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Ray Gesualdo
Bricks with mortar filling the gaps between them

The Best Career Advice I Was Never Given

March 2, 2024 | 4 Minute Read | Category: Learning

I’m a self-taught software engineer, so while I have relied on many community resources throughout my career, I’ve never had any formal education or mentorship. There’s been a lot of learning on the job, trial by fire, that sort of thing. As I’ve become more senior, others earlier in their career have asked for advice on how they can continue to grow. There was a particular aspect of my growth – one I felt quite deeply – that I had a hard time articulating until I ran across this tweet by Dan Abramov:

Tweet from Dan Abramov saying "41. taking ownership over something unowned (but that everybody cares about) is one of the most valuable things you can do on a team. try not to drop it though (i’m guilty of that)"
In a thread about 100 things he learned on the React team

Own the unowned

Dan’s tweet wonderfully captures how I have progressed in my career: find the important things that no one is owning and make them better. He’s speaking primarily in the context of a team, but this is true at any level: team, org, company, and everything in between.

At my first tech job, I was primarily responsible for developing Wordpress sites, crafting bespoke emails, and building landing page templates. I wanted to move more into frontend engineering and I knew the admin portal our small startup had written was badly in need of UI work. So I started making it better1. Slowly. Bit by bit. Until one day I was the de facto owner of our admin panel that was now far and away better than when I had started. This was a tremendous learning experience as well. Not only was I solving a pain point, but I was building and sharpening skills I otherwise would not have.

At my current job, one of the first things I did was pull out a group of reused components into what would eventually become our full-fledged design system monorepo, complete with build infrastructure, documentation, and release processes. No one asked me to do this. Nor had I done it before. In fact, I was only two weeks into the job. But I saw the need and made it happen. When our primary frontend application was growing faster than its architecture could sustain, I started planning its new architecture and have shepherded it through the five year process of executing on that architecture. When there were signs our home-grown feature flag system wasn’t going to continue scaling with us, I initiated the search for a new solution and eventually implemented it for the entire platform.

There are numerous other examples I could point to of seeing a gap – one that existed at present or one that was clearly coming in the future – and filling it. I would consider this one of the hallmarks of my career. None of this is particular to me though. Anyone can do it.

Create value

Making important things better will accellerate your career because it creates immense value for your organization. Remember, others have already deemed these “important things” important. It’s just that no one is owning actively making them better. Doing so will most likely force you to learn new skills – communication, technical, process-related, etc. – which is in itself a valuable endeavor. Moreso, it will provide a visible, demonstrated track record of focusing on the right things and doing good work. Managers value this. Companies value this. And all other things being equal this will propel you forward and bring you greater opportunities.

So to all those who may be wondering how to grow in their career, let me give you the best career advice I was never given and say again: find the important things that no one is owning and make them better.


  1. I was fortunate to have a great manager who had confidence in me and gave me the latitude to do this work. Not all of us are in that same position. Everyone’s work situation is different. I am still a strong believer that everyone can make things incrementally better wherever they are at.

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