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From Developer to Manager

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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Greg Thomas

Software Architect

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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