I see engineers like Alex and Rahul, and they have had many accomplishments with pretty fast trajectories leveling up. I'm wondering if there's a primary common theme among software engineers like that - What are they doing that others aren't?
Honestly, I 100% believe it's being able to communicate well. At the end of the day, software is an extremely collaborative exercise, especially at top companies like FAANG, Big Tech, and hyper-growth startups (and you work at Google, which is an extremely mature company where this will be super important). If you're able to make others understand you well and build relationships quickly, everything you do as a software engineer becomes far easier.
Don't believe me? Here's a bunch of examples off the top of my head where communication is key:
I could easily come up with 10 more, and these are just the ones applicable to your performance on the job - Strong communication is also crucial for getting the job you want.
The crazy thing is that communication is so multi-faceted and has this infinitely high skill ceiling. There's verbal communication, written communication, body language - There's a million bits and pieces here and there that make communication work. I have found that most people seriously don't understand how extremely good you can get at communication and the power you wield when you are genuinely one of the best in the world at it.
I hope my answer makes people excited about communication. If people want to learn how I learned to communicate better across my 8+ year career, all my wisdom is hyper-compressed into my 9-part master series here: Alex's Guide To Effective Communication
If you want to go super deep, here's a bunch of other resources on the communication use-cases I mentioned above:
Imagine an engineer who:
Such a person should be a veritable rocketship. The question really is why we aren't all growing that quickly.
Most people aren't self-aware. This is why I love asking the interview question, "What is the biggest thing that people misperceive about you?" Many candidates can't answer this question. In order to know how a person misperceives you, you'd have to first know how they perceive you. And most people just aren't aware enough to know this.
It can be very difficult to see your own flaws. After all, we tend to do things because they seem reasonable and right. Seeing a flaw would require that you convince yourself that some things which seem "reasonable and right" to you are actually not best. This is hard for most people.
If you don't at least occasionally try implementing feedback you at first disagree with, you'll never benefit from feedback. After all, if you only implement the feedback you already knew or believed, why would you need someone to tell you? To be really good at accepting feedback, you need to open your mind to the possibility that some feedback will be insightful even though it feels wrong.
Most people succeed because of one or more of the following:
You can't control the first two.
If I told you that to succeed more quickly than others, you need to work harder than others, would you be willing to do so? If I said you had to change some part of your personality which you feel is core to how you've always been, would you be able to do so? If I told you that speaking and writing better was essential to growth, would you take extra classes and spend extra time outside of work to improve those skills? The empiric answer, judging by most people's behavior, is No, No, and No.
When's the last time you read an answer on this forum and actually changed your behavior? Or took an insight from an answer on this forum and really worked on improving that in yourself? The answer for most people, once again, is Never and Never.
There's not a secret to success (i.e. it's very publicly Luck, Talent, and Hard Work). But the work is truly hard. And I don't mean longer hours — that'd be an easy thing to implement for many people. The actual work of improving yourself, opening yourself up to feedback and insights, deliberately changing your behavior, improving your discipline & focus, resisting the wastage of time, prioritizing what you do — that is all hard.
Luck is a pretty big factor at play. You don't want to be competing for a bigger piece of a shrinking pie. It could mean one of the following things:
Talk to folks on your team and outside about what you want and get their perspective. It's your job to be aware of what growth walls you'll hit and how best to avoid them. Switching teams or companies is a normal thing to do. Moreover, sample a bit widely when inviting advice or opinions to avoid human biases. You want to be data driven in your decision-making.