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Grow your own tech leads

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How can senior developers bridge the gap to becoming tech leads? How can mentors help them? We'll shine a light from above, a light from below, and we'll see if we can uncover some insights.

How can senior developers bridge the gap to becoming tech leads? How can mentors help them? We'll shine a light from above, a light from below, and we'll see if we can uncover some insights.

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Grow your own tech leads

  1. 1. Grow your own tech leads @KenScambler We’re hiring! Come work with me & my friends on cool stuff
  2. 2. Gaps • There’s a big difference between the skill sets of an effective developer and an effective tech lead. • How does an individual bridge the gap? • How can we help them?
  3. 3. Perspective - developer Organisation Divisions Teams
  4. 4. Perspective – senior developer Organisation Divisions Teams
  5. 5. Perspective – tech lead Organisation Divisions Teams
  6. 6. Perspective – CTO, etc Organisation Divisions Teams
  7. 7. Helping senior developers grow Organisation Divisions Teams
  8. 8. Expanding trust networks Dev Dev Dev Tech lead
  9. 9. Expanding trust networks Tech lead Dev Dev Dev Eng Mgr
  10. 10. Expanding trust networks Tech lead Dev Dev Dev Eng Mgr Product Mgr
  11. 11. Expanding trust networks Tech lead Dev Dev Dev Product Mgr Eng Mgr BA
  12. 12. Expanding trust networks Tech lead Dev Dev Dev Product Mgr Eng Mgr BA UX
  13. 13. Expanding trust networks Tech lead Dev Dev Dev Product Mgr Eng Mgr BA Customers UX
  14. 14. What happens with trust Alice Product Manager I know Alice wants to help me get my ideas in front of customers. Knowing how the tech fits in will help us get there sooner.
  15. 15. What happens with trust Product Manager Look, the spaceship is really hard, it’ll take 10 years. But… if we drop the laser guns we can do a quadcopter in a month. Alice
  16. 16. What happens with trust Product Manager Look, the spaceship is really hard, it’ll take 10 years. But… if we drop the laser guns we can do a quadcopter in a month. Ah that’s a shame. Let’s go for the quick win then, we can iterate from there. Alice
  17. 17. What happens without trust Product Manager Let me guess. Alice can’t deliver on time because of techie blah blah. If she loved customers half as much as shiny tech, we’d have delivered by now. Alice
  18. 18. What happens without trust Product Manager Look, the spaceship is really hard, it’ll take 10 years. But… if we drop the laser guns we can do a quadcopter in a month. Alice
  19. 19. What happens without trust Product Manager Look, the spaceship is really hard, it’ll take 10 years. But… if we drop the laser guns we can do a quadcopter in a month. Did you try this? Did you try that? We really need to be delivering spaceships. I’m going to need you & the team to really dig deep and BELIEEEVE. Alice
  20. 20. THE SECRET TO BUILDING TRUST AND ADVANCING YOUR CAREER 2019 EXCLUSIVE
  21. 21. 2019 EXCLUSIVE
  22. 22. Don’t be terrible 2019 EXCLUSIVE
  23. 23. Boss I’ll write up notes from the meeting Thanks for that Bilal “I trust you to keep promises”
  24. 24. *Doesn’t write up notes* Bilal
  25. 25. Bilal
  26. 26. Seriously?? Come on! I have important things to do and no-one reads the notes anyway! Bilal
  27. 27. Boss M Tu W Th F Because you don’t need to eat
  28. 28. Boss M Tu W Th F Because you don’t need to eat TODO: Check up on Bilal Bilal
  29. 29. Boss M Tu W Th F Because you don’t need to eat Bilal
  30. 30. Boss M Tu W Th F Bilal Trust!
  31. 31. Boss M Tu W Th F Bilal
  32. 32. Carla *WORKING HARD ON A PROBLEM FOR WEEKS BUT KINDA STUCK* “I trust you to communicate openly”
  33. 33. Boss How’s that task going? We’re all blocked. Need help? Nah I’m good. 80% done Carla
  34. 34. Boss … Carla
  35. 35. Boss … Carla Time’s up, what have you got so far?
  36. 36. Boss Actually Carla
  37. 37. Boss It would seem I’ve been stuck for some time Carla !!!
  38. 38. BossCarla
  39. 39. Carla You can’t be serious! It’s done when it’s done. I don’t know what I don’t know.
  40. 40. Carla M T W T F M T W T F M T W T F Started work
  41. 41. Carla M T W T F M T W T F M T W T F Started work Got stuck
  42. 42. Carla M T W T F M T W T F M T W T F Started work Got stuck Help! Boss EMERGENCY! Let’s rope in the experts
  43. 43. Carla M T W T F M T W T F M T W T F Started work Got stuck Help! DONE Expert1 Expert2 *Domain specific knowledge* *Technology specific knowledge* We had to drop everything, but we’re here
  44. 44. Boss Boss’ boss HIGGINS YOU FOOL! Because of your MISCREANTS I had to settle for platinum *ALLOY* hubcaps on my Lambo!!
  45. 45. Carla M T W T F M T W T F M T W T F Started work Stuck I was off to a good start, but it’s harder than I thought.
  46. 46. Carla M T W T F Lots of possible options Maybe not even needed Started work Stuck Boss Trust! No sweat, plenty of things we can do from here. Lmk what you need Open communication
  47. 47. Dave I need help with my thing, could you give me a hand? Colleague “I trust you to care about my work too”
  48. 48. Dave I need help with my thing, could you give me a hand? Sure, I guess Colleague
  49. 49. Dave *Weeks pass*
  50. 50. DaveColleague Did you take a look? We’re really under the pump now LOL oops
  51. 51. DaveColleague
  52. 52. Dave Look, I’m busy! It’s really their problem, not mine.
  53. 53. Colleague Dave Goal
  54. 54. Colleague Dave Goal
  55. 55. Colleague Dave Goal • Sure! Here you go • I’ll set aside some time to help • I don’t have time, but here’s some people who might help • Not sure, but try reading this
  56. 56. Dave Goal
  57. 57. Helping others build trust • ”Don’t be terrible” needs fixing in a shockingly high number of people • Doesn’t mean they lack talent • Often just a lack of self-awareness • Easy to mentor
  58. 58. Insecurities around leadership
  59. 59. Feeling insecure: • Does not in any way indicate a lack of talent • Does not in any way indicate a lack of leadership potential BUT • Learning to manage insecurities is essential • Consequences are exacerbated by seniority
  60. 60. “I’m not actually good enough… Therefore I will not even put my hand up in the first place” Hopefully no- one notices me
  61. 61. “I’m not actually good enough… Therefore I will not even put my hand up in the first place” • Personal reassurance, encouragement • Cultivate general personal safety • Reduce cost of speaking up • Seek out quiet voices at meetings, balance loudest • Be aware of various forms of privilege Mentor suggestions:
  62. 62. “I’m not actually good enough… Therefore I will massively overcompensate by any means” I AM VERY LOUD AND IMPORTANT! YOUR FOOLISH PRs DON’T STAND A CHANCE AGAINST MY PETTY OBJECTIONS! I WILL MAKE UP THINGS SO IT LOOKS LIKE I KNOW STUFF!
  63. 63. “I’m not actually good enough… Therefore I will massively overcompensate by any means” • Immediate 1-1 advice to tone it down, increase self-awareness • Reassure • Requires strong trust to avoid defensive reaction • May require removal of responsibility Mentor suggestions
  64. 64. “I’m not actually good enough… Therefore I must be as defensively opaque as possible so people don’t ask questions” ???
  65. 65. “I’m not actually good enough… Therefore I must be as defensively opaque as possible so people don’t ask questions” Mentor suggestions • Can be hard to detect until it’s too late • Personally encourage habits of openness
  66. 66. “I’m not actually good enough… Therefore I am doomed and will freeze and wait for inevitable failure” There’s no point trying
  67. 67. “I’m not actually good enough… Therefore I am doomed and will freeze and wait for inevitable failure” Mentor suggestions • Super bad news • Pretty hard to reverse at this point • Removal of responsibilities likely to be a relief to all
  68. 68. Mistakes of inexperience: too rigid Do it this way, or else! I’m supposed to know more than everyone else! No-one will listen to me unless I make a lot of noise I need to advertise my leaderiness, or my prestige will evaporate!
  69. 69. It’s not your job to know all the answers The team’s success is your success Use the skills of the team Mentor
  70. 70. Sure, I guess, let’s do what you want, it’s probably fine. Who am I to disagree? They seem really confident. I’m not a real leader Mistakes of inexperience: too flexible
  71. 71. You’re ultimately responsible, not the other people! Let’s go through the reasons from first principles It’s ok to ask questions, it’s not your job to know everything already Mentor
  72. 72. Handling insecurity • Nothing to be ashamed of per se • Harmful flow-on effects best pre-empted with cultural change • Strong trust bonds necessary for frank individual feedback • Senior leaders should set an example for openness
  73. 73. Words are actions !
  74. 74. Your code is bad and you are bad Dev Words Actions Awww Dev who wrote the code Other devs Whoa. Maybe there’s something to learn though? I am a thoroughly disagreeable person
  75. 75. Your code is bad and you are bad Very senior tech lead Words Actions Everyone else ARGHGH!!!! I am a thoroughly disagreeable person This is how leaders behave here Stick your neck out, this will happen to you too Dev who wrote the code Big loss of face in front of peers
  76. 76. Very senior tech lead But they’re the exact same words! I’m just calling it like I see it
  77. 77. Foo Foo Foo
  78. 78. Creating opportunities Project 1 Project 2 Project 3 Jan Feb Mar … Team 1 Team 3 Team 2
  79. 79. Creating opportunities Project 1 Project 2 Project 3 Jan Feb Mar … Team 1 Team 3 Team 2 Team 2 informal tech lead Project 1 informal tech lead
  80. 80. MYOB example: Tech Lead Groups Front end team Backend service team API team Desktop team 1 Desktop team 2 Project Infrastructure team Tech Lead Group
  81. 81. Tech Lead Group • Reduce decision-making workload for architects • Increase architect visibility into teams • Increase teams’ access to fast architecture advice & decisions • Grow new tech leaders
  82. 82. Tech Lead Group • Reduce decision-making workload for architects • Increase architect visibility into teams • Increase teams’ access to fast architecture advice & decisions • Grow new tech leaders
  83. 83. However: • Confusion around scope of responsibility • Decision-maker? • Hard to balance team-work with TLG-work • There are a range of situational pros & cons to all the different ways you can do this
  84. 84. Conclusion • Growing tech leaders in-house is a Good Thing • Bridging non-technical gaps is a big deal • Wider perspective • Building trust & relationships • Managing insecurities appropriately • Understanding words as actions • Good mentoring makes a huge difference • 1-1 coaching • Setting an example • Timely intervention • Creating opportunities with informal org structure

Editor's Notes

  • Finding tech talent is hard, and so is keeping them!

    While importing expertise is valuable, having a clear internal path of advancement is indispensable:
    Motivates individuals to invest more of their career at a company
    Keep that juicy domain knowledge!
    Good for everyone

    This talk is about the challenges of growing tech leads, both from the point of view of an aspiring senior developer, and a mentor hoping to develop them.

    These are actually very similar viewpoints; the ways in which an manager or architect might wish to grow a tech lead are similar to the ways a tech lead might wish to grow a senior developer.

    We’ll shine a light from above & a light from below, and perhaps we will illuminate the subject in an interesting way.
  • A big part of this is considering the kind of gaps between the skillset of a senior developer and a tech lead.

    While there’s always more to learn, we can assume that their tech skills are great; the gaps are more likely to be things like:
    Projecting influence appropriately
    Understanding social dynamics
    Learning about the broader company context

    Some people seem to be naturals at this, but for most, it’s a learnt skill. It’s not just “I’m a people person” “I’m not a people person”. PEOPLE SKILLS ARE LEARNABLE, like programming.

    But unlike programming, where there is an incredibly rich seam of educational materials at hand to learn the craft, most programmers find themselves gaining proficiency at people skills the same way most managers do – by sucking at it for ten years.

    How do you bridge the gap?

    How can we help them bridge it more efficiently?

  • Openness allows developers to take an interest in how the team works, how the team’s work fits in with other teams
    Openness in goals, process, decisions, motivations, rationales
    Not everyone is interested, and that’s fine
    The ones that are can learn through osmosis, potentially leaders

  • Building trust is the secret sauce to getting anything done in an organization of any size

    If people trust you, it is a force-multiplier

    If people don’t trust you, the walls close in: you are stuck with your own two hands

    Someone on the cusp of being a tech lead often has a lot of trust and respect built up with the developers they work with. Technical excellence alone is often enough to build trust within a team.

    But taking the next step requires building trust relationships with a whole bunch of people they might have previously only had superficial relationships with, and technical excellence alone is not enough to do this

  • Engineering managers
  • Product managers
  • BAs
  • UX specialists
  • And if they’re really lucky, most important of all: customers
  • Trust puts a framing on every conversation before you’ve even opened up your mouth.
  • Without trust, the framing on the conversation is a little different…
  • This is an obnoxious and snide dismissal of Alice’s concerns, but it’s not necessarily because the Product Manager is a horrible person – they might have been burnt a bunch of times, by Alice or other technical leaders, and fundamentally don’t trust them enough to take the advice at face value.

    For argument’s sake, the Product Manager might be living in fantasy-land, the spaceships might be completely impossible in the short term. But it doesn’t matter – the course of the conversation is all but predetermined, because of the lack of trust between the two.

    This is both entirely predictable, and wholly within Alice’s ability to control. Had she taken the time to build a trust relationship with the PM beforehand, it would have been fine

    Trust is a lubricant that makes everything flow smoother and easier.
  • I’m not even joking.

    This is what separates the 90% from the 10%

    You don’t have to be intelligent. You don’t even have to be good at programming. You just have to not be terrible.

    Let me hit you with some examples to explain what I mean:
  • Let’s start with a simple example
  • That’s kind of terrible. It didn’t take any technical skill to follow through on writing up the notes. It didn’t take any emotional or social intelligence. It just needed 5 minutes of time and a moderate amount of non-terribleness.
  • Put a sock in it Tech Lead, and listen up
  • Have you ever seen a manager’s calendar? They have a very dynamic job, it’s very demanding, and they have to juggle a lot of balls in the air.

    Every single one of these things on the calendar is a concern they have to fit in their head all at once.
  • If you’re terrible, every time you open your mouth, your boss will mentally put another 5 appointments on their calendar. How do you think they appreciate that?

    What if you have a team of 6, and they’re all like that? The boss is spending half of their week compensating for terrible people!

    Being terrible isn’t just harmless; it makes everyone around you less effective.


    If your boss check in more than say, 3 times a week with “Heeeey buddy, how’re you going with that thing”, I must inform you that you are terrible.

    We KNOW this has to be true

    If you proactively told your boss what you were doing, they wouldn’t need to check in

    If your boss was confident that --- because you committed to completing something, therefore it’s as good as done – why would they bother checking in on you?

    This is shocking to hear.

    The good news is that this is excellent feedback, and not being terrible is really easy to do. You can start when you go back to work after YOW
  • If you’re not terrible, maybe your boss’ calendar looks like …
  • … this, because the boss can just forget about a bunch of stuff that they TRUST Bilal will sort out.

    How do you think that is appreciated?
  • And when it comes time to recommend an internal Tech Lead candidate, who do you think will come to mind?

    Is Bilal a technical mastermind who could found a blockchain startup with one hand in two hours? I don’t know? Maybe?

    But he got the promotion because he’s the one that’s not terrible.

    Building up a solid trust relationship here didn’t just make Bilal a better worker, it made his boss a better worker.

    Building up trust makes everyone around you better.
  • Here’s another scenario
  • Whoops!
  • That’s pretty terrible! Carla didn’t communicate the state of her work effectively, and now everyone is behind.
  • But what she knows is that she doesn’t know what she doesn’t know

    And what she tells her boss should be that she knows that she doesn’t know what she doesn’t know
  • Carla’s calendar might have looked a bit like this
  • Again, there’s a loss of trust here.

    Maybe nothing could have been done, and Carla just needs to work through it.

    But maybe more people could have been brought on.

    Maybe other work could have been prioritized.

    Again, the boss has to fill up their calendar with “checking on Carla” in case she’s stuck again, because they don’t trust her to communicate.

    Other busy people might have to drop important things to clean up; they’ll lose trust as well.

    YOUR BOSS HAS A BOSS AS WELL
  • The other thing that people don’t really think about is that your boss has a boss too.

    The higher up you go, the conversations can take on a different character!

    And poor communication can get your boss roasted like a turkey in a boardroom.
  • This time, Carla isn’t terrible.

    She’s still stuck – she still can’t solve the problem. But this time she communicates.
  • Now, the boss has lots of options…
    They might bring more people in when they have time
    They might pause the work and put Carla on something else

    An inexperienced or insecure developer thinks this is a sign of weakness.

    Someone who knows what they’re doing understands that nobody knows the answer, and that this is effective, necessary and downright RIGHTEOUS communication!

    AGAIN

    You don’t need intelligence, skill, charm or hard work. For this basic level of organisational fluency, you just need to not be terrible!
  • At risk of laboring the point, it’s not just about bosses and promotions. It works a bit like this with everyone.
  • Doesn’t have to be dropping everything to help all the time; he would never get anything done.

    It could just be helpful advice or pointers, or an hour of time,
  • If you are a reliable node on the path to success – helping others! Then their success will be your success

    You know what that’s called? POWER!
  • It’s a low bar to clear; they just need to realise there’s a bar there, otherwise they’ll walk into it
  • A common cause for that sort of closed, uncommunicative behavior that we saw there is insecurity.

    Personal insecurity is absolutely rife at every level of a career in tech.

    Not everyone experiences it in the same degree, and people vary in how well they can deal with it.

    It is entirely natural, and not something to be ashamed about.


  • Feeling insecure does NOT IN ANY WAY indicate a lack of talent nor a lack of leadership potential.

    However, managing them in a constructive way is essential.

    AS A MENTOR, helping potential tech leads manage insecurities is important

    Insecurity can manifest in a bunch of different ways, sometimes in harmful and negative ways

    Junior developers tend have a really good culture around this, they talk about impostor syndrome openly

    The more senior this person is, the less likely they are to be open about it, and the more harm can be done.

    Let’s explore that
  • The lack of confidence in this one often has contributing environment factors
    Upbringing
    Introversion
    Life experience
    Social underprivilege

    Company misses out on a huge amount of leadership talent, and settles for the loudest & most privileged voices by default.

    MENTOR SLIDE NEXT
  • Mentors:
    Have an obligation to counteract effects of privilege
    Reduce the cost of speaking up
    Culture of personal safety
    Seek out quiet voices
    This will also set an example

    MUST be proactive, because nobody is likely to complain
    Just prompting isn’t enough
  • This is very common, and very destructive

    Can create a toxic work environment quickly
    Effects on team:
    Other people get disgruntled & leave
    Toxic team dynamic
    Juniors emulate behaviour


    Must be nipped in the bud

    Not necessarily because they’re a bad person
    Not necessarily because they can’t become a good leader (although--- it may indicate that more responsibilities are premature)


    MENTOR SLIDE NEXT

  • If the mentor has a good trust relationship with a potential leader, they can raise self-awareness about this kind of behavior
    Otherwise likely to trigger extremely defensive responses


    Help them understand the effects on the team.

  • Turtling behavior

    Avoid scrutiny & accountability

    Often hard to detect until its too late

    Unhealthy behaviour, hides problems, makes it harder to fix in time

    Effect on team:
    Lack of communication
    Missed opportunities


    MENTOR SLIDE NEXT


  • Hard to reverse when someone has reached this point.

    Likely to be the result of the problem going unchecked for a long time.


    MENTOR SLIDE NEXT
  • Take away responsibilities; it may be a relief rather than a humiliation

    They can get on with their life and work on something they enjoy
  • “Do it this way, or else!”
    Team feels disempowered, disengaged
    No-one knows all the answers
    Common resort of inexperienced leaders
    Often stems from insecurity:
    “I’m supposed to know more than everyone else!”
    “No-one will listen to me unless I flap my arms around and make a lot of noise!”
    “I need to advertise my leaderiness, or my prestige will evaporate!”


    MENTOR SLIDE NEXT

  • Mentoring, lead by example
    Don’t need all the answers
    Don’t even need to be the best technically
  • “Sure I guess, let’s do that, it’s probably fine.”
    Unaccountable – who is responsible?
    Sloppy – what are the consequences? Don’t they matter?
    Might stem from lack of confidence – “who am I to disagree?” “They seem really confident”.

    MENTOR SLIDE NEXT
  • Solution:
    Strong sense of accountability
    Leader leader: needs to hold them accountable as a fitness function:
    “Can you explain to me why we are doing it this way?”
    Can’t say “because [other person] thought it was a good idea”

  • At the surface, all these behaviour patterns are very different; but in fact, they all stem from the same underlying causes

    Perceiving this can allow you to take the correct measures
  • Words don’t just convey information – speech is an action that carries consequences and has moral valence independent from its semantic content

    It sounds obvious saying it out loud, but it seems to be widely underappreciated in practice.

    As developers become more senior, the more important ”words as actions” become.
  • Consider a prime minister with a looming financial crisis; they won’t say the economy is borked and we need to stockpile ammunition and cans of baked beans

    Not necessarily because they are a filthy liar; they have have responsibilities

    If they say that, investors might pull capital out of the country, self-fulfilling prophecy, 10ks lose their jobs

    If they dress it up with a bow, maybe everyone scrapes through.

    Doesn’t mean dishonesty is ok, but it means there’s more to take into account than the meaning of words
  • Compare: Junior dev angrily cussing out teammate in public
    “Your code is bad and you are bad”

    The words have factual content, which might be true – the code might actually be bad, and its author might be bad at their job in various ways

    But saying it out loud, it becomes an action

    Teammate feels bad
    Leaders step in, junior dev is quickly disciplined/mentored
    Apologies, everyone moves on

  • Tech leader angrily cusses out teammate in public
    “Your code is bad and you are bad”
    Teammate feels bad
    Loses face with team
    Resentment, teamwork breaks down
    Less likely to speak up in the future
    Teammates less likely to speak up in the future
    Teammates emulate behavior, cycle of unpleasantness
    Personal safety breaks down
    System is no longer self-healing
  • Well, yes, but you’re responsible for the consequences of your actions, like everyone else

    YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR THE CONSEQUENCES OF YOUR WORDS, REGARDED AS ACTIONS


  • The higher your personal prestige, the more consequential your words

    The wider the audience, the more consequential your words

    Not just magnitude, can flip a mostly good thing into a mostly bad thing

    For senior leaders, they might be completely unable to say anything without seismic consequences, so must work through others to send moderate messages. For instance, CEO public speeches will often be very bland and general; but private discussions can get very heated indeed

    A challenge for emerging tech leaders is that the mapping between words and results is rapidly changing in real time

    This can be shocking and frustrating for everyone

    MENTOR
    1-1 mentoring
    Assume good faith
    Build self awareness early
    Nip in the bud
    Set a good example
  • To grow tech leads, you need to give them opportunities

    Projects & teams are often dynamic, short-lived things, and have specific leadership requirements with limited scope

    Organisational roles tied to salary are long lived, inflexible and hard to change

    “Hats” vs “roles”
  • Team-local tech lead

    Project-local tech lead
  • TICK SLIDE NEXT
  • ….
    Then progress can be made, to the benefit of all.

    Thank you

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