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Tech Leadership

Purpose, Consistency, and No. 80

On Monday, I finally restarted some of my podcasting and writing for tech leads. During my two month hiatus, I reflected agonized about whether I really want to continue this.

Writing to the tech leads and podcasting is, after all, really just a hobby for me.

“For me” is the operative, and limiting, phrase here. To be completely honest, I started writing in this area back in 2016 because I thought it would be cool for my career. Later, I bought a Blue Yeti for the personal thrill of putting myself out there on a podcast, which as definitely an uncomfortable thing for me.

But now, I’m finally getting over myself (only took four decades), and I’m much more interested in you. The reason I decided to restart this is that I’m legit worried about you. It’s not that being a tech lead is the hardest job in the world, but it’s one that challenges you in ways you don’t anticipate. And that surprise, combined with your lack of skill has impact on your personal life, your effectiveness as a lead, the career of your team, and their personal lives.

Anyway, now that we’re rolling again, I hope you’ll read Monday’s letter on consistency as a tech lead and listen to the podcast (No. 80). I mention those issues but focus mostly on “consistency,” which I thought was a mea culpa kind of topic to take on for being, well, inconsistent.

Categories
Professional Services Tech Leadership

“You’ll have leftovers!”

There were two elderly women sitting near me during lunch at Whole Foods today talking in an upbeat, spirited way about this and that. We were outside. Between the almost perfect weather and their amazing attitude, it felt great to share this moment with them.

Mostly they talked about the soup that one of them was making tonight.

It must have been a lot of soup because at some point during the discussion, one exclaimed, “You’re going to have leftovers!” Her friend nodded and smiled, something almost imperceptible crossed her face. Something about her eyes were far away for a moment. This comment, which I would never in a million years have thought to say let alone put an exclamation mark upon, clearly left an impact.

Maybe she was thinking about saving some money on future meals. Maybe she was imagining having not just one experience with this epic soup but more. Maybe it was just a feeling of abundance. It was a fleeting thought, but seemed to connect.

It was such a factual, technical comment about leftovers, yet it somehow demonstrated so much empathy and landed so well. Magical.

Actually it’s not magic. It’s totally within your capability here at work. You have it within you to make these kinds of comments, to build relationships through these small things, even in our technical field. You just need to commit to being there with people.

If leftover soup can a put sparkle in an old woman’s eye, your observant comment about a team member’s pull requests can make an impact too.

In fact, I’d argue these tiny comments are far more valuable than some big, coordinated offsite or manufactured “happy hour” ever can be. And they don’t cost a dime.

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
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
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!

Categories
Tech Leadership

Being a tech lead – Week 1

This week I’m going to try something different. I hope you’ll appreciate it. If you do or don’t, please send me some feedback or leave a comment below!

Trying Something Different: Consistency!

For a few years now I’ve been thinking a lot about the tech lead role. I’ve been publishing stuff here and there a haphazard way on various channels such as the Tech Lead Coaching Network Twitter account, Medium, my personal blog, LinkedIn, through podcasts on the Tech Lead Coaching Network, and I even hit publish on a How To Be A Tech Lead, a free book the weekend before last. 

For a while there, when I was at Red Hat, many were articles I wrote in a hotel bar eating a hamburger after long travel days. I think some of the stuff is pretty good and insightful. 

But so inconsistent. 

And that inconsistency is what I want to solve starting this week. Starting today, I’m going to start sending out content in a (relative compared to the past) organized way and be consistent about posting. Each week I’ll pick a general topic and try to stay with it for the week, posting on, primarily, LinkedIn and Twitter, since this seems to be where tech leads are likely to hang out.

Thankfully I can use tools like Buffer to get it all planned out the weekend before!

This Week’s Topic: Newbie Tech Leads

This week I’m going to spend some time introducing you to the tech lead role—focused primarily at newbie tech leads. I’m going to be talking about what the role is, whether you should really be getting into it or not, and what you should be focusing on in the early days of your tech leadership.

What is the tech lead role, anyway? There’s a lot of confusion in our industry about it. You can read more in my book, but a good way to understand it is the understand WHY managers need tech leads. Fundamentally, they simply cannot manage or lead all the fine grained details that come up, especially if the engineering managers are spread thin across multiple teams. That’s where you come in, but we’ll explore it in a lot more detail this week.

Should you be a tech lead? There are many good AND bad reasons why managers may come and tap you to be a tech lead. The question you need to ask yourself is whether you take on the role. This week, we’ll explore some reasons why you SHOUD NOT but we will also explore some reasons why you SHOULD. Spoiler alert: if the reasons are extrinsic rather than intrinsic, then they’re probably the wrong reasons.

What should you do in your early days? We’ll give you a some ideas about how to adjust to the new role. Probably the most important thing I can tell you, however, is that in the early days you’re leaving behind a lot of the success you had early in the role for an ambiguous, unclear role where you’ve got a lot to learn. Focus on the process of growing into the role rather than any results, especially in the early days of the role.

It’s gonna be a fun week, tech leads! Hope you find it useful. As we go, I’ll try to post links to everything that happened here so you can follow along.

A lot of this content is inspired by my new book, How To Be A Tech Lead. It’s free on Leanpub!


Categories
Tech Leadership

Wednesday Pod: Bring your whole self into the meeting and have a bigger impact!

When you’re the tech lead, all eyes (or ears) are on you. That’s one reason why they say leadership is visual.

Social animals, like humans, are hard wired to look at the leader a lot more often and pay a lot more attention to the leader’s non verbal signals and other emotional clues.

As if you didn’t need more to be nervous about!

Here you are, a new tech lead: you’ve trying to understand and articulate complex, sometimes abstract concepts; you’re trying to navigate the complexities of the personalities in the room; you’ve got deadline pressures; you might even have an adversarial client, product manager, or management in the room with; and now I’m telling you to somehow control the nonverbal signals you’re sending out?

Here’s the bad news: it’s very, very hard to control or manage your nonverbal signals. Trying to do so is actually a recipe for disaster.

The good news is there’s an easy hack. At 5:00 a.m. this morning, I published the third episode of the Tech Lead Coaching Network podcast where I give you an easy tech leadership hack.

(Spoiler alert: change your mindset going into the meeting and it will all fall into place for you.)

Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Breaker, Anchor, and more 👍