Chapter 6. Chutes and Career Ladders

If you’re ex-academics like we are, you might find yourself unfamiliar with the notion of a career ladder. “People should just do good work, and they’ll end up in the right spot!” is the mentality on which you might have been raised. One of the best things you can offer your team is what they might have lacked in academia: true mentorship and career guidance.

After starting to manage a data science team, you’ll very quickly find that your data scientists want to know what skills they should be working on or what it takes to get a raise or to get promoted. They’ll want to know what their future at the company looks like a year or two years down the line. Over half of data scientists say that growth and career advancement are their top two motivating factors for changing jobs. So, if you don’t have a good answer for them, they’ll find someone who does. A recruiter will come calling with the siren song of that sweet new senior or lead role, and they’ll take the exit chute from your company because you didn’t provide them a ladder.

In the early days of a team, you might be able to get away with vague, general advice in one-on-ones. However, nothing substitutes for a carefully constructed career ladder document that lets your people know exactly how you envision their career trajectory on your team. Especially because data science roles are so fluid and the same titles can mean vastly different things at different companies (see ...

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