Engineering Managers Should Code 31% of Their Time

Well…
I think the saying shouldn’t be “Managers should code X% of their time”. That’s just a tabloid/provocative headline, and it’s about getting a higher CTR (I took it one step further, ha!)…
This is about what you base your leadership on.
Leadership can come from a lot of places:
  • You can be the most charismatic guy in the room.
  • You may have superior technical skills.
  • You can have awesome interpersonal skills and the ability to find what drives any other person.
  • You may have all the right answers and be great in prioritizing tasks.
  • Or very big balls…
In many cases, leadership is about a combination of the above (not limited to it, obviously).
What I strongly believe in, is that you can’t be a great leader and an excellent manager if there’s not a minimal amount of each ingredient.
  • If you don’t have any charisma – you’re a handicapped leader.
  • If you have no clue regarding the technology your team is using – you’re a handicapped manager.
  • If you lack interpersonal skills – you’re handicapped.
  • If you can’t say what’s right and what’s next – handicapped.
  • No guts? Handicapped…
Choose your strengths, make them stronger… but don’t ignore your weaknesses! No one wants to follow a handicapped leader (and with no followers, who will you lead?)
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Goals

Goals are a good thing. You feel motivated to pursue them, you feel satisfied when you reach them.
You probably heard about SMART goals. If not, here’s a good place to start: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SMART_criteria
For your yearly planning or retrospective, SMART goals are a good tool to use.
But…
Here’s a thought I had: you owe yourself a BFG (patent pending, but inspiration comes from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BFG_(weapon)). A Big Freaking Goal (I know, it’s not freaking originally, but I aim towards young readers as well…).
Anyone needs at least one BFG. You don’t want to have too many of those, as they’re big, barely achievable (if you tell to other people about your BFG, they might thing you’re crazy or disconnected or immature or over ambitious or, well, you get the point), but it’s your BFG.
Maybe an example or two would help here:

  • Climbing Mt. Everest.
  • Be a CEO of a successful company.
  • Build the next Facebook
  • Reinvent Shopping…
A good method to distinguish a BFG from your regular SMART goal is that it’s a goal that you can’t see what happens after you achieve it.
You can’t imagine yourself taking the next step beyond your BFG. It’s just that big.
But it’ll be something you wake up in the morning, anticipating, thinking what you can do today to take one more step towards your BFG. In my world, that’s a good thing…
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Surprises

Some people say they like to be surprised. Sometimes it can be fun, really.

Most people don’t like to be surprised, though, especially not in their ‘professional life’. Surprises are rarely good nor fun…

There’s an old saying (well, not really old, not much of a saying) which goes something like: “If you don’t want to be surprised, don’t surprise others”.

The surprises I’m talking about can be many. For example, but not limited to:

  • You’re going to miss a deadline.
  • Your availability is going to change dramatically (going on a long vacation, for example)
  • You need to change an agreed understanding between you and a peer.
  • And more..

All of the above can be handled and nothing catastrophic will happen (probably), but the sooner your peers/managers learn about it, the better they can help you (and themselves) deal with the results.

You can also choose to not communicate the news because, hey, it’s going to happen anyway and you can handle it alone (and why bother others so early in advance), but then you might be surprised by their response once they learn about it in the last minute (or a little afterwards).

And as already mentioned above – if you don’t want to be surprised, don’t surprise others…

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