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From Developer to Manager

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From Developer to Manager

Yesterday you were responsible for managing the bits and bytes of your life that constitute the code you created. Today you are responsible for a group of people’s well-being, their career growth and yes, their code.

That’s right, you have ascended to the level of leadership where it’s more than jumping in to save the project and lead the team through the late night battles, more than volunteering for the really tough project and what’s more you cannot go into the cave when something needs to get done by you, the one-person tiger team.

Today, you are the face that your team will look to for guidance, leadership and tutelage.

Do your shoulders feel a little heavy right now? Did you think it was going to be an all “let’s keep writing code as a team” and “if we keep our collective heads down we’ll all be happy” type of thing? What about when people start to irritate one another? Were you hoping to slide between them to get to the espresso machine?

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Getting started as a new Development Manager is a daunting task – yes, it IS a daunting task not CAN BE – it takes a lot of work to do it right and do it well. I remember my first day, after it was announced I was a newly minted manager of a new team. A slew of emails flew into my inbox from HR – objective reviews, manager meetings, training requests, etc, etc – and I was dying for guidance on what to do next, how to get started, where to start!

My Director sent me a great email, which sadly I’ve lost, but hopefully the spirit remains true here with some added thoughts of my own.But make no mistake, the position might be Manager, but the path is Leadership. If you want to be great, be a leader, if you want to be good, be a manager.

It’s about the People

If you think your new role is about shipping code, then you are sorely mistaken – that is for the Team Lead. The Manager is focussed on the people more than the code – the people are who think of, create, imagine and deliver the code – without the people, you have no code, no product. You need to focus on building a great team because a great team is what begets a great product. Was your team handed to you? No picksies?

No problem, now it’s time to figure out who does what, how, what they are good at, where they need help and how you can help them. I have sat down with many people over the years and every interaction is always different, and always has to be. A great way to interact with your team is via monthly one-on-one’s. It doesn’t have to be formal, they work better if they are not. The value is you give each person time to sit down with you, they pick your brain, you pick theirs, you adjust your plans, rinse and repeat.

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Your Team is not a Factory

It is very easy to fall into the trap of thinking that you are now running a production factory focussed on the delivery of goods and services to the world. Yes you write code, yes you deliver software (or perhaps some other good) but how you deliver this is just as important. The greatest part about being a developer is the creativity to imagine new approaches to the resolution of problems.

If you take over all the fun design stuff or give it to someone else to do, you are taking that element of fun away from your team. Every job has an element of fun to it and in software this is the greatest part – coming up with new ideas, leveraging new frameworks, trying out new ideas.

As their leader, you should be very concerned when you see the number of new ideas from your team dropping because it means they aren’t engaged, don’t feel empowered and even worse are simply going through the motions to get their work done. Don’t turn your team into a factory, focussed on producing code by certain dates, turn them into a team that churns out great ideas month over month. Those ideas will win every day.

Be Open

It is okay to not know everything. Newsflash – you don’t, I don’t – we only know what we can know. You don’t have to be the perfect leader for your team, whether you’ve been on the job for a few days or few years, there is no threshold for perfection. Be honest with your team on what you know, where things are at, what is next, what you are unsure of, where you need some help and clarification on.

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These are all great ways to show your humanity to your team. Sometimes you can’t tell them everything, sometimes you can only tell some people bits and pieces, but be open and honest on what you can share. The most rewarding response from a team is when you are open and they rally beside you to help you through it.

Help them Leap

So now you’ve met everyone, found out their likes and dislikes, what works, what doesn’t, where they want to go and don’t – now you need to think of how to grow them. Think of your team as plants and you want to grow them into trees. How do you do that? You listen to what they want to do, where they want to go, you look at where the company is and where it wants to go and you help them build those career paths.

“Waiting for someone to die” to take their position is not a career path, that is a career line, where they have abdicated themselves to waiting behind you (or someone else) to wait for their career to happen. There is always a path, there is always a direction, but not everyone can see it – and that is where your job is so critical.

Trust

This seems obvious right? Trust your team to do the right thing. Make the right call. Step up to the plate when you are not there. My biggest “tip of the hat” has always come when I’ve taken sick for a big meeting, presentation, deployment, etc only to come in the next day and see it went off without a hitch. Where I thought I was a linchpin, I wasn’t.

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The team realized the importance of what needed to be done (because I was open), they might not have known what was to be done today but they came up with some ideas to make it happen (because they are not a factory), they weren’t afraid to jump in and try something new (because they know how to leap) and they knew they could handle this (because we discuss more than their work) and THEY MADE IT HAPPEN.

Trust does not happen over night, it evolves, it grows, to get there you need to focus on honing your skills on the above traits to make it happen, each day, with each person, fostering that consistent message so you can get there.

A Culture Aside

You want to have a great culture like Hubspot or Valve or some other culture child of the day? Fantastic. Was that built overnight? No. Culture is not a transplant process, just as you cannot transplant someone’s soul into another person’s body. You can transplant parts and pieces but not the raison d’etre. It’s an evolutionary process, a growth that happens over time driven by your commitment to the above tenants.

You cannot create passion when it is not there, it is either there or it is not, some people fall into the wrong jobs by accident and it’s up to you to make sure they wake up wanting to get up and put both feet forward to help your team reach their goals.

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Remember the individuals, nurture the team, be open, help them leap and build trust. If you can do those 5 things, day after day after day than you will do more than become a manager, you’ll become a leader.

Featured photo credit: Matt Jones – Magdeleine via magdeleine.co

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