Do not seek promotions just for the sake of the title if you are in for the long game. An engineer from big tech can easily go into a small company and become a CTO. Title inflation rarely helps. Seek a role that takes you out of your comfort zone.
You can extend your reach in your current role most of the time. As mentioned earlier in managing managers, make your manager’s life easier by taking care of some or all of his/her responsibilities. That will make you understand what it takes without being held accountable for that. That is a sandbox environment to grind and level up without exposing yourself to the risk.
Learn by doing, learn by observing, and seek promotion at the right company. Imagine being in your manager’s shoes and asking yourself if that job fascinates you. Would you like to be in those shoes? I was once at a company and I could see myself becoming CTO. I thought about the life of the current CTO and that was miserable. I never wanted to be in that position. Do not make yourself miserable for a job. Life is grand than that. If you don’t agree with me here, get a life.
Understand the Principal-Agent problem. The principal-agent problem is a conflict in priorities between the owner of an asset and the person to whom control of the asset has been delegated. If you want to move up and towards the right in life and career, think like a principal. Try as much as in your grasp to act as a principal. If you act like a principal but are punished for that, then that is probably not the place for you in the long term. While doing that, you might find yourself doing high-value but simple things.
The difference between a software engineer and a senior one is that the senior engineer seeks to do high-value things. Software engineer wants to work on the most complex and “interesting” problems. Innovation is overrated. High-value, low-complexity things could be fixing the lead conversion funnel and putting in data instrumentation to make that happen. This is low-complexity in engineering terms but for a business having a rock-solid sales conversion funnel is a valuable problem to solve.
This is an example of a principal-agent problem in action. An agent wants to do things that shine on their CV. The principal wants to get things done in an order of priority that makes sense to the business. I would recommend being a value creator, even if that sometimes necessitates doing menial work. Seek complexity, adventure, and the novel from the rest of your life if you must. Start side projects. Create something.
Say yes to all sorts of work. You will grow faster. Do not be too picky about working only on servers or frontend or cloud. Be a generalist. Now, you might be someone who wants to become a top cloud engineer. I won’t stop you from doing that but you will max out yourself in 5 years. At that point, your career will become stagnant or at best get diminishing returns. Then you can mint your abilities for 5 more years. After 10 years your career stops growing. If you think you can do that for another 20 years, sure, take your chances but you will be replaceable by an energetic 25 years old who is as good as you and quicker. This is why being a specialist doesn’t help.
It’s different if you are a cloud engineer working in Azure making some core part of their system. There you can have a long and fruitful career in the same niche because you would be programming some core parts of the cloud that will live on for years. Microsoft might make you a distinguished engineer and show gratitude for your services. They will keep you around because you have become an invaluable asset, a legacy, and a trophy to show to new engineers. Even that comes with a huge risk of being made redundant. Such people are near useless in the real world. Anyways, the majority of engineers are not doing that.
If you ever feel like wanting to get a promotion, rethink your priorities until you no longer feel like that. Doist is a company with 14+ million ARR and their CEO writes code regularly. You will also find some companies where a quarter of their employees are Vice Presidents. Work on yourself and do not chase title. Do not aspire to become a manager. Do not make a job part of your identity.