#75 - 24 July 2021
Manager or IC: why not both (at different times)? Project oversight without interference; Candidate packets;
Success as a manger is defined by a lot of hard work and tough conversations that will pay off over very long timescales. It’s way less immediately gratifying than deploying a new feature or making the CI/CD dashboard lights all green again.
Success or possible success for me this week week: I think I managed to convince some stakeholders to not make a bad and limiting data-related decision which would have limited the scientific outcomes of a four-year effort; and I’m coaching some team members to take on increasing planning and coordination responsibilities, with an eye towards gauging their interest and current ability towards being leads themselves, over a process which will likely take months. Small steps, tough conversations (there’ll be a lot of feedback conversations about effectiveness in the new responsibilities - many giving positive feedback, but not all), long term payoff.
If you find yourself longing for the more immediate feedback of a “maker” rather than “multiplier role”, be aware that’s a career path that is absolutely possible and badly under-appreciated, as comes up in the “Managing Your Own Career” section. It’s tougher in than it needs to be, but there’s nothing wrong and a lot to be said for going back and forth between the immediacy and hands-on nature of individual contributor work and the big-picture and coordination of people, project, or product management.
But I’m getting ahead of myself - on to the roundup!
Use a candidate packet to improve your interview process - Jade Rubick
Last week we looked at Rubick’s advice on hiring and recruiting, and one part was to provide a packet of information about the job, the work, and the organization to candidates after initial screening. Here Rubick goes into more details on what to consider including:
Details on the interview process
Why the organization is important, what you’re trying to do
How work works - remote if that’s relevant, or offices
Salary bands and how salaries work
How career growth and guidance works
Information about inclusion and diversity
It’s a decent amount of work, but it will need updating only occasionally, and will make your organization look considerably more professional, more thoughtful about team members, and thus more trustworthy, than most of the organizations they’re applying to.
Managing Your Own Career
Mitchell’s New Role at HashiCorp - Mitchell Hashimoto
From individual contributor to manager, and back again - Gemma Barlow
The founder, once CEO and now CTO, of HashiCorp is taking on a new role - a regular old individual contributor job.
I think we normally think of our next career steps as managers as managing increasingly large efforts, and then becoming a manager of managers. That’s a good and rewarding career path, and you shouldn’t just pursue it just because it’s the default. The engineer/manager pendulum, going back between manager and individual contributor, is also a rewarding path, and one with its own advantages - you get to develop skills both looking at the big picture and maintaining technical depth and currency. You also get to stay strong in multiple very different ways of influencing the work of others rather than leaning on one or the other set of tools.
Personally, I’ve gone from researcher, to research computing staff, to research computing planning as an interim CTO, back to an individual contributor, learning new skills in bioinformatics, into a manager again of a genomics platform effort, into a sort-of-director (in that I coordinate leads). I don’t know what my next role will be, but I’m leaning strongly towards individual contributor again. Being an IC who has seen the big picture can make you a more valuable IC - and it can be more fun work, too, understanding more clearly how your effort plugs into a bigger picture. Being a manager who’s recently gotten their hands dirty recently doing the real work can make you a more valuable manager, too, understanding more viscerally what’s involved with the work you’re coordinating and being better able to foresee issues.
Trying to be a manager and an IC at the same time is a mistake, but doing them sequentially - or cyclically? It can be a lot of fun, and it’s a possibility you should genuinely consider; especially in research, where there is always so much fun stuff to learn.
(Having said all this, I’m not sure I love the fact that Hashimoto is moving to an individual contributor role in the same company. It’s the company that bears his name, where he’s still very close with the CEO and board, after all. How much pushback do you think he will get from “peers” or his manager when he has a bad idea?)
Guiding critical projects without micromanaging - Camille Fournier
However, as a senior manager, at some point you can make it harder for your managers to succeed when you give them very little structure to work with. It’s tempting to say “I don’t care how you do any of it as long as it gets done.” But that doesn’t help people figure out what is important to you, so they have to guess at what they share, when, and how.
It’s tough to strike a balance between being involved enough and not being too involved in any major effort. The fact is, if a project is important enough to be your radar as a manager (at any level) radar, it probably involves multiple people reporting to you. At that point it is part of your job to make sure the necessary coordination is happening, and that the objectives of the project are being met.
Fournier started having monthly status meetings on a major project:
First of all, this was a chance for discussion. I got to ask hard questions, and the team leadership got to show off. The team was forced to reach some agreement on the status before showing it to me, and my questions could reveal disagreements that they may not have resolved fully [….] And my presence was good for all of us, because it forced a group that didn’t all share reporting lines below me to get on the same page, and gave each the opportunity to highlight disagreements with the others in real-time when they didn’t feel aligned.
While this comes up all the time in projects, she points out that can be useful in other areas too where there are opportunities for misalignment, or changes are happening that require guidance from someone who sees more context and can share it. In those cases, where there’s no project (and thus no clear end), she councils that it’s important to remember to end the meetings when there’s no longer need for them.
Ever wanted to say “I’m in: I have full access to the mainframe now.”? Getting z/OS running on an Ubuntu laptop.
Continues to boggle my mind that for between $3-$22USD/minute, you can schedule antenna time to download data from a satellite. Here’s how to use AWS Ground Station from the command line.