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Those Who Can Should Teach, by Urban Airship Senior Technical Advisor Lennon Day-Reynolds

Learn how to create a learning culture as your engineering team scales from Urban Airship Senior Technical Advisor, Reed College Professor and former Twitter Engineer, Lennon Day-Reynolds.

Presented at the Hive engineering leadership summit at the Tumo Center in Yerevan Armenia. Learn more about hiring top tech talent:

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Those Who Can Should Teach, by Urban Airship Senior Technical Advisor Lennon Day-Reynolds

  1. 1. Those Who Can Should Teach Building and Sustaining a Learning Culture
  2. 2. tl;dr • Organizational debt can cripple your team • As your team grows, knowledge gets isolated in particular individuals • Training and teaching helps • Do it all the time, not just on special occasions
  3. 3. About me • Current: Urban Airship + Reed College • Previous: Twitter, Dark Horse Comics, Sun Microsystems, Kestrel Institute • ~15 years as a coder, ~5 as a manager + director • Particularly interested in how to design and evolve teams to work better
  4. 4. What’s wrong with just doing?
  5. 5. A normal team story • Your team has early success; yay! Praise and promotions all around. • Now it’s time to do more, and that means more people • With a bigger team, we can do more, but…
  6. 6. Strangely, teams get slower as they get bigger
  7. 7. What slows us down? • Technical shortcuts create technical debt • Business and management shortcuts create organizational debt • Your bigger, better team has accrued both kinds • As developers we aren’t trained to spot and fix organizational debt
  8. 8. What are common kinds of org debt? • Weak/unavailable managers • Overwork and burnout • Poor communication across teams • Lone experts and knowledge “silos”
  9. 9. What’s so bad about “lone experts?”
  10. 10. Great people are still just people • They get spread too thin and become a bottleneck • Leads to other kinds of org debt: overwork, bad communication • Even the best developer on your team won’t be around forever
  11. 11. How do we break the cycle?
  12. 12. Need >1 person well-versed in your critical tech Option 1: Hire • Can work so long as you use only off-the-shelf technology • You don’t write any code in- house, right? Option 2: Teach • Your current expert turns other team members into experts • Requires investment of time and energy
  13. 13. Lots of reasons to train (not just hire)
  14. 14. Teaching reinforces understanding • You can’t effectively teach something you don’t understand • …and learning to teach others will fill in gaps in your knowledge • Teaching across teams builds understanding and empathy
  15. 15. Good news: you’re already (hopefully) teaching through your workflow • Code review, new hire training, design reviews, etc.: all opportunities to teach! • Mentorship: make it an official part of the job • Ditto for internal and public talks and presentations
  16. 16. Getting more advanced
  17. 17. “Formal” training • Observe a need (lots of questions on a topic; critical system few people understand; etc.) • Develop + deliver a basic talk or tutorial • Take feedback, improve • Report out on the results, and repeat!
  18. 18. Develop a cadence • Training opportunities should be ongoing • Offer training on a repeating basis for accessibility and quality • Recipients of training should go on to deliver it themselves
  19. 19. Parting thoughts
  20. 20. Teaching is hard • Simply talking at people isn’t enough; you need conversation and feedback • Senior team members need to be examples of both aspects • Good teachers adapt the message to their audience
  21. 21. Organizations can help • People work on things that are recognized and rewarded • Teaching needs to be part of this • Leaders: make this part of performance review + promotion
  22. 22. Questions?
  23. 23. Thank you! Lennon Day-Reynolds / @rcoder