Career paths are all the rage these days. Tech companies are no longer taking employees for granted, and they understand that “individual contributors” are, in effect, individuals – people who want to know whether they can grow within a company, or remain expandable until the next hiring season.
This counts double when your role only exists in a single company. JetLang Masters are specialized in the JetLang platform – a platform that only exists at PayFit. So how can we build a career path to help them grow into that role, and to make them want to build a career in that role?
How it came to be
In 2020, PayFit HR launched a massive "career path" campaign throughout the company. All major roles started building their paths, with some ground rules of soft skills and corporate values, to remain consistent between all paths. This ensured that all career paths allowed evolution, both horizontally (internal mobility) and vertically (single job progression).
In effect, Career Paths were set to become the single source of truth for managers and collaborators to evaluate themselves in their role, and to project themselves within a career internally.
I joined PayFit in the Summer of 2019 as a JetLang Master, a blurry name that will be explained further below. A few months later, I took the internal opportunity to become a member of our Product Ops team, one of the first of its kind in French start-ups.
Like my fellow team members, my mission is to build the greatest working environment possible for the whole Product department: JetLang Masters and Product Managers, but also Product Designers and Software Engineers.
In Spring 2020, I was appointed to create the Global Career Path for JetLang Masters. In other words, I was expected to create a precise description of the skill progression and career growth expected at PayFit for that very PayFit-specific role.
The JetLang Master role was created along with the founding of PayFit, in late 2016. This role has been continuously evolving since then, and by Spring 2020 it was practiced by roughly 35 people, spread over 4 countries, within very different markets, on varying levels of product maturities.
Therefore, summarizing a role into one deliverable appeared as quite a complex challenge.
In particular, two questions came to my mind:
- What is behind this name of JetLang Master? And can we really expect to build a career in it?
- What can we rely on to describe careers in a position that was created internally and not seen elsewhere?
Looking back on this challenge, it seemed to me it was quite a success and we’ve actually put words on what we think is a new job within the Product industry, beyond PayFit’s office walls.
A good illustration is that since the Career Path was released internally, all those in that role who have been recruited are comfortable with labeling themselves with it on their LinkedIn profiles – instead of some circumlocution of their responsibilities in that role.
Considering the digital industry trend towards new hybrid jobs, I felt that it could be interesting to share with you the answers I’ve found on the questions mentioned above…
From JetLang to low-code:
A hybrid position in the making
JetLang Masters were named after the technology created internally by the PayFit founders in early 2016: JetLang. This custom coding interface was designed to enable PayFit engineers to configure payroll logic easily and iterate on it quickly. This way, we ensured that payroll calculations remained law-compliant for the great number of economic sectors and countries PayFit was hoping to address from day one.
The mission of JetLang Masters was to understand payroll law, and synthesize it into clear product experiences and correct calculations, using a brand new, in-house technology that, for the first few iterations, was not so flexible. This led to hiring young, adaptable and entrepreneurial engineering profiles, mostly taking the role as a first working experience.
PayFit was getting great traction and growing with an amazing velocity. We successively opened Spain (mid-2017), Germany (late 2017) and the UK (early 2019). In addition, while keeping the payroll automation as its core DNA, PayFit’s product value proposition was progressively enriched with HRIS features.
This ambitious growth meant we needed to empower local Product teams more and more, so that new payroll patterns could be computed through the app, and new client needs could be addressed. The necessity to have JetLang evolve was led by the need to create intuitive product experiences, not only about payroll, but also HR management.
From this, the vision emerged of JetLang as a full-blown low-code technology – Thomas Villaren explained quite well in his dedicated article.
This also meant that JetLang Masters themselves had to evolve. They were no longer engineers with a deep understanding of payroll; they also had to manage the country-specific part of the PayFit product, to design user experiences, and to participate in the evolution of the JetLang language as its sole users.
In a nutshell, the JetLang Master role was turning into a hybrid product position, with quite a unique scope in the technology industry.
After Summer 2019, there were around 20 JetLang Masters in France, 6 in Spain, 7 in Germany, and 4 in the UK. Despite their taste for challenge, it was getting hard to keep them as committed as back in the beginning. The most experienced of them were reaching 2.5 years, and the first cases of turnover occurred. Mid-term career perspectives actually seemed limited: becoming a team manager or a Product Manager internally, or getting hired elsewhere.
JetLang Masters needed more visibility on their job definition and position in the industry. And as a growing company, PayFit needed to have a key discussion: Was it the company’s role to provide opportunities for long careers as a JetLang Master?
There were 2 possibilities:
- either PayFit wanted to retain JetLang Masters in the long run, and make its JetLang technology and product grow along with this new role;
- or the company recognized that JetLang Master is a versatile position in the tech industry, one that is ideal to get started, gain experience, and then move on to any other Product-related career.
Given the strong culture of PayFit, which is oriented towards Excellence and Care, the second answer was naturally rejected and so came the strategic need for a proper Career Path.
From JetLang Masters to Product Builders:
Setting up a complex and structuring initiative
After having been a JetLang Master myself for a few months, I was tasked to dedicate my time as a Product Ops to address this specific career path need.
But why didn’t HR lead this initiative, you may ask? Two reasons why:
- First, the mission of the Product Ops team is to create the most efficient and fulfilling working environment for Product people… and career paths definitely are a key tool in that matter.
- Second, it seemed clear that this task needed someone who could synthesize the whole experience of being a JetLang Master, combining the engineering, product management, UX design and legal aspects of the job. In short, we needed to deeply understand the reality of the job. As a former JLM myself, I could take the challenge to bootstrap this new tool.
So HR chose me to kickstart this project, but they certainly didn’t leave me alone at it. They were the first supporters, offering to structure the initiative, both to provide the framework of Career Path building, and checking its consistency along its execution.
In the meantime, an important work was being made by Sebastien Levaillant, our VP of Product. Aware that JetLang Masters had a hard time to “market” themselves in their post-PayFit career, Sebastien envisioned a deep evolution of the role.
In an article he published on this very blog last year, Sebastien officialised the hybridity of the role: JetLang Masters were officially renamed into Product Builders:
This role was no longer a payroll- or even PayFit-specific function, but a versatile combination of programming, Product management and UX design, aiming to create digital experiences in the most user-centric way possible.
This name change followed the ambition of PayFit as an employer: creating a room for Product Builders within the digital and tech industry.
Sebastien’s article clearly shows that, by combining the Product Builder hybrid role with PayFit’s low-code platform JetLang, we found ourselves at the beginning of a new upheaval in the Product world. An interesting place to be!
With this new name and vision for the role, I engaged with managers who had strong collaborations with Product Builders in each skill vertical: Gery Bordereaux for engineering, Michel Ferry for Product Management and Eléonore de Lusignan for UX Design. Our joint effort aimed to transpose both their collaboration, and to create connections between their own Career Paths and the Product Builders’ one.
Finally, I had to ensure engagement of the main stakeholders and future users of the tool. They were represented by all Heads of Product from France, Spain, Germany and the UK, with a specific commitment from Stephan Weber, who was facing strong expectations from the German Product team he was leading.
Build an HR tool the same way you build a product
The framework provided by our HR team allowed me to build the career path in a bootstrapped way: it took around 2 months to build and align successively on:
1️⃣ Career structure
2️⃣ Executive summary for each level
3️⃣ Exhaustive skills description
Given those steps, roles could be allocated using a RACI matrix, to ensure good execution along the initiative steps:
|1️⃣ Career structure||R||C||A||R||I||I|
|2️⃣ Level summaries||R||C||I||R||I||I|
|3️⃣ Skill descriptions||R||R||I||A||C||I|
|Delivery and adoption||R||I||I||R||A||C|
RACI matrix summarising stakeholders’ involvement along the Career Path construction
Creating a career structure
The first step was to agree on the career structure for Product Builders.
The PayFit HR built a careet path framework that sets a standard of 5 vertical levels. This makes the career progression readable, but also refined enough to set level-specific expectations.
We’ve come up with a shape that may look complex, but is overall very pragmatic:
- The first 2 levels were called the “Core Path”: all Product Builders have grown their mastery by building upon a common set of central skills. These appeared as the essential qualifications to be considered an autonomous and reliable contributor, able to cover all the scope of this hybrid position.
- From level 3 onward, team members would be encouraged to grow as experts in one of three skill verticals: Engineering, User Experience or Product Management.
What looked like a complex model was in fact quite obvious: at that time, none of the Product Builders could claim to have yet grown in a completely versatile way.
Conversely there were several examples of players who naturally became experts because they had more affinity for one skill vertical, but overall, because the organization and their team needed clearly-identified contributors to refer to.
For instance, the JetLang codebase was getting quite complex and became hard to maintain and even harmful for computation performance. So emerged the need for technical leaders in every country.
Likewise, German and Spanish teams identified a need to appoint a Product manager among Product Builders. Like other PMs, this role’s objective was to rationalize customers’ insights and coding efforts.
Creating summaries for each level
The second step was to define the different Level summaries – kind of the “Executive Summary” you see when a document needs several reading levels.
These summaries would be helpful in providing career-path users a clear overview of the expectations, and a common interpretation behind each level.
Furthermore, during the path-building process, they provided a common base on which to rely for the definition of skills and their distribution along the path.
Draft versions for those elements were strongly inspired from career paths already developed at PayFit for each vertical: Engineering, Product Design, Product Management.
That way, it would possibly create bridges between the jobs and opportunities for internal mobility from or towards the Product Builder position.
This skeleton was then enriched or adapted with the specificities of the JetLang platform: using low-code tools and developing features at a high pace.
At the same time, we elaborated on job-related categories and labels, that provides the skill domains in which a Product Builder would need to grow to progress in one’s career: Junior, Confirmed, Senior, etc.
Thus, progression would appear even more clearly from a level to another, regarding each skill label.
Describing each skill set exhaustively
The third step meant writing down everything that a team member had to “validate” in order to attain the next level.
This step followed the same process as the first two: draft versions inspired from experience and other career paths, reviewed by experts and stakeholders.
One specific point of attention was brought by PayFit HR: skills should be formulated in an analytical and not descriptive way. The intent was to prevent skill sets from looking like a job description, and to help anyone project oneself into it.
Listen to the needs expressed by users
The delivery of the first version of the Product Builder Career Path was done along with the job vision presented by Sébastien Levaillant last year.
It turned out to be a great success right away, as it was found to be quite consistent and meaningful to its main users.
Overall, Product Builders were relieved to finally be able to evaluate themselves and define their long-term goals while working for PayFit.
Iterating for better adoption
Despite the initial enthusiasm, around 6 months later, critical feedback appeared.
Indeed, while the job vision promotes a new type of hybrid position in the long term, this Career Path structure tends to suggest specialization is the only fate for Product Builders.
In other words, the Job Vision and its resulting Career Path, while meant to guide players, were not consistent with each other.
It was therefore decided to start a new iteration, only a semester after its first version was delivered.
This iteration aimed to create a fully hybrid path, despite the fact that no one had experienced it yet. This implied to develop 3 new levels, as a follow-up of the Core Path.
This was executed pretty quickly (in around a month) by gathering the most important skills from each specialized path. It was also made easier by the strong structure that was set in the first iteration, using level summaries and skill aggregates as matrix axes.
In the end, that second career path version represents a much more robust career structure, better aligned with our Product Builder vision as well as the expectations of team members.
It is also more in line with organization needs, as it allows to appoint Experts and Managers when teams need it, and not as default options to keep talents in the company.
A job well done
Looking back on these 2 successive initiatives, it could be considered that a new job was actually invented.
The job vision that was put together by Sebastien Levaillant had outlined the job of Product Builders, and more extensively of low-code developers, to put it in the history of digital industry jobs. With this Career Path, we’ve turned this scheme into a proper detailed drawing.
We have the satisfaction to see that the LinkedIn profiles of our team members now proudly sport the new title.
It means they are confident enough in their PayFit experience to promote themselves as such, and no longer as “technical Product Managers” or “product-oriented developers”.
Even better, some are being hired as Product Builders in other companies, Johanna Prevost being a recent example:
A career path is nothing else but a tool,
that should be iterated on like any product
Now that I have written this “invention” story, it seems to me it didn’t emerge from scratch with a genius idea from a single brilliant individual.
Instead, it looks like a long story with successive inspirations and iterations, fed by conscious and unconscious experiences lived by innovative and adaptive people, who all contributed to it to a certain extent.
Thus it fully makes sense to think about job definitions as products: they must evolve along with the company, since the company sets the organization between people, the role distribution and the tools provided, based on collaborators’ feedback – all of this similar to users’ feedback for products.
Job definitions can therefore be elaborated on like we elaborate on products. This means it could be delivered with successive iterations, starting from a MVP, aligned with field voice from collaborators and organization direction.
Header photo by John T. Daniels, in 1903.