Categories
Tech Leadership

Who are you doing this for?

I was listening to a Tony Robbins podcast recently. His interviewer, from LinkedIn, asked him something like: “Tony, you do a lot of coaching with people who are already successful, or on their way. What advice do you have for someone just getting started?”

Seemed like an innocuous softball question to me, so I almost tuned out. Glad I didn’t because his answer contains the kind of hard won insight you only get from doing the kind of work Tony does, a lot of it.

Role models can be examples for you, but you’ve got to decide what are you going to give? What are you here to deliver? I think you’ve got to fall in love with whose lives you’re going to touch and through what vehicle. You can’t fall in love with your product or service today. It’s going to change. You’ve got to fall in love with the client. … And you’ve got to know more about their needs, their wants, their fears, their desires than they do.

Tony Robbins

This was such a powerful idea to me that I went back and listened to it quite a few times.

Why? What does Tony have to say to software engineers?

Well, if you’ve read my letters or listened to my own podcasts to tech leads (I’ve got a long way to go to be Tony!), you know that I hammer on you to make sure you give work meaning—to make sure there’s a vision for what the team is doing, and you too.

But I haven’t done great job at giving you ways to craft that vision.

Tony’s is one excellent way to to find a vision. Your team probably gets so lost in the what of what they’re doing, and that’s ok a lot of time. Lots of time it’s good to be in the emotional blue zone and to stay in the focused/flow state. As tech leads, we help our team get in that mode.

But because your team spends a lot of time in an emotional blue zone, it’s naturally a little depressing, melancholy even, for them. If they can’t emotionally come up for air and get a positive emotional connection (the “yellow zone” but I still owe you a blog on that) to what they’re doing, then they’ll be in that blue zone for too long.

All kinds of bad things happen when people spend too much time in the blue zone. People get burned out, depressed, lethargic, and worst of all, their engagement drops—sometimes a lot.

So find a vision, and use Tony’s advice as one way (probably not the only way) to help you find it!

Categories
Personal

Falling into despair won’t help anyone, though. I mean, you can curse the darkness or you can light a candle. I’m getting a fucking welding torch. Okay?

James Carville

Categories
Professional Services Tech Leadership

Happiness is hard work

“You cannot buy or win happiness. You must choose it.” -John Maxwell

Humans, as I understand them, are hard wired to look for negativity. Just a few hundred generations ago, your grandparents spent their days scanning the horizon looking for threats while gathering berries. You know, like a saber-toothed tiger or something.

If fact, we actually got a dopamine hit when we spotted the threat we were expecting, which is interesting, isn’t it? Think about it: you’re out there in the field, and you catch a whiff of something that smells like a tiger. All of a sudden you get anxiety so you start looking around carefully, and there it is. You found the threat, and your body rewarded you for it. The anxiety turns into a real fear, and now it’s time to run to safety.

Survival has always been more important that happiness, so seeking happiness is not how we’re natively wired. Hunter gatherers were not concerned about aligning their chakras.

Even though it’s not in my nature or yours, if you have a team, especially in consulting, and you lead it, then it is incumbent upon you to make the team a happy, safe space where they can run from the saber toothed tigers in those corporate hallways. I don’t mean a party atmosphere. I mean optimistic, hopeful, positive, safe.

When your team is together, they should feel safe for the next time it’s time to go back and face the world “out there.” And then when they’re in the field, give them hope. Remind them that they make a difference and they can fight tiger if they need to.

When your team is working on code or doing hard analytical work, there’s something to be said for being just as negative as they are. It stimulates intellectual thinking. But when they’re back “home,” during the downtime, keep it happy and safe. It’s hard because you have to override your own natural circuitry even when you don’t feel like it. But your team needs it. You do too.

You’re human, so you’re not always going to be happy either. But remember, a single Slack positive message can make a huge difference in someone’s day, including yours.

Choose happiness leaders!

Categories
Personal

How do you live?

Too many of us are not living our dreams because we are living our fears.

-Les Brown

Categories
Professional Services

Day 1, Hour 1

You touched down in St. Louis around 12:45 a.m., having taken the last flight out of LAX Sunday afternoon so you could make your kid’s soccer game and spend as much time with your family as possible.

The deplaning passengers are rushing, sprinting almost, in the direction of “Ground Transportation” signs, so you follow the herd while you fumble with the Uber app in one hand while dragging your roller bag over the carpet with the other.

Yours was one of the last flights in, so it’s quiet in STL. The air is damp and cold. Storms. That explains the turbulence on final approach.

You’ve never been to St. Louis before. You aren’t sure where to go, but after a little awkward coordination your Uber showed up pretty quickly. Gratefully, it was only a twenty minute ride to the Marriott near your customer’s headquarters. Still, by the time you get checked in and in bed, it’s after 2:00 a.m.

As you settle in, you think about what time to set your iPhone’s alarm. “Let’s see,” you say, “if they want to start at 9:00 a.m, then I probably need to be out the door by 8:15, and, oh yeah, I need to grab some breakfast in the cafe downstairs, so, should probably get up no later than 6:30.” Then it dawns on you:

Holy crap, that’s only about four hours from now, and it’s going to be 4:30 a.m. California time when I get up!

As you lie there, staring at the ceiling, it doesn’t help you fall asleep when you start thinking about what’s going to happen tomorrow morning. In just a few hours, you’re going to be meeting with a new customer who needs your help with your company’s products.

The issues could be easy, they could be hard, but no matter what, they are looking to you to be the expert on your company’s product. You’re in professional services, and this is what you do. It’s both tiring and exhilarating.

That first hour of the first day (I call it “D1H1”) is a critical moment where everything that happens in professional services comes together—all the training, enablement, engineering, and sales. But we don’t talk about professional services very often.

Since we rarely talk about it, I thought I’d write a short book introducing people to the industry, the job of a consultant, and how to succeed in that moment (as well as get some sleep the night before) and beyond.

It’s called Day 1, Hour 1: An Introduction to Professional Services in Software Companies. Some of the topics covered include:

  1. An introduction to professional services, the roles, and where projects (“engagements”) come from
  2. Then I explore how to get the hard, technical skills you need to be successful as well as some of the soft skills mindsets that will serve you well on the ground
  3. Then we explore some of the practicalities of how to navigate day 1, hour 1 as well as the hours that follow

I feel like it’s a complete overview, if a bit brief. But it could have some typos or things that don’t make sense.

Please give it a read for free, and let me know! Use coupon code michaels-blog through this link: http://leanpub.com/professional-services-d1h1/c/michaels-blog

Would love to know what you think!

(Photo by Matt Hardy from Pexels)

Categories
Personal

Refresh

So it’s February 4, 2020, a new year and a new decade (maybe, anyway) is underway, and I feel like it might be time to get back to something I loved the decade before the last one (the Lost Decade for me), which was blogging.

Blogging. I want it back in my life.

And the tools are so much better now, even venerable WordPress.

I considered and dabbled with other platforms, especially the really fast static generators like Hugo. But if I’m honest with myself, I don’t really like writing markdown, especially on mobile. And, worse, I’m constantly shifting devices around so it would be quite a bit of work to fuss around with the synchronization, git, github, netflify, etc.

Ok, ok, if I’m even more honest with myself, it is a ton of fun to play around with that stuff–too much fun. (I’m a developer at heart.) If I start futzing around with tooling, I’ll get distracted and never publish anything.

And besides, WordPress has served me well with tens of thousands of visitors over the past decade, so for now I’m going to stick with it.

Hope you’ll tune in during the next decade. Think we can have a great one together.

Categories
Tech Leadership

Mental toughness for tech leads

Hey Tech Leads,

Just thought I’d share some links with you–in case you’re following me here (hope you are, this is the place to be).

For the Wednesday update, I shared some information about mental toughness from Psychology Today. Interestingly, you don’t need to be mentally tough to be a tech lead, and some mental tough people are terrible tech leads.

So it’s neither a necessary nor sufficient condition.

HOWEVER, there are some significant advantages if you can develop mental toughness.

Read my post on Substack (it’s free for everyone today!): Are you a mentally tough tech lead?

You can also listen to the podcast: No. 47 – Let’s refresh this thing + mental toughness for tech leads 🧠💪

Categories
Management Tech Leadership

Are you micromanaging? How do you know?

Check your intentions – know who you’re talking to

The other day, I was telling someone that I really love to be a “hands on” kind of manager or leader.

The next question was, “well, that’s great but how do you know if you’re crossing the line from ‘hands on’ to micromanaging?”

That’s an insightful question. And I’m working up an email post for my subscribers on the topic this weekend, but here are some broad strokes.

First, check your intention before having a conversation that might cross that fine line from being really “hands on” to being really annoying. If you’re walking into a conversation from a mental place where you need something from someone or have an insecure need to control what a person is doing, this should be a red flag for you. The person receiving the communication will almost surely pick up on your subconscious feelings.

Second, you need to have done the hard work of really hearing and seeing the people on your team. That way you’ll know the subtle cues and the way that people like to be engaged. For example, understandably, a lot of software engineers don’t like being engaged when they’re deep in the code. Others are able to context switch more easily. So knowing them means you’ll know the right time to engage.

Photo by Nappy on Pexels.

Categories
Tech Leadership

Repeat your vision often tech leads!

As leads, we almost always have the vision clearly in our heads–or we should. Our engineers probably do not.

You (hopefully) have all three of the components of a clear and compelling vision your head almost all the time–the what, the how, and the why. We are probably having conversations with managers or other stakeholders where you talk about the vision to constantly align the work with the rest of the company or the client’s needs.

If you are using effective tracking and adjusting behaviors, you have a pretty good idea of where each engineer or person on your team is against that vision or goal. You probably also talk about where the team is in terms of status against where you thought you need to be on the project plan, whatever form that takes for you.

Your engineers are not thinking about the vision as much as you are

Now, think back to when you were an engineer or individual contributor. What was your view of the world? It was probably something like the following.

You had a task or story to work on and you probably had a pretty good idea of how much work it was going to take and whether it was going to be on time.

You’re focused on trying to get all the pieces and parts to come together. Maybe you’re standing up an API or trying to integrate with one. You’re wiring up unit tests (hopefully). You’re flipping back and forth on git repos and branches, trying to get pull requests approved, and generally just trying to get stuff built.

You’re worried about whether your code is going to pass a code review or what your tech lead or other teammates are going to say about the choices, decisions, and code you’ve written. You’re balancing the need to get things done now with the need to do really high quality work and trying to keep track of the tech debt you’re incurring.

Oh, and if you’re a a junior developer, you might still be learning some fairly fundamental stuff and struggling with obscure things, like why your React component won’t render the data the way you thought it would. Maybe you’re spending a lot of time on Stackoverflow.

In short, as an individual contributor or engineer, you’re probably not thinking a lot about the vision for project and you might forget as you’re mired in all the details.

Beacuse of this, as a tech lead, it is YOUR responsibility to constantly remind the team WHAT, HOW, and WHY we are doing what we are doing, not the engineers’ responsibility.

Most importantly, it’s Taco Tuesday!

What do you think? Do you repeat the vision often?

Categories
Dailies Tech Leadership Uncategorized

It’s Monday, Tech Leads. Ugh. Focus on what you can control, not what you can’t

Mondays can be a little overwhelming, tech leads, especially when it’s also April 15, tax day, in America! I know. I get it. It’s Monday for me too.

Ugh.

Let’s spend a moment with the fact that it is tax day. You know what they say, the only things certain in life are death and taxes. Let’s drop in on that and consider: it doesn’t matter what you do to change the situation right now. You can call your Congressperson. You can campaign. You can lobby. You can call some talk show radio and run your mouth. But you cannot change how much money you have to cough up today. For those of you in high tax states like California, man…

Now let’s talk about your job and the fact that it’s Monday. As a tech lead, you’ve got a whole bunch of things happening, right? Maybe your sprint ends at the end of the week and your team is behind on story points. Maybe you’ve got an annoying meeting coming up with a product manager, and you’ve been dreading it. Maybe there are some budget cuts going on and you’re not sure what what’s going to happen to your project, team, or yourself.

Don’t sweat it!

You already know this: there’s no point at all in complaining about taxes, or complaining about your company, or complaining about your team, or really, even thinking about the fact that it’s Monday.

What is useful to think about right now is what you can control. One thing I like to do on Mondays, or really any day that I start feeling overwhelmed, is to start using my tracking and adjusting behaviors and start pinging the team. Get clarity on where things actually are. What can we do to fix it? Drill in and focus and look for details where you can make a change.

You can’t change the fact that your ops team won’t fix the flaky servers, for example. But you can talk to your team about how to code around it, at least for now. There is almost always a way, and if you focus on that instead of the problem, you can make this a great week.

Onward, tech leads!