My takes from Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

Outliers was a great book that looks into the history of “superstars”. Malcolm Gladwell dived deep into the stories of different geniuses or superstars. The book was hard to drop when started to read, the author’s use of language and the examples were just kept me reading.

Depending on their mindset one can find this book motivating or demotivating at the same time. When I first started to read, I thought “OK, I don’t have these conditions. Will I ever be successful?” then I continued to read and I convinced myself that I can change some of the conditions and become more successful in the end.

The biggest lesson I took away from the book is that: No success happens alone!

Success requires

  • hard working
  • some sort of support (legacy, sponsor etc.)
  • some luck

Of course, this is highly dependent on your definition of success. If you consider living a happy life with a full stomach and a roof above your head. Then maybe only one point from the above list can fulfil your success definition. But the book talks about the outliers, like Bill Gates or some hockey superstars etc.

The book itself tells the story of success in two parts opportunity and legacy.

The opportunity starts with what I would call the “luck factor”. The best hockey players in Canada share the same birthdate pattern, the best computer wizards were the ones who had access to a computer in 60s, the best legal advisors were born in the same era etc. So the first part of the opportunity is luck.

After luck, the hard work comes into effect. Well known “10,000 hours rule” is also described in the book. But usually, persons with less luck are not able to have the opportunity to study some topic for this many hours. A person should have the luck (or the opportunity), then they should recognise and grab the opportunity to become successful.

Unfortunately, life is not always fair and easygoing for everyone. We see a contradictive example in the book also, a man who has a great talent and is also willing to work hard loses the opportunity. This was because of the geographic conditions they had at the time and even if they contacted people who may sponsor them. All the prospective sponsors rejected him.

A famous successful example, Bill Gates had all three at the same time. His school had a time-sharing computer where they were able to book some time and learn to program, then his mother was able to sponsor this hobby due to her job at that time, finally, Gates was very interested in the topic and worked really hard. So when the time came, he already had 10,000 hours of work completed and was ready to grab the opportunity.

The legacy part is more about the non-financial legacy. E.g. there is a higher chance of a child with educated parents getting higher education compared to a child with non-educated parents. Similar to this, immigrant people of America had parents who are really good at trading or production. As they grow in families with this tradition (or legacy) their vision is improved. They became able to identify gaps in the market, which they filled.

Some of the legacies is also coming from the culture of the country that a person is raised in. For example, Japanese (if I recall correctly) children are more successful in math compared to other children. Because their language makes it simpler to do calculations, they say two ten six, instead of twenty-six. And this changes the way of thinking which leads to a more successful math career.

On the other, some cultures have great respect for superiors and this might block success even lead to failures. e.g. a first officer in a cockpit may not say the captain’s error due to respect and this may cause an accident even a fatal one.

All in all, what I see is success is not caused by a single item. It’s a combination of hard work, luck, changing the mindset from limiting cultures to more open ones.

Thanks for reading so far! If you read the book also I am curious to hear your opinions.

Title Inflation in Tech

Employee churn in tech is a big problem I observe during my career. I believe it was a problem far before I even started working and it will be a problem for the upcoming years. Side note: I choose “churn” over “attrition” as I feel it fits better regarding resources [1] [2].

With the effects of the global pandemic, churn slowed down for a period. When employees did not feel safe to move on, they decided to stay in the safe harbour. Also companies, due to lack of clear vision, decided to stop or slow down hiring. The new setup caused burnouts, physical and psychological stress to employees more than ever. And since summer 2021 the inevitable arrived. Some name it as Great Resignation [3] or Great Reshuffle [4] [5].

Those circumstances drive the situation something I would like to call “title inflation”. Of course, this term was not coined by me. [6]

Photo by Carlos Muza on Unsplash

Title Diversity in Tech

There is no standard career path in tech. Job titles, expectations, salary levels, required experience levels and responsibilities vary hugely between companies. You can see a comparison of FAANG job titles in [7].

Promotion Decisions

I can count three different decision methods for promoting an employee. I will not discuss which method is correct or wrong here as this post does not aim to explain promotions in general. But let me briefly explain the methods I have observed and dive deep into the last one.

Butt Time [8] promotion, this promotion is solely based on years of experience (YoE). It reminds me of the promotion in an army. During my career, in some companies, I saw this method as the only method of promotion. E.g. after graduation one is a junior engineer, two years in the job they become an engineer, after two more years they jump to senior and so on. And for some companies, I saw this in the first steps. For instance, you start as a junior after two years you become an engineer and further promotions will be competence-based.

Competence-based promotion, in this model, companies have “somewhat” clear guidelines for each role level. E.g. a senior engineer should be able to lead a project across multiple teams etc. In theory, this method seems perfect, only the ones who deserve the next step is able to make the jump. But in practice there are gaps. How do you monitor an “ability to lead” for instance? How do you prove that? Some companies have methods like 360 evaluation, some companies put this burden on the engineering managers they prepare a case and ask for approval, some companies require engineers to apply for promotion then a committee evaluates. Still, I believe this is the best method even though the practical difficulties.

Marketing-based promotion, this model is the most elective one for the technically best engineers I saw. Most of the good engineers I met are humble, do not brag or show off. Unfortunately in this promotion model, the ones who show off get the next level. Even if they only achieve smaller things than the others. They have two great skills, business acumen and marketing which leads them to promote themselves in and out of the company finally letting them get to the next level. This can be mixed up with the competency-based model, but the difference in my opinion is the output produced by the engineer.

Promotion as a solution to churn

As Great Reshuffle hits the shores of tech companies, they aim to keep the talent in the company as much as they can. Because hiring is too expensive. Hiring means engineering time spent in the interviews, opportunity cost due to lost productivity etc.

Companies started to increase the salaries and benefits of tech employees, but hey they can not give XX,XXX€ salary to a senior engineer, that bar is too high for this level. Then they decided to give out promotions Senior Engineers are becoming leads, architects or principals. So the company can match the monetary expectations.

And this resulted in what I meant with “title inflation”. In some interviews or in some companies we see Senior Engineers who can not draw a solution, Principal Engineers who can not design a system or leads who can not communicate with their team.

Also, we see this method as a way to speed up talent acquisition lately. Due to the Great Reshuffle, some companies just throw in title and compensation packages [9] to convince candidates.


On one hand, I don’t want to lose any colleagues due to the fact they want more money. On the other hand, I don’t find it correct to promote incapable engineers to the next step until they collect the necessary experience.

This brings me to a solution offering, which is raising the salary bands for the existing roles. This solution highly depends on my belief that most engineers do not really care about titles. As I said titles vary hugely in different companies so being a Senior in Company A or being a Principal in Company B may not have any difference as long as they earn the same.

In contrast, I can understand the employer. When it comes to “competitive salary levels” the sky is the limit and there is a border where the value provided by an engineer becomes less than their cost. So they can not keep raising the bands.

I really wonder what will the future bring in sense of titles and their expectations? What do you think?