Managing talent for tech leads
When I’ve been promoted to a leadership position, one of my greatest challenges was the management of other developers on career progression. I wasn’t sure what was the best way to encourage people to improve themselves, because if I push too hard they may feel I’m a jerk boss and feel unmotivated, but on the other side, I couldn’t be too soft, or else I wouldn’t be doing my job correctly.
The main difficulty is that this hasn’t a straightforward solution, far from programming problems I was used to. Hopefully, this article can help you take your first steps on people development in the technology industry.
Start with hiring
If you want to work with team players that always want to improve themselves, you have to hire people that are already predisposed, because it’s very hard (if not impossible) to change someone.
So when interviewing, look for lifelong learners, ask them about career goals and what motivates them. It will make your job easier.
Define clear expectations
Ok, now you hired the best people and they want to grow. But first, they need to know what is expected from their current role. That will be helpful to identify some skills that they need to develop in order to fulfill their current position.
For example, in my team, it’s expected that all software engineers write automated tests for all their code they have developed. However, I’ve noticed some developers were struggling with unit tests. In this case, I’ve suggested the person invest some time reading articles or books and practicing this specific skill.
Match career with personal goals
What else they should focus their study on? You should help them define what skills are the most valuable and makes sense for your team and your company.
It helps if your company has defined a career ladder, so you know what is expected to reach the next level. For example, for a junior developer that currently works on specific features or minor bug fixes, it makes sense to focus her study on software architecture because in the future it is expected that she will tackle big projects from scratch.
Promote a safe environment
According to Google’s People Operations, psychological safety is a key dynamic to create a successful team. In this context that means:
- Make it clear that you aren’t unsatisfied with current people’s performance (unless that is the case), and instead, you just want to help them to reach the next level. This will make them comfortable and motivated during their journey and will also engage them.
- Don’t require them to use extra hours after work for studying, because you can cause burnout. Instead, you should find opportunities during work hours that can take people out of their comfort zone, like giving some new responsibilities.
Schedule recurrent 1:1s
Now you have to establish checkpoints so both you and the other person won’t fall into the trap of just keep doing common daily job activities and forget about career development. I will suggest doing weekly 30 minutes for all your directs.
Define with your direct small action points that she can work during the next week and in the next one-on-one meeting you can both discuss its results and choose the next goals. The idea is to take the person out of the comfort zone without causing too much anxiety.
For example, for someone that wants to improve her knowledge about unit tests:
- First week goal: read articles about unit tests and the Jest framework.
- Second week goal: prepare a presentation about the content learned in the previous week.
- Third week goal: present a tech talk to the company using the presentation.
I’ve written this as an initial guide for new leaders, so keep in mind this is a very complex subject, and it may or it may not work for you, especially because every direct differs from each other.
Thank you for reading and I hope you liked it!