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Defeating the Challenges of Staying Technical While Being a Manager

Dev Processes
Personal growth
Different Skillsets
Coaching / Training / Mentorship

20 December, 2018

Jossie Haines, Platform Engineering Director at Tile, contributes vital information to help managers stay tech savvy despite the challenging grey areas that surface when managing a new team.

Problem

At my previous company, I had the benefit of already knowing the code base as a manager. This familiarity can lend itself well to a first-time manager, as it eliminates the extra time it takes to get up to speed on tech, amongst other hurdles involved in learning new management skills. Understanding the tech of a new team you will be managing is ideal, but not always the case. So, how do you overcome the challenges of staying technical while being a manager?

Actions taken

  • Learn on your own
  • Read the documentation/code reviews if any, and be cautious to not ask questions already covered in the existing documentation.
  • Take a class or read a book/article related to the technology that your team is working with.
  • Ask questions and be vulnerable
  • Have those conversations with your technical engineers. There is an unspoken six-month period at the beginning where you can ramp up on the new tech and pose questions to the things you do not understand. After that period, engineers tend to judge managers for not knowing the basic architecture.
  • Show your understanding
  • You should be able to, as a manager, draw up the technical architecture for a project on a whiteboard and be able to explain it in pretty good detail. You do not need to know every piece of the code, but you should be able to understand where the future growth paths are.

Lessons learned

  • Learn as much as you can about tech in your first six months.
  • Reading documentation doesn't always cut it. Face to face conversations are key to understanding the basis of the architecture.
  • Showing a bit of vulnerability as a manager makes you more relatable than just pretending to be a perfect know it all.
  • Asking questions means you are interested and care about what you are working on, versus not asking any questions and adding pressure to your credibility.
  • Treat everyone as an equal learning opportunity. Do not just ask your leads for insight. Extend the discussions to juniors as well, because you will be fascinated by what you could learn from them.
  • Understanding the technical architecture for a project allows you to have an intelligent conversation with engineers and help them solve problems.

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