IT Sector : Why Promotions Are A Function Of Experience Rather Than Skill/Expertise?

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At the cost of generalizing, I would say most of the folks working in the IT Sector (Corporate) would be able to relate to the title. If not, I shall present opinions from my standpoint and hope for a healthy discussion.

Now again, I am no HR expert to comment on the said topic but based on the personal experience and sharing experiences with friends, Promotions in the IT sector are one of the most talked about. Well, it might as well be the most talked about topic irrespective of the industry but I feel that the framework for promotions in the IT Services sector is not without serious loopholes which does more harm that benefits.

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Before proceeding further, let me clarify that I am not against promotions being doled out to deserving candidates but the general principle on which promotions are based is biased towards the employee’s total work experience (Number of Years) including the number of years the said employee has been at the current workplace.

This principle in most cases is applicable at the mid-level and senior level promotions ( Eg: Technical leads being promoted to Project leads/managers) From an employee’s perspective, this is the general progression. An employee who has been handling technical issues for a sizable team over the years expects to lead the project and manage more responsibility. Nothing wrong with that but here are two aspects which bother me,

  • The company loses technical experts

    Imagine an employee who is considered the technical guru in the department he works in (most teams/departments have one). When one such employee does his bit and bides his time, he/she aspires to take on Project Management responsibilities during the next promotion. Now, I am not saying that the said technical expert does not get opportunities to showcase the technical expertise but project management is a whole different ball game.
    The responsibilities are in most cases completely different from what he/she must have handled during the stint as a technical lead or a technical architect. Not taking anything from the employee but isn’t the team/department at loss by foregoing a technical expert whose actual skill set might have been utilized better.


  • Project Management requires specific skill set

    This is one aspect which pains me the post. Given the way folks are promoted as Project Managers, one almost gets the feeling that the skill set required for the post comes as a result of on the job experience in previous positions. I beg to differ. Project Management for all its worth, is a specialized skill set and requires expertise on various aspects that should be considered before promoting some to take care of it.
    For instance, liaising with the client, time management, team building are some of the aspects that technical leads may not be accustomed to.

I am not sure if I am alone in my way of thinking but I have seen too many technical geniuses taking the project management route and often not doing a great job out of it. Moreover, I am not sure if there is a viable solution incase this is indeed a problem because deserving candidates need to be promoted when their time is due.

What are your thoughts on the same? Do you think you have come across similar instances where the promotions being based on experience alone have not delivered the desired results..

  1. Altaf Rahman says

    Hello Guest,

    I know you are playing safe in first para. But I am noting the exact words for my future use:) The wording of the para to express your version of the debate!!

    When I wrote that people shrug off saying “Well! S*** happens”, I dont mean all will accept the eventuality. Most does. Few dont take s***. They are either people with vision, targets are simply ppl with negetive attitude who never accept anything. For the purpose of positivity, lets take only the first lot with aspirations, goals. They try to swim against tide, few succeed, most fail and fall in the catagory of ppl accepting s*** happens. So the few are role models for future generations.

    Your quote “why not have the best people at places where they are best at”. Its a perspective issue. Management thinks X (X can be your collegue or a new comer) is the best person at a particular place while the person putting up lots of effort and expecting promotion thinks he is the best person.

    Once again management view prevails as they are responsible for the performance at the end of the day and they take certain decisions based on certain inputs. (The inputs can be positive as they see certain qualities or the inputs can be negetive as recommendations, bribes or compensations etc)

    You may be right with your case history. I am a layman when it comes to IT. Words like Java are rocket science to me. But at the end of the day, management takes certain decisions, appoints people, expect them to perform to show to shareholders that they took right decision. The new ppl may perform, may fail, may only perform as you would do. Once again there are many possibilities.

    I am sure we need the attitude shown by you (not accepting S***) every once in a while to show to the management that they can be wrong. Otherwise management takes for granted their decisions.

    Cheers :)

    I hope some other seniors will take from me from here as its a good debate topic

  2. Guest says

    Altaf, thanks for the detailed comment and the appreciation for the first paragraph. I had to play safe :-)

    As for the sectoral bias, i wanted to restrict to personal experience.
    Now to the explanation you provided. The example you take is completely valid and i have no doubt that there are tons of intricacies when it comes to benchmarking the validity for promotions.

    Based on your response, i hope you agree on losing the value thought process i tried to highlight. There may not be a viable solution and the whole experience/skill debate may not be all that significant.

    But couldnt there be a better way to avoid the “S*** happens” attitude. Why not have the best people at places where they are best at. In professional service companies, it sure is next to impossible to do that but considering the technical expertise example.
    Imagine a guy is the Go-To guy for a particular technology/language (Java). Now, imagine having a ‘Java Center Of Excellence Head’ [ for the sake of having a jazzy desgination] where the the guy is responsible for working on cutting edge features in his domain along with being projected as a thought leader on his subject by the company. Wouldnt that be benefital for the company
    Now, a bigger problem in this approach is whether the employee would want that but then again, i intended to keep the post as an opinion sharing tone and i agree that there are no thumb rules which can be used here.

  3. Altaf Rahman says

    Helloo Guest,

    Before I comment on this let me appreciate the wording of the first para. Beautifully phrased para.

    Now I have the following comments :

    1) This intrigue of experiance (mostly in the same organization) vs skills is not only constrained to IT field. Its virtually same in all fields.

    2) Its a intrigue on the lines of egg or chick argument, its age old. Everybody passes through this phase.

    Overall I found the following in my experaince.

    Consider any organization as a pyramid. At top there are few posts. As you go down, you will see more positions. For explanation sake lets say there are 11,111 employees with a multiplying factor of 10 with 5 levels.
    At the bottom level we have 10,000 workers, then on their head 1,000 foremen, then 100 engineers, 10 managers and 1 CEO.

    Now as time passes, everyone puts in some time and expect promotion. you cant expect 10,000 to be promoted. you get only 100 promoted. Becasue out of 1,000 foremen, only 100 get promoted and those are the only slots left to be filled by workers.

    So as you progress towards top, the boss will not go out. So managers have no chance of promotion (as long as CEO stays).

    All the above is with the following assumptions :
    1) No outsider enters employment.
    2) Only employees of the organization are considered for promotion.
    3) The company is stagnent.

    But the above factors does not happen. New blood is injected at every level, people quit, instead of promotion, the company recruits new people to head depats and also company grows.

    So the situation is a flux of many factors. So the debate of experiance vs skill is a very small factor in the over all vision of the top management.

    Over a period of time we become wise and are resigned to things happening around us and shrug off saying “sh** happens”.

    Over all what I am saying is that there are no thumb rules.

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