Over the past two years I’ve had the incredible opportunity to work with some people that seem to have it all together. They are talented developers, product designers, and managers whose careers are all-around impressive. As someone who is still in the early years of their career, I’m always interested in how they got to the positions they are in.
One commonality among all the people I admire professionally, and people that I see as ambitious, hardworking, and successful is that each of them tracks their career. Now, I’m not just talking about a resume outlining the big picture. Usually, this takes the form of a document that drills down into the details of day-to-day tasks, multi-day assignments, large projects, personal projects, how you impact the business, and goals for the coming months or year. This document allows them to refer back to what they’ve worked on in detail later on when having career conversations with a manager or when interviewing for another position. Our memories are short; we often forget what we worked on a few weeks ago, let alone months ago. This is only one of the reasons tracking your career is incredibly useful. In this article, I’ll outline why tracking your work is so important and give some tips on how to do it.
Why should you track your career in detail? (Note: when I say “career”, I mean everything within your career. Roles, responsibilities, projects, day-to-day tasks, specific features you worked on, monthly/quarterly/annual goals, projects outside of work) The most obvious reason is for clarity when referring back to your work later on. At some point you will be vying for a raise, promotion, or changing companies/positions. To do this you’ll need to tell your manager/interviewer “why you?” and back up your reasoning. If you had never written down anything you’ve worked on, you will probably have trouble remembering the specifics of projects and impact you had on them– this will probably make it harder to get what you want!
Consider the following answers to the interview question “Tell me about a time you contributed to a project in a meaningful way”:
“I helped implement a new feature that helped users sign in and manage their accounts easier.”
“I participated in and ran requirements planning meetings for a new feature, resulting in 15 individual tasks that were divided up between developers. I also worked on 5 of these tickets myself, focusing on the backend API and database. The team completed this feature 1 week ahead of schedule and demoed the feature for a customer, much to their satisfaction.”
The second answer contains much more detail with metrics that can be interpreted as having an impact on the business. This translates to “I have delivered value in previous roles, I can do the same in this position, and here’s evidence for it”. If you can back up your claim with evidence, you’re much more likely to get the raise or position. It’s unlikely that this much detail would be able to be recalled months after the fact, like in the first answer. A document that tracks this info in the days following makes recall possible and incredibly easy.
Along with these reasons, the daily/weekly practice of writing down what you’ve worked on is a great habit. Like resume building, it’s great technical writing practice – a soft skill that I’d argue is valuable in almost any position and helpful for career mobility. Writing about complex projects with conciseness and clarity is invaluable.
On a more philosophical note, I believe that the practice of reflecting daily/weekly on what you’ve been doing and how you’re shaping up to your goals is a great habit with intrinsic value. I see it as a great way to take stock of how you’re doing personally and professionally, and provides a way to look back on progress over the weeks, months, and years. For longer term items such as quarterly or annual goals it is often useful to look back and reflect on progress you’ve made (or didn’t make and re-calibrate). Having a reference to the past with details often helps us put our current position into perspective. You can easily track personal development in the same way as professional development.
How to Track
So what does tracking your career actually look like? My preferred way is the brag document. This document is a powerful multi-tool. You can change it to suit your needs, but generally it looks like this:
### 2022 Example Brag Document #### Goals for 2022 * Example goal for the year/quarter/month * Sub tasks that are a part of the goal #### Projects & Tasks * Title of Project/Feature/Task * Problem: * Define the project/feature in detail here * What was the feature request? * How many customers were impacted? * Why was this a blocker to future work? * Solution: * Specific actions taken to complete or resolve the task or problem * Results: * How did this solution impact the business? * What were some measurable outcomes from the solution? * Categories * What are specific values that your actions on this project display? (Note: I find these very useful during behavioral interviews) * Example: Leadership, conflict, collaboration, delegation, etc. * Notes: * Any additional info that you feel should be included #### Collaboration & Mentorship * Something you did in collaboration with the team * How you helped/mentored a colleague #### Company Building * Something you did that added value to your company #### Outside of Work * Personal Project * Specific details about project outside of work * Volunteer Work/Community Service * You can use these categories in any way you like. If you want to track something like volunteer hours, this is a great place to do that
The great thing about this format is how flexible it is; you can add/remove sections as needed, and within sections you can give as much info as needed (although more is generally better).
You want to add to this document early and often. It will be a growing and changing record of what you are working on as a project progresses. You will have more context that can help you clarify, add, and remove info as needed.
As I’ve already noted, our memories are short and within a few days or weeks you will probably forget details. I’ll be the first to admit how hard it is to remember to track your progress every day or every week, let alone feel motivated to do so. I’m a fan of James Clear’s book Atomic Habits. Throughout the book, Clear outlines ways to build good habits and disencourage bad ones. One key to building and reinforcing habits is repetition; you should repeat the practice of tracking little by little, until you’ve built up evidence that you are the type of person who often thinks about their career and works to grow professionally. This will help reinforce the habit of tracking your career.
This brag document can be your private notes to refer to as needed, or you could directly share this with your manager during a one-on-one meeting. I find that having open career conversations and being clear about your ambitions early on helps facilitate mobility. In seeing this document with your goals, contributions, and evidence, a manager is much more likely to think of you when considering raises/promotions. There’s a reason we call successful people go-getters. They don’t just sit around and wait for recognition and promotions – they actively pursue them.
It’s never too late to start tracking your career. I found this incredibly useful during my time interning and my first two years as a software developer, but it’s okay to start any number of years into your career. You can do a higher-level summary of your earlier career and start recording in detail now and prepare for the next steps in your career.
By recording what we’ve worked on frequently and in detail in something like a brag document, you build a ledger of evidence that can be used when requesting a raise, moving in on a promotion, or interviewing for a new position. Having a grasp on the details of your career – the past, the present, and your future goals – is a necessary part of success.