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Unleashing Your Potential: 5 Strategies to Identify Breakout Leadership Opportunities in Tech

May 23, 2023

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Gayatri Iyengar

Gayatri Iyengar

Contrary to popular belief that the key to an exceptional career is the accumulation of skills and experience over time, I believe that taking advantage of breakout opportunities is a game-changer in your career. Characterized by their high-visibility or high-impact nature, these breakout opportunities can propel your career to new heights as you meet their demands for a unique combination of expertise, creativity, and leadership skill. I have been fortunate to find such opportunities in several industries involving new challenges, varied experiences, and exposure to diverse people and ideas. To excel in such breakout opportunities, it's vital to develop skills beyond technical expertise, including skills such as leadership, business acumen, entrepreneurial mindset, collaboration, problem-solving, and strategic thinking. As you begin seeking your next breakout opportunity — be it looking for a new job, moving to a new team, or moving into a leadership role for the first time — keep in mind these five strategies to make the most of the experience.  

Identify your superpowers

It’s crucial to step into your next breakout opportunity with a clear understanding of your strengths and interests.. By knowing your personal superpowers, you can focus on enhancing them and developing complementary skills as you identify areas for self-improvement. Pursuing opportunities that align with your interests makes it more likely that you will be engaged, motivated, and fulfilled as you move forward. Understanding your unique strengths can narrow down your search for opportunities, allowing you to target those situations where you know you can excel and make an impact. Self-awareness also helps you craft a compelling personal brand, communicate your value proposition, and highlight the values most important to you. 

Look for an ambitious and transformative mission

Don’t get stuck in a stagnant company. Look for organizations that are disrupting an industry or experiencing rapid growth. That’s where you’ll find opportunities for growth. Ambitious companies need talent to grow their business, guide their teams through changes, build high-performing teams and scale their technology. These fast-growing and dynamic environments put you in a position to wear multiple hats and learn new skills. Such a culture pushes engineering leaders to experiment with new technologies and build dynamic approaches to leadership while making a significant impact on the company's success.

When I first came to DoorDash, I was struck by the potential for innovation and growth across the entire company. As DoorDash continues to expand, it needs leaders who can manage teams and drive growth as well as innovators who can identify new opportunities and keep the company ahead of the competition. 

Identify and seek a culture where “Data wins over dogma”. 

A company that values data over static mindsets — the old way of doing things — is set to succeed because data-driven cultures encourage innovation and experimentation while fostering humility among employees and leaders. For instance, a product development strategy that emphasizes user feedback data and collaborates with cross-functional partners to run experiments is better equipped to address customer needs than are organizations that rely on old tried-and-true processes, instinct, or intuition. 

DoorDash's core value — strong beliefs loosely held — emphasizes the importance of using data to make decisions. This mindset is exemplified by the volume of experiments that the company runs daily to improve the life of Dashers and merchants while offering a wide variety of selection for our customers. Another example of DoorDash’s commitment to data-driven decisions is its objective measurement of performance through skills-based assessment and employee feedback surveys to evaluate how its workplace culture could be improved. This ongoing push to value data over dogma reduces the likelihood of costly mistakes and improves overall business performance.

Identify companies/teams that design for customer delight

Nearly every company takes pride in calling itself customer-obsessed. That makes it tricky to find the few that actually do design for customer delight, but here are a few tips to get you started: 

  • Customer focus — Look for companies that design products and experiences that resonate with  customers, not just the internal team. 
  • Reviews and feedback — Does the company respond to online reviews, both positive and negative? Can you see evidence of change based on customer feedback? Outside commentary about products, services, and overall experience tell the customer story.
  • Usability research — Companies that actively solicit feedback from customers have a clear view of needs and preferences. Look to see whether the research leads to products and experiences that are designed to delight. 
  • Personalized experiences — Companies that hone in on diverse groups of users or even individual customers are showing that they value delightful differentiated experiences. 

At DoorDash, employees are encouraged to dogfood their own products and services in their day-to-day lives. To create a positive customer experience, senior leaders adopt Dashers — our delivery specialists — and spend a day at merchant sites to get a clear picture of their pain points and discover what new features might streamline their processes and enhance their experience.

Diverse teams lead to distinctive experiences

The varied backgrounds and mindsets that can be found in a diverse team can be pivotal in helping to shape your leadership expertise. Each individual’s unique experiences, skills, and perspectives presents something new for you to learn. Seek out  a company with a clear strategy for diversity and inclusion that outlines its goals and the steps it takes to achieve them. Look for inclusive hiring practices that minimize unconscious bias and ensure that every candidate and employee is given an equal chance to succeed. Besides exposing you to different viewpoints, working with a diverse team can help increase your empathy while honing your communication skills. 

DoorDash’s core value of “#OneTeamOneFight” emphasizes the importance of unity and collaboration within the company. It signifies that success does not depend on any one individual but rather on the collective effort of the entire team. Because the company values transparent communication, senior leaders across the company make themselves available to share and listen to diverse perspectives. 

Keep these five strategies in mind as you follow the path to tech leadership through a combination of technical expertise, leadership skills, and — most importantly — a willingness to take on breakout opportunities. I have been able to identify and evaluate potential roles through developing this structured framework. Identifying your superpower, seeking out ambitious companies, data driven cultures, customer obsessed organizations and diverse teams can help you grow and thrive in your career. Ultimately, I believe that the key to success is to remain open-minded and adaptable while asking thoughtful questions and taking calculated risks on new challenges. By following these strategies and embracing these opportunities, aspiring leaders can position themselves for breakout careers. 

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