Gaining Technical and Product Knowledge
VP of Engineering at CareMessage
"I have a background in web development yet at my current company I was hired to lead the mobile team. In the beginning, there were many things that I did not understand. Of course I understood the concept of it all but I didn't have a plethora of direct technical knowledge. I, therefore, needed to find ways to increase my technical and product knowledge so that I could adequately lead this new team of mine."
First, I had to prioritize what were the most valuable items for me to learn from a professional perspective, and then what did I want to learn for myself. In reality, these two are connected but also disparate at the same time.
"I knew that I didn't have much particular expertise on our product so I began by simply observing the team - what was happening, how were they performing, and what was their ability to execute. Certainly, there were other things that I had a lot of depth and skills in, but by observing their expertise I began to build credibility because the team recognized that I wanted to get a better overall understanding."
"I then began reading and trying to review the code. I expected my engineers to be reviewing others' code but I was reviewing it for my own understanding. I would ask them questions about what was happening. Asked them to explain it to me. I asked not so that they had to defend their designs but so that I could learn. I was curious why they had chosen to do it that specific way and what was their reasoning for that."
"Simultaneously, I had set aside time before work to take some online classes. I wanted a deeper technical knowledge base of what our team was working on, so I signed up for relevant courses. For one hour, three days a week, I dedicated my own time to gain new knowledge. Again, it wasn't that I wanted to change the face of the team, I expected that my team already had this expertise, but the information was helpful for me. It helped my own confidence and my ability to converse with engineers about deeper technical aspects that I wasn't able to previously talk about because I didn't have the context."
- "Asking engineers questions for your own personal growth can also be a learning opportunity for individuals. It is a chance for them to articulate, reflect, and possibly improve upon something that they have already delivered or will deliver."
- "I have a growth mindset, I am always trying to learn. I set this same expectation for my team. I expect that if you're going to be on my team that you want to continue to learn and grow, and I will support you in that endeavor."
- "If nobody is asking you to gain new knowledge, then a good way to stay accountable is to share your own personal goals with your director, VP, or whomever you report to. Explain your intention, set up a timeline, and report back with your results. An alternative to this is setting your own goals and sharing them with the team. Let them know your ambition and ask if they're interested in learning with you. Encourage the team to get involved and then set aside the time."
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