, fascinating. In fact, you know, uh, this is, so we're just in the process of, uh, creating our programming objectives for next year. And, uh, this is, these topics like this, uh, is gonna be a third of them because I think they're just so important. Uh, so, uh, one of the questions, uh, uh, I'm gonna put to the top, even though, uh, it's shy of being the top voted on, but like in situations like that where, uh, you're in a non-technology firm, where do you find a die on the sword advocate, uh, when you know people on the top, you know, haven't come from a software or technology background?


Yeah, I mean, there's a few ways that you find 'em. I think first and foremost, there's always an executive out there that's struggling with technology <laugh> how, how, how to use it personally, how to enact it in their, in their function, how to leverage it better to drive more value to the customer. I just tell people, like be the person that's in their email on their phone saying, Hey, I'm a technology expert. What do you need? And how can I help? Right? Because I gotta tell you, like, everyone's a little scared that they don't know enough. And if there's a technologist out there who's willing to sit down and be a mentor for them about how to utilize this, I don't know, an exec that's not gonna take you up on that.


<laugh>, that's awesome. In fact, uh, Luke Redick from Target, uh, has, uh, was telling me stories. He shared some similar stories about, about that, those unmet needs, frustrations, wants, aspirations, goals, dreams that are just almost there. If it weren't for, uh, you know, this somehow needs technology to be a part of that. Uh, fantastic. Um, and so what one might ask a technology leader, uh, how, if I know where I want to go, how do I know if I'm actually making progress? Can you <laugh>? Um, so what are some concrete ways that, uh, you can sort of, uh, get a an accurate sense of, you know, do I have a shot at going to where I need to go?


I think first and foremost, I would separate, um, progression up and through a company from progression as broadening the portfolio of skills, experiences, and challenges I've faced. One of the things that I did in my career early on is I went out and I said, Hey, who are the top 10 best CLOs or chiefs of talent out there in the world? And I studied their LinkedIns, I studied like, what were all the experiences that they had that got them to the point where they are considered a renowned expert in their field? And then literally I just use that as my map for how many of those do I have, at what depth do I have them, and where can I sort of take my next year of work and start building out some of those places where I might not have exactly what I need to be the one who's up for the job when the next one comes up. And so I think that's really important is find the technologists that you wanna most be, like when you grow up, study the experiences, challenges, places, types of roles they've had, and really try to use your current situation to maximize your ability to gain those experiences, um, because then you're just more marketable for more jobs.


Hmm. And, uh, um, actually, and can you give us some advice in terms of like, uh, there's two ways to interpret that. One is, I'm gonna look internally inside the current organization, and uh, the other one is like, I'm gonna look externally across the entire, uh, industry. Uh, can you give some advice in terms of like, where should one initially focus? I know it's lot depends on the person and, you know, constraints and so forth, but, uh, you know, what are some guidelines that you would, uh, give?


I love the question, gene. One of the things in the book that I was really passionate about was this idea of a great career is constructed by knowing what the purpose of your career is. Are you of company, are you of ca cause or are you of craft Now if you're a company, if you're gonna stay at the place that you want to be because you love it so much, then yeah, you gotta look at the, at the leaders that have progressed and really try to map out a career that makes sense. And frankly, your social network becomes really important. Now, if you're of craft, right? If you wanna be this renowned expert in the field, the truth is you probably have to go to a few companies to be able to experience technology in a variety of different ways. So you get to see all the different ways that technology is being applied, all the different ways it can be run. Because if you stay in one company, you only know one way. So you're never gonna be able to kind of reach your potential. And if you're of, cause you're trying to say, Hey, I wanna make sure every company in the world is a technology company, then you just go to where the energy is, you go towards the people and places where the best work is happening. So I think it's kind of first stepping back and saying, what kind of career do I wanna build?


Are you still with me, gene?


Yep, I am. Uh, so I was like, is that him or me? Keep going. Yes, thank you, <laugh>.


Well, and, and last but not least, I know that we're gonna run on time, it's like 9 0 5. I do want to just be able to say, Hey, you know, the best people I know that have really built great careers, the one thing they universally do, um, is they are constantly reassessing where they are and what they need to do next. We have to own our own careers. Nobody's going to just look at, you know, how much good work you producing, how much output are you creating and actually progress your career for you. And I think we often, you know, want organizations to do our career management for us <laugh>. And the truth is, you, you have to own your own career. No one else is gonna care as much about your career as you do,


Uh, such. That's fantastic. And now I'm gonna show the clock to show that. Uh, I wanna make sure that we have, uh, three minutes at the end to share your amazing sum up advice. But one question I would love to, uh, put there is like, you know, what questions can, um, you know, one be asking to get a sense for, uh, you know, how is there a limit to how high I can go here at the organization that I'm in? Uh, you know, how high is it? Is it, uh, yeah, and I know it's not just about, uh, being promoted, but, uh, you know, how to what degree can one measure what the Venn diagram looks like about what the company wants versus what I want <laugh> and, you know, and to what degree is there any overlap at all?


Yeah. You know, one of the things I I encourage every talent to do is you have to have that conversation every time you have a performance conversation with your boss. You know, if the company can't tell you exactly where you're headed, exactly what your next role is, exactly what your, um, your overall career progression potential is, then you know what I'd question whether or not you're in the right place for yourself. Most places know, most bosses are pretty clear. Often the reason we don't find out is that we never ask the question, you know? And so I'd say make sure you ask the question and also make sure you're ready for the answer, <laugh>, right? Because the answer might be, Hey, you're pretty much where you're gonna be because we've hired from the outside, we have a CTO that we like, we, you know, love where you're, and you're doing a great job for us. That might be dissatisfying, but I'd rather know the truth than to sit and make up narratives or stories about what might be true.


Um, super. In fact, uh, we're going to be modeling some of these role plays, uh, in the next, uh, over the next, uh, two days as well. So, uh, uh, Andre, can you share, uh, some strategies that we can all take away in terms of how we can better achieve some of our, uh, career objectives?


Yeah, I think first and foremost, you gotta do a lot more hard work around who you are, what experiences you've had, and what you're designing for, right? What are you trying to solve with your career in the next year, two years, five years? And I think we don't often step back enough and do that. I think secondly is you gotta have really honest conversations with the leaders in your function and your boss about where do they see you today? Where do they see you potentially being next year, and where do they see the top end of your career being in this company? I think third is you also have to think about like, what do you want over the next 10 years? A lot of people are happy with a job that they can do. Well, the drawback of moving jobs is that it gets harder, the expectations are higher.


Success is that much less likely. And you gotta be ready for that because you might hit a point where you've overstepped your capability and then your life is upside down. I've seen that happen a lot. So you might wanna progress fast, but I always tell people like, a career is not a sprint. You know, you sort of want slow progress over time so you don't get outpaced by your job. And last but not least, I'd just say to anyone, Hey, you know what? Do more work to make sure people know both what you've done and the work you've done, and also how you see the future of the work you could do. You know, if you're, if you're really clear about where you want to go, what you want to do, often the organization's gonna meet you there.


Awesome. So, uh, Andre, we had, uh, talked, uh, over the weekend and, uh, there's a pretty exciting offer then, uh, potential of what we could be doing, uh, over the next, uh, year. Tell us about that and things that help you're looking for.


Yeah, so there's a couple things. If you wanna find me, you can look at the first three bullets here. I have a couple ways you can interact. One that I think might help folks in this particular situation is a newsletter, Monday It's a place where every Monday I give really practical advice to make your work week better and also progress your career. I think number four is the important one. Jean is, as you know, the conference moves, the annual con conference moves to include more leadership work. One of the things we want to do is start doing a research study of what really drives a successful career for a technology leader. And so I'm looking to just talk to people about, Hey, what are you actually struggling with? Where do you find careers hard? You know, what skills do you wish you had that you don't have? We're gonna probably do some surveying with the community here pretty shortly, but a few early conversations would just help us get clear about the questions. So if you want to be a part of those early conversations, help shape some of that research, reach out to me on email. I'd love to have the conversation.


Fantastic. In fact, uh, Jeff, let's get, uh, his email address into the Slack channel. And if I could wave a magic wand, uh, based on our discussions, Andre, uh, it would be, Hey, let's get, uh, some problem analysis, uh, collected. This could lead to surveys. Uh, this could lead to, uh, um, cross population study just like, uh, we did with the, uh, state of DevOps research. And I would just love to see some amazing findings. That's a, you know, here is the, uh, the best known ways of, uh, how technology leaders can succeed both, uh, you know, achieve and help their organizations win, but also them, uh, in terms of their career as well. Uh, did I capture that accurately, Andre,


I think accurately enough for today,


<laugh>. Very good. All right. Thank you so much. And, uh, Andre, thank you so much for all the teachings that you've given us since, uh, in your amazing book. And, uh, this will be, um, one of many interactions that we will have between now and the, uh, conference in Vegas for what, one year from now.


I look forward to it. Gene, have a great rest of the conference. <laugh>. Thanks everybody.


Thank you Dr. Martin.