Before getting into the subject of today’s talk I want to tell you all a story. One which happened in 2009. I was at a 2 weeks course in Brighton. In the first day of the course, a bunch of people, myself included ofc, were sitting a room just like this one, waiting eagerly for the trainer to make his appearance. Which he did. He entered the room holding his briefcase in his right hand and the coat in his left hand. He walk straight to the front of the room, put his coat and suitcase on the chair and turned to his audience. He started looking at the audience smiling. And he said: you are all fucking amazing! And then he stood there for a couple of moments and let his words touch the people in ways that opened their hearts and minds to him. (Pause) And he continued: I’m saying this because instead of being anywhere else, you have chosen to be here. You have chosen to feed your curiosity. You have chosen to find out new things, be reminded of others, but most of all, to let yourself be challenged.
Now, applying that context to the current one, I am not here to present myself as an authority in the leadership domain. This presentation is not about tips and tricks on leadership. Nor about success recipes. It’s my own view about leadership as how I am currently seeing it, thinking about it and feeling it. These thoughts and feelings came after retrospectives, introspections and tons of feedback. This doesn’t mean it’s perfect or complete or that it will stay like this forever. Another thing: don’t take for granted anything I say. Just because you’ll like something it doesn’t mean it will surely be good for you. Or usable in each context. The challenge comes to you in the form of learning something new and seeing if and how you can use it. A final note, for the eager youngsters amongst us: don’t lie to yourself that being here and learning new things will sky rocket your career. Cuz it won’t. That happens through hard work and mistakes that you learn from. Although these are my life experiences I’m not going to be protective with them. I always love a good challenge so if you have a different opinion, a question, a curiosity or even an experience you want to share please raise your hand and let’s have a talk! Ofc, in english.
I am Fox. Started out as a junior, over 7 years of experience, now technical lead with Ness. And a junior and learner about leadership.
So, there was a time in my life when I was very young. And yes, very stupid. (Go with the joke or not? Yeah, I know, some would argue that I haven’t grown up. Or that I haven’t gotten any brighter.) Now, I don’t know about you, but I didn’t have any leading figures in my family. Growing in a very modest family my parents were driven by the idea that I have to grow and live a better life than they did. So they were always an authority, providing direct orders: learn to have good grades. Don’t get dirty. Eat your food. Say hello. Don’t talk back. Take out the garbage. Don’t fight with your brother. Don’t fight other kids. Yeah, I was a fighter back then. And fortunately I still am. But I didn’t have much freedom. Or the ability to choose. Or at least the fake appearance that I would do that. So, growing in an environment based on directives I started searching for an environment where I could make my own choices. Or at least live with the false impression I was the one choosing. So I ended up being part of the neighborhood gang. Now, a cool thing happens with kids. They don’t have authority between themselves! There isn’t that one kid that says: we play football now! The kids behave like: guys, let’s do this. Or I want to do this. And everyone else follows. Or they don’t. But no one gives orders. So I was being a true follower doing all sorts of crazy shit just to be part of their group. One thing that I am completely not proud of doing is that we were chasing dogs with stones. And once I actually hit one. I instantly regretted my deed. I take this occasion to honestly and deeply apologize to that dog (do a small bow).
What’s the main idea behind this story? The obvious: that you don’t have to be in charge of anything to lead! Because the kids that were leading that gang were not in charge of anything, that’s for sure. Another thing is that we, as people, have the need to feel like we are making our own choices. Which in the case of authority that clearly doesn’t happen and in the case of a follower it’s a false feeling. But, and there’s a very big but here (nope, that kind :D): it’s much better to be conscious about being a follower and actually following a positive leader. Because in my case with the gang that wasn’t positive at all.
As people we don’t want to feel vulnerable. Period. The reasons behind this fact are not important for me. I’m more interested in the impact this has on a team. Think about a team were no one wants to seem like week in the team and doesn’t admit to not knowing how to do a certain task. Even more, not saying it. Now imagine all the members of a team having that particular type of task in the same release. And no one saying anything. You can be sure that’s a sprint I don’t want to take part in. Yes, this scenario might be a bit too extreme since in theory that doesn’t happen.
Now let’s take a more realistic example related to vulnerability. You are staring out as a junior and besides reading stuff, you are assigned your first task. Now, you are the enthusiastic and ambitious type you’ll do your best to do it alone. And fast. But that is rarely how it truly goes. When I found myself in that situation (and it doesn’t happen only to juniors, but to every level which usually starts working on something totally new) I was spending lots of time trying to do it my way without help from the others. And I was pointed out that I was spending too much time on things that are either not important (although in my mind they were important) or problems easier to fix with a small hint from someone with more experience than me. It took me some time to learn when to draw the line on banging your head with something that doesn’t work as I want it to. And there’s no shortcut here in knowing from beginning when to ask for help. You’ll just get it.
Now, don’t over generalize this. If you’ll always be going: I have to much work, can someone please help with some of it. Or: I have tried this and I don’t know how to do it (but you only tried for like 5 minutes) take a serious note that it will be observed. And you’ll end up having a performance review with your lead or manager quite soon.
So what does vulnerability have to do with trust? For me it’s a barrier breaker in a team. It’s about admitting we’re humans and sometimes we need help. Think about it. You are asking someone for some help and you get it. That connects the people in such a wonderful way! And even more, you learn something new faster! Imagine a leader who never admits to need help. People in his team will not want to seem incapable in front of him so they will not open. But leads to communication problems and frustrations. The product might not be visibly affected, but the connections inside the team will be.
When I stared out with being responsible for a team and it’s deliverability I trusted this many people (change slide). Why? Because I was vulnerable and I was thinking that the deliverability responsibility is mine and only mine. Yes, the team is working too, but I am the one who is sticking his neck for it. And because I didn’t wanted to be seen as vulnerable I was trying to pick the tasks that seem a bit more complex or time consuming. Because I knew I was willing to work extra on them. But that had to impacts: I was being constantly under stress and easily becoming burned out. And then the team. They were not feeling really engaged and owners on the deliverability of the product.
But someone recently said something to me: you are now leading a team and not trusting anyone to share your tasks. And by working more you manage to deliver. He continued and said: think what will happen when you will have to lead 2 teams. What will you do then? I was (picture?!?!?!) MINDBLOWN.
Bottom line: don’t be completely invulnerable but also don’t be completely vulnerable. Time and experience will teach you how and when to do these.
This is now the list of people I trust. This is my team. Take a piece of paper out of the pocket at the end of this section with the names of the people I now trust written down.
Communication Oh boy, isn’t this a hard one! In my opinion communication is the mother of all goods. The holy grail! Iiiiiif, it’s done properly. If not, it can lead to frustrations, productivity disruption, dis-engagement. The key phrase here is “done properly”. It’s the key because it has impact on every member of the team, the product, the client. Everyone. And there’s no single and perfect recipe for it. Yes, there are studies, statistics, books, movies, trainings. But none of these will give you the COMPLETE. Let me emphasize on this again. COMPLETE recipe for how communication should be done.
Let me share you an example which might seem familiar to the ones who already work in the industry for couple of years. Do you know that guru, master of all masters, technically skilled person? The one that knows so much that he’s a walking bible of code? Yeah, that one who usually works alone and has really poor communication skills (change slide to the one with the coach yelling). Usually they are arrogant, cocky and don’t actually care that they are not communicating properly. Because no one can touch them. Cuz they’re THE BIBLE (do funny gesture with hands like strambat la copii). Yeah, I worked with more than one person like this. The major problem with this type of communicator is that it frustrates people. And they stop reaching to him for opinions, suggestions, knowledge sharing or even solutions.
I was working with someone on a project. And he was under performing. Big time. I was just a fresher and I didn’t knew how to communicate this. And I was so frustrated because he was a senior and not acting like it. Over time I got so angry on him that on reviews I did a very poor job at communicating the fact that he’s underperforming.
So you might ask yourself: and, what or how should I do it? Well, the answer is a classic one in the industry: go agile. That doesn’t mean doing it with jira . It means being dynamic. We human beings are different so don’t trick yourself in generalizing an approach for everyone. When starting out communication seems hard. If you have to communicate something and you’re not sure about how to do it then find a person to ask an advice from. One thing that helped me a lot when I started out was to be pick from the crowd those persons that, when communicating, didn’t seem to have problems in doing that. Those are usually people that can be easily communicate with so they should be able to provide some guidance when communicating stuff you’re unsure off. If you seem to really not find any person to ask and advice from the HR crew should be your go to in these cases. Ofc, I learned this after that episode.
When you are starting out using communication you should be also looking for feedback. Because that’s the way to improve your skills.
Receiving feedback This happens either by asking for it or by being hit in the face with it. However it comes, I encourage you to welcome it, embrace it. Use it to support your growth. Because no matter how harsh or sweet will the feedback be for your ears, it is still feedback. It’s still something that tells you what you need to work on to become better.
One situation where I’ve been hit in the face with feedback was related to my cursing capabilities. I received feedback that I was to vulgar with my expressions. And it also came totally by surprise. No one booked a meeting with a big title: Fox, we need to discuss your language! Nope. It just hit me in the face. Having a strong personality my first instinct was to disapprove and find a way to change the subject.
But I’ve learned something couple of years back. If something really pisses me off or it really makes me uncomfortable I made a habit in not responding immediately. I respond with let me think for a couple of minutes and I’ll get back to you. This way the rush to be impulsive and protective of myself calms down and I get a chance to analyze the feedback. It also allows me to respond in a professional way, not a jerk way.
The ability to receive feedback is pure gold. Yeah, you actually get rich if you receive it. My own tip on receiving feedback: make a habit in asking for it. Because this way you find out you have things to improve and when a feedback takes you by surprise and hits you in the face you’ll be able to benefit from it instead of going all-in towards protecting your ego.
Giving feedback There’s not much to add here except the funny picture. Because giving feedback involves a ton of experience with different people and with all sorts of communication situations. Experience which I currently don’t have. But my usual habit is to provide feedback in an honest way and trying not to seem like I’m attacking or offending the person. Because I personally think that giving feedback is a sign of respect. Ofc there are people that take it personally and don’t even bother to receive it. I’m just making sure I do my part.
My opinion on the what’s more important, giving or receiving feedback? Clearly receiving it. If everybody would receive feedback no one would spend time trying to figure out how to give it.
Let’s discuss a bit about assumptions. Because believe it or not, they are part of our daily lives. Let’s take a simple example: you are preparing for an exam. Really really hard. Learn day and night. Your assumption that guides you is that the harder you prepare the bigger the grade will be. Which, fortunately is pretty correct and in our educational system works because usually the exams don’t really stretch the students for the 10 grade, they follow the course. Have you ever though what would have happened if the exams would cover the course so that you could only get a maximum of 9? And for 10 it will provide a question or exercise that really stretches you beyond what has been taught? That wouldn’t be so fun and the assumption would not be valid anymore. Ofc, in this case your assumptions would change and you’ll know that learning as much as possible will only guarantee a maximum of 9.
Let’s take another example. You get hired. Doesn’t matter the field. You meet new people, some of which you find you are connecting and communicating quite easily. You end up socializing a lot, sharing opinions and ideas. Couple of beers as well. Your new friend needs your help with something and you do your best to help him out. But then it comes your turn to need help and you ask him for it. But surprise he finds excuses to bail out on you. Has that ever happened to any of you here? To me it did. Well, wrong assumption made by me.
Let’s take a more concrete example. You start out as a junior. What happens is that someone senior is assigned to help you grow. This person gives you tasks and oversees your growth. The assumption is that he will completely and correctly oversee your growth. But he’s human. He might have a personal problem due to which he’s not completely attentive to you. Or maybe he has a task that’s very urgent
My own example comes under a similar form. Under the pressure of a release which was very important from the backend perspective I have neglected the frontend work. My assumption was that the frontend work will continue as expected, without me being involved almost at all. Since I was working closely with the frontend until then I was thinking that their assumption is that I’ll continue to coordinate the frontend work. Thing I knew won’t happen. So in order to ensure I’m not leaving people with wrong assumptions I had a chat were I made it explicit that I won’t be able to oversee the frontend work for a period.
As a junior the first sense of belonging comes from contribution. So contribute. Constantly. Either by being given tasks or by proactively requesting them. I’m saying to also request them because your leaders are also humans and they might not always catch your cues that you want something extra. or maybe a new challenge. Contribution makes you belong to the team because the product is defined by each member of the team. No matter how great or small, we are all as good as the end product.
Now, growing the sense of belonging is a team effort. Because it’s not just the juniors that need to feel like they belong. Everyone in the team needs to feel they belong there. Working with those people. For that client. On that product. And everyone should find ways to contribute in a way that increases the other team member’s feeling of belonging there, in that place, at that time.
Now this is a real challenge right here. In it’s purest form. Because people by nature are protective of their ego. And their work. And even the people who do a crappy job are protective with their work. And to know yourself you have to go beyond your ego, your habits and your patterns of thinking.
Why is this important? I want to name 3 reasons that I find for me to be very important. Knowing yourself helps you identify your own assumptions and expectation. Having access at a conscious level to these 2 details will allow you to clarify them. Remember the very young fox I told you about in the beginning? His expectations were to have a leader to follow. Not being aware of that he found and followed the first one he found. And that didn’t turn out good. Knowing yourself is also beneficial because you get to connect with your true self. And you get access to a very useful tool, called the subconscious. The subconscious is the one who gives you that feeling that something is right. An example of this is when you want to learn something new for example and you want a leader to guide you. Both of them are really good at guiding people and very technically prepared. How do you end up choosing? Well, one feels righter than the other. That feeling of right comes from the subconscious. In order to do this you have to learn how to challenge and accept challenged that others raise to you.
How to do it? I only know my answer. I am asking for feedback. Not daily, but constantly. I embrace it, be it positive or negative. And I arrived to a point where I love it. And once you start loving feedback the true potential of growth is unleashed. Because you stop seeing feedback as negative or positive. Feedback is just feedback. I also like to do retrospectives from time to time. Not only when the year review is happening or when a new year is ending. One thing I have learned through the years is that after a retrospective I tend to make assumptions. I have learned that some of those are important and need to be validated. Thus, I go and ask for feedback. The last thing that I do to learn about myself is introspection. To me introspections are related to how things or people make me feel. I won’t go into details about the introspections because this is the part that I don’t give access to no one. Not even my best friend, who knows my life inside out.
Expectations are related to behavior. For example: tomorrow is Christmas and my girlfriend will give me a present. This is a simple expectation because it’s a habit that mostly everyone follows to buy presents for Christmas.
But let’s look at a different and more related to our day to day work expectation. I worked on a project where the team I was being part of had to deliver a feature change. A pretty big change. But a production problem appeared and for one week I was working mostly on trying to figure it out. But I got completely disconnected from the team. Now everyone had different expectations.
My expectations where: hmm, I’m working on a production problem. This is critical and everybody will know what to do while I’m taking care of that. They’ll figure it out somehow. And if they don’t they’ll say it. The team expectations: he’s the lead, he should be here with us, helping us deliver. My manager’s expectations: I should be able to do both.
And, believe it or not, after that I got feedback from the manager that I was too disconnected from the team. More than welcomed the feedback, but I didn’t receive it well in the beginning. I realized later that I did it wrong. If I would have analyzed the situation I would have seen discrepancies: this is production so it’s urgent but at the same time the team needs to deliver and I have my own tasks. I should have went to the manager and negotiate the set of expectations. Maybe descope the release or even post-pone it. Or maybe the issue wasn’t even that critical to fix it then. Maybe we should have agreed to work half a day on the production problem and half a day on the current sprint tasks. Whatever the end of the negotiation would have been we would have had the same set of expectation. And if any of the criteria would not have been met at least I would have been aware of them up front, not find out after I have already failed.
Being a junior you usually end up working on small things. But who’s to say you should be happy with that. You don’t need all the details and you’ll never get them because they will be overwhelming and you’ll forget most of them in about 10 minutes. But the bigger picture? The intention of the changes you’re working on? The impact that they will provide? Who’ll be using your work? That’s gold for our juniors. It sets their mind on the fact that what they are doing, no matter how small, will be part of something that is used, that adds value to someone. It increases the engagement level. In his mind the work becomes big, thus his involvement and ownership levels will increase.
One of the things I worked when I was a junior was on an application that had direct impact on the maintenance of a project. The problem was that, since I was a junior, my work didn’t reach production fast. Which is completely understandable. I had to first understand and know the tools, then use them to build stuff that was dropped. But the lead back then didn’t explain the process, why it’s important for it to be this way, why it is critical to write code that gets thrown away. And yeah, it is frustrating not see your work used.
As a lead in this case it’s usually hard because you have to know what that big picture should be made off and how much information the junior you’re working with can handle. But doing it brings benefits.
It really pisses me off to know there are so many of us in this beautiful city, and yet so many do comfort. So please, juniors, don’t settle for comfort. I’m begging you. No, really, I’m begging you (kneel). I’m not suggesting we, as an industry, should start working 24/7 or that we should grow our skill daily. I’m just saying that we should constantly be looking for ways to grow. Be it communication, leadership, management, technical, doesn’t matter. You are responsible for your own lives so whatever constant would mean to you just go out there and do it. Spend your life on improving it and sharing it with others. Don’t settle for repetitive tasks year after year. That won’t make you better. Just because you have 10 years of doing the same thing every year it doesn’t mean you have 10 years of experience. You only have one. I’m not suggesting you should change work place every year. I am just suggesting that you should make time challenges that help you grow. In whatever direction you choose. This ofc connects with knowing yourself since knowing yourself you can choose the right direction you want to grow into. Also, don’t think that the direction that feels right now will feel right in couple of years. No one will be able to point you to the direction. You just have to be brave enough to go out there and find it out.
I started the presentation with a story and I want to finish with one. (small pause for creating expectations; talk slowly) Imagine a pond. Make the water whatever color you want. Imagine as much grass you want next to the pond. As much trees, birds or animals. Now, add to that picture yourself, standing right next to the pond. And also add your team there. You can add your client. Your family. Your friends. Now see yourself picking up a rock. Look at it. Feel it. Now put in the rock your behavior and your actions. Imagine yourself throwing the rock in the pond and everyone sitting with you on the pond gets splashed with water. The rock that you have built and thrown has impact on the people which are close to you. Have the people been splashed in a constructive way? In a way that helps them grow? In a way that helps you grow? Leadership is about figuring out what rook to pick up.
Thank you very much! (change to final slide)
What I would have loved to learn
(about leadership) when I started out
as a junior
You don’t have to be in charge of
anything to lead!
• Inconstient sau nu, toata lumea cauta modele
• Notiunea de autoritate
• Don’t wait until you get to senior to
understand what this is about
• How would you recognize a good leader?
• How knowing this would have helped me
during my first years starting as a dev
Trust : giving trust (don’t let the other
do it himself)
– Overload – stress, munca, le faci munca celorlalti mai
putin interesanta (less challenge, no ownership,
– ? Si, nu asta ar trebui sa faca un senior/lead? – diff
btwn setting the direction and giving out the final
– ? Eu lucrez intr-o firma in care totul e urgent sau
– "Remember, teamwork begins by building trust. And
the only way to do that is to overcome our need for
invulnerability." Patrick Lencioni
• Challenge: Ca si membru al unei echipei, tb sa fii aware
ca nu toti vor avea capacitatea de a face pushback –
incearca sa faci skip la un nivel, deschide canale de
comunicare (step it up for your team)
• Inside the team
• Choose the right message/ the right person to talk to
• Leaders are humans so they might not always get your
cues about things that you worry (?!) about. This is the
time when you need to communicate them. (doina vs
• Feedback – giving and receiving ?
The sense of belonging
+ Everybody counts
• As a junior your sense of belonging will increase
as long as you contribute. Constantly. Either by
being given tasks or by proactively requesting me
• Produsul este definit de fiecare membru al echipe
– no lesser or better man, you’re just as good as
the end product
• There might be juniors who grow fast and can
contribute more to the growth of the product. If
the leader doesn’t notice you need to
• PS: if the leader misbehaves on more slides? :D
Perception of others
• Intimidare – change your mindset! Fine tuning
– cand te opresti din incercat singur, si stii ca e
momentul sa ceri ajutorul?
• Picture with ciocanelul dat de bila
Getting to know yourself
• Homus erandus (omul care greseste)
Don’t do comfort
• Poza cu cerc care se extinde prin iesirea din
comfort zone. You do something, the circle
extends in that area, you do something else,
the circle extends again. People start following
you (yeah, you are a leader at that point), the
circle extends and gets a new, bigger radius.
The ripple effect
• Imagine a pond. With perfect still water.
• Imagine a drop of rain falling in the center of the pond.
• Now see how the ripples made by that drop spread
until the margin of the pond. And at the margin of the
pond you find your friends, family, loved ones, teams,
• How do you feel now, knowing that, depending on the
drop that you put in the pond you can affect the life of
everyone around you?
• PS: imaginea cu would the world rise and applaud you?
• PPS: improve and clean up metaphor