The last time I wrote something looking at what I’ve done and what I plan to do as I go forward was in March of 2021. At that time I was 3 months into a new position, and more specifically just started as a new team lead. I was working with some peers and in a team of 5 including myself, and with such a small team I was still doing 50-75% coding and learning a lot about our products.
I entered into this new company and position with the mentality that I was going to succeed by asking questions, whether that's to fully understand what I’m working on or a question to advocate for change in the company or even just for myself. In other words, don’t let things just be told to me or just happen to me. I am happy to look back and recognize that I continued to hold this mentality to the current day and that it has continued to benefit me. I also recognize that it requires a ton of psychological safety and a healthy environment to take those risks, and I’m super lucky to have that where I work now.
Among the things I advocated for, one that I’m particularly proud of is when I pitched a new role in our development group to focus purely on internal tools and infrastructure so that we can help keep things running smoothly on the inside. Both my VP of Engineering (now CTO) and CTO at the time gave me their support to post the position, and we had a perfect candidate apply within just a few weeks. Since then he has proven countless times the amount of value this position provides to our development group by introducing new automated integration testing, troubleshooting and improving the reliability of our build servers, and even overhauling a lot of our onboarding documentation.
A little before that my team had suddenly grown from 5 to 9 within the span of a few short weeks. At that point, I was no longer able to code not only due to the number of people, but the scope of my team was continuing to expand. I honestly didn’t have much time to even consider it, but reflecting on that time I was nervous about stepping away from daily coding. I still have this concern sometimes, but I’m also getting more confident in my skills as a leader and manager.
As I’ve already said before, I’m thankful to be in a supportive company, but it has also shown in that I think all of the things I’ve recognized in myself over the last year and a half, have also been recognized by the folks that I work with. One thing I had identified early on was that we have tech stack-centered teams (e.g. an API team, a UI team, and basically an “everything else” team), and as we grow it was showing that it was not an efficient structure to deliver on real features. A little bit ago my CTO approached me and said he thought it was time to make that kind of change, and that he wanted me to lead the restructured team. He totally acknowledged that I don’t have the track record to prove that I have done that job already, but that he believed that I could do it. That confidence and chance taken on me is an incredible feeling, and I’m very excited to start the new year as a Director of Engineering leading a development group that is more than double the size of the team I led the last year and a half.
This has been a very career-focused year for me, and I am ok with that, but I also recognize that I need to improve on making my life more balanced with personal enriching activities. Despite that, this year did have a lot of great things too. I found a new outdoor hobby in paddle boarding! Despite Wisconsin having basically 6 months of winter, the other 6 months are pretty great for outdoors and there are tons of lakes in the area. Finding a way to get on the water has been an enjoyable way to enjoy the outdoors in the midwest.
By far, the best personal life event from the past year has been developing a new friendship that has given me a new best friend. Not only has it been great to have another person so close in my life, but our friendship has been able to develop into a (growing) chosen family.
I’m really excited to see what comes this year, both at work and personally. Obviously, at work, I have a huge amount of growth ahead of me as I learn how to lead managers instead of a direct team and lead a larger scope. But even within that, I have a couple of major goals and a few more general ones. The biggest thing I want to see with this new team is that it gives the developers on the team more ownership and accountability for the actual product that we ship as a company. I plan to make sure that they are involved in refining requirements, which will require a greater product understanding and expertise. We’ll also be able to have more ownership and focus on getting feedback from our stakeholders throughout the project. I’ve loved doing this as a developer in the past (even if not in the moment), and I hope that it helps bring the developers on our teams closer to the people that they are solving problems for. In addition to the individual developers, I hope that I can work with the leads, several of which are leading a small team for the first time, in order to help them feel comfortable leading and able to feel an even greater sense of ownership for the areas their teams cover.
Among all the things required for me to learn how to manage with a layer of indirection, I’m nervous but also excited to learn how to lead a team where I no longer know how the majority of the code works at a low level. I’ve preached since day one of being a team lead that leads should not be expected to know everything about the code in their area, and it's often a mistake to try and do so, but I still found myself trying to do this in the past year and a half - however, with 200% or more code that falls into my scope, it is unreasonable for me to think I can do this at all at this point.
There are tons of little goals that I have for work this coming year, but most importantly in the coming year, I want to really focus on continuing to make time for non-work related interests. Reflecting and remembering the interest I developed in paddle boarding this past year has me excited to continue that activity as soon as the weather allows. Until that happens, I hope to get into a routine with yoga again in the coming year - since the pandemic started I’ve had routines continue to get messed up as we would go in and out of quarantine, but now that things are more “stable” I want to get back into it. That being said I’m nervous about trying to establish a new routine right at the start of the year when I know I’m also going to be getting major surgery right away in March that will inevitably reset that routine all over again.
I’ll close this out with a cliché that I hope to continue writing more. In the past, I wanted to write because I thought it was just a good idea, and potentially wanted some attention, but now I would like to get more practice writing to improve my effectiveness as a communicator so that I can harness my influence as a leader in my new role.
Reach out if you have any questions, comments, thoughts!