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Inviting Juniors to Learn New Skills

Different Skillsets
Juniors

23 November, 2021

William Bajzek
William Bajzek

Director of Engineering at Sapphire Digital

William Bajzek, Director of Engineering at Sapphire Digital, is always keeping his eyes open for ways that he can give his team a chance to learn something new.

Problem

After two decades of being a software developer, I was ready for some new challenges but wasn’t sure what was next for my career. I had never been interested in management but it felt like the only direction to grow, but there didn’t seem to be room in my organization for it.

At the same time, there didn’t seem to be a path to get there. Working out of a satellite office for my company as an individual contributor, my local coworkers and I were not always involved in the hiring or onboarding processes for new team members in our other locations. This created organizational barriers based on geography that didn’t make sense for the small team we had and seemed to limit opportunities for growth.

Actions taken

The organizational isolation hit a peak for me when I learned of a new associate engineer during our team standup on his first day on the job. I decided that from then on, I was going to make a point of having a one-on-one with new team members during their first week just to break the ice. Getting to know people in a remote environment takes some deliberate effort and nobody was going to do that for me.

A few weeks later, another associate engineer started, and after our meet-and-greet, I asked her to shadow me on the ticket I was working on. As it happened, that other new developer was available, so I invited him to join us as well. We quickly settled into roles where the newest developer was “driving,” while the other talked her through the work and I was there to provide overall guidance and answer any questions that came up.

It was an ambitious project for two employees who were still so new, but we worked together in this way for six weeks and it ended up being a really great learning opportunity for them. Eventually, as our team grew, we decided to split into two teams and my successful approach with these two led to me being given a team leadership role, and they joined as my key developers.

Over time they have grown into senior and leadership roles themselves, and while I can’t take credit for their accomplishments, I am proud to have recognized the opportunity to cultivate their talent and even more proud of what the two of them have become.

Lessons learned

  • The investment that I made in these two ICs really paid off over time. Some managers are reluctant to extend opportunities like this to very new employees, but giving them a chance to exceed themselves proved to be just what they needed to reach that next level.
  • I was able to slowly pass over my responsibilities as a team lead to my subordinates as I grew within the company myself. It was empowering for my employee to have some agency over the solutions that they were tasked to build. I wanted to give them that freedom. A great piece of advice I was given when I became a team lead was “train your successor.” You don’t want to be the only person that people go to when they have a question. Everything that you do should be something that somebody else can cover should the need arise. In turn, my people becoming more and more self-sufficient didn’t make me redundant; it gave me my own room to grow.

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