#101 - Missed delegation opportunities
Plus: Good candidates is hard work
I won’t lie; when I started offboarding myself from my current job a few weeks ago I was a little anxious. I was pretty sure that team members would step up and learn quickly. It felt relatively unlikely that we’d discover gaps that could threaten near-term milestones. One worries nonetheless.
Instead, I’m really impressed with how well everything has gone. If anything the team has come together even closer, rallying to fill such holes as my departing creates. There’ll certainly need to be another hire - the team is losing a person’s worth of effort, after all. But the big picture work, both technical and stakeholder facing, is in extremely capable hands. I’ve felt increasingly superfluous this past week. That’s the best possible outcome.
But that also means that I’ve been surrounded all month with examples of things I could (should!) have been delegating and documenting earlier. Activities I thought only I could perform are in fact somehow getting performed. Things I could have usefully have documented ages ago, are only now finally getting written up. It’s not a disaster, nobody died of it. And yet there were real missed opportunities for team member growth and for me to have spent more time focussing on strategic goals.
That’s regrettable, but I’m not raking myself over the coals for it (much). Managing is like performing research, or building technical solutions. You never get to a point where you’ve learned enough to stop honing your skills. There’s only continued growth, or stagnation. I’m leaving this job, project, and team in better shape than I found it. I’m leaving the role a better manager than when I arrived, too.
With that note (this newsletter will stop being all about me next week, I promise!), on to the roundup!
In an increasingly tough hiring market, we can’t just post a job ad somewhere and hope that we get a flood of applications from amazing candidates. That approach works in faculty and postdoc searches, where the jobs are incredibly scarce and applicants are plentiful. But research computing is different. The world’s awash in technical job openings. A “Fire and forget” approach to getting candidates for jobs isn’t enough.
Richmond points out that the quality of candidates for her job is much higher for the labour-intensive, lower-quantity methods of recruiting candidates - such as candidates like the manager contacted directly, come from internal referrals, or were contacted by trained recruiters.
As we progress in our career we can build a network of people we know would be good hires or who we trust to recommend good hires. But we can only know so many people! And we want to be able to hire from outside of our own network, if only to make sure we’re getting broader perspectives and expertise into the team.
What have you found works for you? Do any readers in academia have any experience with using recruiters to hire research computing and data team members? What other approaches have ben successful?
Managing people - Andreas Klinger
This is a bullet-point list aimed at new managers, and so there’s some basics here - but it’s always useful to review the basics, and we always have new members joining the list (hi!) including new managers.
I like this list because it expresses a lot of ideas that have come up on the list before, but in ways I haven’t read. I wouldn’t necessarily express all of those thoughts this way, but it’s useful to get another take on ideas. Some highlights:
As a manager, everything is your fault
You manage processes; you lead people
Processes are expectations made explicit
In every discussion/project/problem/situation, it needs to be clear who makes decisions
Avoid back and forth
Trust through transparency
Don’t confuse autonomy and abandonment
I think the last one I chose, “don’t confuse autonomy and abandonment”, is particularly relevant for those of us with research backgrounds. We tend to expect and grant a large degree of autonomy - which is great! But that doesn’t mean not giving our team members what they need to succeed, including as much context and, yes, guidance and direction as they require. The trick is not to always be giving them more guidance and direction than they require.
8 Tactics to Help Manage Perfectionists at Work - Alexandria Hewko, Fellow Blog
Our community, people with research backgrounds, tilts towards perfectionism. Being committed to doing things well is great! And, like all good things, it can be taken to an extreme which becomes dysfunctional.
I think we all can recognize the signs of perfectionism; Hewko suggests an approach to leading a perfectionist on your team. First is (as with all team members) to acknowledge, to yourself and to them, their positive traits, and lean into those strengths where possible. Then, Hewko tells us, it’s necessary to set a bit of direction. Coach them to delegate (and help them avoid micromanaging the delegated task), and gently take control of their priority lists so they’re not rabbit holing down unnecessarily. Build and use lines of communication by making sure to build trust in your one-on-ones so they can share what’s going on, give constructive feedback, and let them know that coming up short is ok. Finally, make sure they’re in the right role and working on the right things for their skills and tendencies.
Using Mermaid syntax in Markdown on GitHub to get rendered flowcharts or graphs or sequence diagrams or gantt charts is now live. We’ve already started using this. No more firing up Keynote or draw.io just to draw a few boxes with arrows!
I’m a sucker for useful interactive explanations of things, it’s a great example of the power of computing for insight. Here’s an interactive article explaining GPS.
Universal Paperclips: Help the AI running a paperclip factory achieve sentience.
I’m really fascinated by these new open-source no-code/low-code tools for building internal applications, like Appsmith. Is anyone using things like this for internal ? How’s it going?
And that’s it for another week. Let me know what you thought, or if you have anything you’d like to share about the newsletter or management. Just email me or reply to this newsletter if you get it in your inbox.
Have a great weekend, and good luck in the coming week with your research computing team,