When I first started this list, back in 2014, I wrote that technical leaders should stop coding and focus on their teams.
Now, here I am, working as an Engineering Manager, and I’m learning Go and Kubernetes.
I need a shared vocabulary with my team to be an effective leader.
After all, if my team was in Mexico, I might take Spanish lessons. Not because they don’t speak any English, but because it would help us work better together for many reasons.
First, it shows I’m reaching across the divide. Instead of taking the stance, “I’ll stay here, you come to me,” it’s my way of coming to them. Each person on the team has given me positive feedback at my intention to learn more about their work first-hand. They see the divide but are pretty much powerless to come the other way.
Second, it allows me to really appreciate their struggles and victories. Without this, all I can do is act like a cheerleader when things go wrong, or a party-planner when things go well. It’s not authentic; it’s just part of my job as a manager. But when I appreciate the challenge of a problem and the ingeniousness of a solution, it brings us together in a way that may be impossible without it.
Third, it acknowledges the dependence I have on them. I’m asking my team to help me learn these things, placing them in the position of teacher/mentor and me as the student/n00b. This inverts the power dynamic, and through my struggles to learn reminds me every day how much I need them.
I didn’t expect to do this 6 weeks ago, but I’m glad I am.
But as I do this, I am cautious not to get in their way.
I won’t be picking up production tasks, hogging the good projects, or pretending that my main job is engineering.
My job is leading the team by creating an environment where everyone can fully contribute to problem-solving.
And at this point, that environment will benefit from more trust and understanding between myself and the team.
Keeping the end goal in mind is key, and my goal is deeper building trust relationships.
So, that’s my goal — better relationships with my team through re-learning to code.
If you’ve gotten too far from the technology to really understand it, and remember the ups and downs, maybe it’s time to dive back in.
Or, maybe it’s time to try something else.
But no matter what, don’t stop trying.