Like lots of people who have been around technology for a while, I don’t have much of a classical business upbringing. This general ignorance of The Rules has helped create new styles of management and work environments that offer a whole lot of benefits over The Old Ways in my father’s days of computer-less desks, cigarette smoke heavy in the air, and not wearing a tie about as casual as a Friday got.
Still, when it comes to leadership, it’s good to be a little atavistic about watching what we say, and when we say it. Formality isn’t always a four letter word and can instead help to guard you about saying things that can’t be unsaid.
The greatest leaders have a strong ability to empathize with their team. Leadership is not task management nor is it riding people to perform the minute details you think they need to perform to achieve your vision. True leadership recognizes that you need the people following you much more than they need you – without an understanding of their motivations or abilities, you’ll likely be unable to relate your goals to theirs.
If you’ve spent any time at all developing software, you’ve – willingly or unwillingly – had to come to terms with the fact that a huge part of your job isn’t writing new code, but is instead about playing detective and recreating causes to problems so that you could fix them.
One of the principles I live by both in my professional as well as personal life is to appreciate what’s come before me. Recognizing that while there are often opportunities for improvement, decisions made before you were around are what allowed you the opportunity you have today to make things better.
It’s well known that a major component to a successful user experience is absolute consistency. Apple does this better than almost anyone, and as their desktop and mobile OS quickly merge it will become even more consistent than it already is today. For the most part Microsoft is a close second, and I say this even after factoring in the fact that the new Metro UI has a certaindisjointedfeel to it of something new bolted onto something old. In fact, their consistency has opened them up to criticism: Windows 7 wasn’t so different from Win95, after all.
While listening to a great interview over at This Developer’s Life, I started thinking about how I personally deal with stress and pressure. We’ve had our share of catastrophes at WAM, like everyone in the game of software development it comes with the territory whether it’s working on client projects or your own products. The scenarios are the same: something isn’t working the way it’s supposed to work, there’s a problem you never saw before, and someone is upset – worse: they’re looking at you to fix it.
Like so many times in life, you have two paths you can choose to follow in these situations, the way I see it. You can Panic or you can Relax.
I, being a child of the 80s, will always and forever listen to Frankie, and Frankie says “Relax”. In addition to being an amazing dance song, it’s also sound advice in almost any situation where it is an option.
In the South Seas there is a cargo cult of people. During the war they saw
airplanes land with lots of good materials, and they want the same
thing to happen now. So they’ve arranged to imitate things like
runways, to put fires along the sides of the runways, to make a
wooden hut for a man to sit in, with two wooden pieces on his head
like headphones and bars of bamboo sticking out like antennas–he’s
the controller–and they wait for the airplanes to land. They’re
doing everything right. The form is perfect. It looks exactly the
way it looked before. But it doesn’t work. No airplanes land. So
I call these things cargo cult science, because they follow all the
apparent precepts and forms of scientific investigation, but
they’re missing something essential, because the planes don’t land.
As of late, there’s a lot of greatstuff I like about what Microsoft has been up to. They’re more open, more transparent, and more connected than they’ve ever been – and I think the result of all this is a more relevant company than they’ve been in a long time. Today, Microsoft announced TypeScript as one more attempt to reach out to developers, make their lives easier, and make the web a more open place and a platform that’s easier than ever to develop for.
It’s common in technical fields to attract the more introverted personalities. Often, they’ve honed their skills over a period of years, working alone in their bedrooms and offices, absorbing content from manuals and documentation that nobody else reads. Even in today’s hyper-connected world where there’s a forum of likeminded individuals studying the same fields you’re interested in, it’s still very much mostly a solo endeavor. At the end of the day, you still need to sit down and create and implement a design, write code, test, deploy, and any number of other tasks related to today’s tech world – and do it alone.
Because of this, there’s a tendency for these personalities to retain a go at it alone attitude, even when working side by side with others in an organization on a complex project with many moving parts. This is true in a large organizations as well as small: In our company, which is still tiny at under 20 people, attempting to work in a vacuum often creates problems.
A couple of days ago, DoneDone - the issue tracking tool (for humans) that I help work on at WAM - experienced some downtime due to a server update which inadvertently rebooted our servers. While the fact that DoneDone was down for a short period wasn’t anyone’s idea of ideal, I can’t help but get excited when we make mistakes because mistakes are the only currency I can create, and I can spend that currency on lessons that help make our organization better.