Max Klammer

Frontend Developer by Passion

How to Be Proactive in Your Career

How to Be Proactive in Your Career

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Every professional is in charge of their own career. In the last few years, I became much more proactive in making career decisions, and I am much happier and more focused for it. This is how I started planning my journey in the professional world and how I have learned to be more relaxed in the process.

Why I Started Doing This

After finishing my university degree and starting my first full-time job, I naively thought that if I just do what I am told well, it will be good enough to automatically help me drift into a career that I will enjoy. Unfortunately, this never really happened for me. I quickly realized that someone sitting me down and mentoring me was not going to happen for me. While I know people who have found amazing mentors, who helped them early on, it did not really play out this way for me. One of the reasons why it was difficult to find a mentor was that I knew I wanted to switch careers from project management to software engineering early on. Because it is “the road less traveled,” it was not easy to find someone that faced the challenges I was having. I remember that at the time, I felt pretty uneasy. Truthfully, I was not confident enough to make my own decisions back then, and I needed someone to simply tell me what my next step should be. Even during my time at university, it was always clear what would be next: Class A is followed by class B, followed by class C. This was the first time that I understood that I need to take ownership of my career and actively set time apart to manage it. At the end of the day, I am spending most of my waking time at work, and I want to take an active part in my career development.

My Process

I decided to take matters into my own hands and take some time for myself every six months and try to reflect on what I wanted to work on going forward: what are skills I want to learn, books I want to read, technologies to try, etc. The timeframe of six months also allows me to reflect on my decisions and my progress in a periodic fashion. At first, I reflected mostly on technical decisions and technologies I have learned. After all, initially, this was a way for me to structure my progress while trying to break into the profession of software development. Recently, I started also to include more soft skills (more on this later). Here is what I have learned after five years of sticking to this process.

Identify Your Leaders

The first time I reflected on my goals, I was immediately hit by a whirlwind of questions: What is a good goal to set? How often should I review these goals? Is this goal worthwhile, even though I still don’t have a clear picture of where I want to end up? In the beginning, these questions can be a bit overwhelming. This is the reason why having a mentor is great, as they can help you find answers. If you are still a Junior, as I was at the time, finding answers to these questions can be hard. What really helped me was to stop looking at my immediate surroundings for guidance and start looking online. There is a whole world of dedicated professionals, who are leaders in their respective fields and share what they are doing, what they are excited by, and the tools they are working with daily. I found it really helpful to develop an understanding of what their definition of excellence is. It encouraged me to break out of my small world. Exposing myself to many different viewpoints also helped me find a niche in tech that I really enjoy working in, and I started to form a vision of what could be a viable career path for me.

Creating a List of Goals and Prioritize Them

I work in tech, and therefore forming a vision of the skills I meant having a long laundry list of technologies and programming languages. Looking back, 90% of the technologies I thought would be important five years ago are completely useless to me now. Fortunately, like with all things, practice makes perfect. As I gained more experience setting relevant and realistic goals for myself, I also got a clearer picture of where I want to end up. As I continued my journey, I moved away from thinking that I needed only to learn technical things and earn certifications. I realized that there are many other skills needed to be learned, like how to stand your ground in a discussion or how to deal with difficult team members or employees. These days I try to set SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound). I try to really spend some time thinking about how this goal is beneficial to me short-term and to be very specific about what I want to do. For example, recently, I wanted to become better at CSS. This on its own is not a good goal to set as it is unclear what “better” means in this context. I started to look online for guidance, and I found a really great blog about CSS. The author of this course was about to release a new course. Having read his blog before, I was sure that this would be a great course that will help me deepen my understanding of the topic. I decided that I wanted to complete this CSS course in the next six months. As a goal, this is much better as it gives me a clear objective that is SMART in every way.

Bad goal:

Become better at CSS

Better goal:

Complete the CSS course of Josh Comeau in the next six months.

Finally, I try to choose goals that I can actually influence. I stopped setting goals like: "I want to be promoted at the end of the year.” Even though I could ask for a promotion, ultimately, it is not something I can really influence, as it is the decision of my company and my boss. What would be a better goal is something along the lines of: "Schedule a meeting within the next month to discuss a promotion." I can clearly work on this, and this is totally attainable.

Reflect on What You Have Done

One unexpected way in which writing down my goals and experiences really benefited me: It gave me a lot more peace of mind. The tech world can be incredibly overwhelming, and it feels like it gets more complex every day. There is no limit to the things you can learn, and it is easy to lose track of your progress. I am a self-taught developer, and I have always looked at this mountain of knowledge with an uneasy feeling. I was not sure how I was supposed to climb this mountain. Reviewing my goals and my progress regularly helps me collect my thoughts and think about what I have accomplished in the last six months. I figuratively turn around, look down into the valley and just enjoy the moment and process of honing my craft. While there will never be a point where there is nothing left to learn, at the end of the day, these six-month reviews allow me to take a break and "smell the roses along the way.”

Check-In Regularly

Without fail, whenever I open Twitter, I always find other things that are more interesting and things that I would prefer to spend my time on. The list of targets I set for myself is not set in stone. I absolutely should change course if I feel that my time is better spent on other topics. However, the list of things I chose to work on is very curated, and I chose each item deliberately and with purpose. So if something more interesting comes up, I will compare it to all the items that I thought would be important when creating my current set of goals. I can add and replace things on the list, but in the end, I frequently toss away the new items I wanted to add and stay on course. When looking at the list, I am reminded why I chose these things to work on.

Feeling in Control

Ultimately, I enjoy feeling more in control of my journey and knowing where the road will lead me. So what about my manager? In my experience, all of the managers I have had so far really appreciated the fact that I was taking more initiative in my career development. You can take the opportunity of a performance review to approach them with your thoughts, and you can then work together to plan how to reach your goals. In most cases, they will be happy because you are taking things off their plate and are demonstrating that you are capable of actively taking ownership.


When I first started to write down my goals, I did not expect that I would stick to them for this long, but I have been doing it for five years now, and it has become something I really look forward to. There are many examples in related fields that showcase the importance of setting goals and reevaluating them periodically based on the knowledge you have gained along the way. While this might not be a perfect fit for everyone, I really recommend periodically taking a step back and think about what you have accomplished in the last six months and what you hope to achieve in the next six.