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Ask HN: I just got my first team lead. What should I do?
89 points by endymi0n on Dec 30, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 50 comments
Dear Community,

Lucky me (29, Software Engineer from Berlin, Germany) recently got a new job as a Lead Architect for a startup.

Now I'd say I'm not a bad engineer, but I've never been much of a "people person" or a natural leader. Although my colleagues treat me with a lot of respect, I still feel a little awkward. I'm a total newcomer to the "business" of managing, regularly keeping up with people and doing hiring/firing decisions, but I think I'm worst at delegating. Since the company is still pretty small, there's no choice for me than to get my hands dirty on coding and sysadmin stuff as well. Unfortunately, I'd rather do it all myself than entrusting and encouraging others with it, so I'm kind of playing my old role. Also, I'm having a hard time being a good listener, since I'm always coming up with my own ideas and notice that I'm mostly talking about myself which doesn't exactly make me more likeable, but it's hard to stop.

Reading "How to win friends and influence people" already helped me a lot with my people's skills, but I'm still struggling to get it all into practice.

Have you ever been in a similar situation? Do you know of any great resources, tips, tricks, hacks, communities or seminars short of doing an MBA (which I definitely wouldn't do due to time constraints and the bullshit factor)?

I'd really appreciate your help, especially from the engineer-turned-manager folks!



Three years ago, I was the sole employee/founder of my startup. Today, I'm CTO of a 21-person company with a 6-person dev team.

As an individual developer, my default loop is "Find something to do. Do it. Repeat."

As a CTO, my default loop is "First, cycle through all my employees and make sure that I have equipped them to be happy and productive in their jobs. Second, find something to do. If possible, delegate it; if not, do it. Repeat."

"First, cycle through all my employees and make sure that I have equipped them to be happy and productive in their jobs. Second, find something to do. If possible, delegate it; if not, do it. Repeat."

This is what I did in my role as team leader and earned the equivalent of Employee of the Year at a large firm. Its quite simple to say, more difficult to successfully implement and often even harder to quantify during a subsequent job interview, because when you do it well, to you its common sense or straight forward doing your job. As a result, its not necessarily easy to train into the behaviour of others. But it is quite easy to undersell (its easy for you) or oversell (can sound arrogant) how you did it and doesn't have the impact it should or could have on a hiring manager. Obviously referrals from those you worked with can be a much better testament to the impact you provided.

As a CTO, my default loop is "First, cycle through all my employees and make sure that I have equipped them to be happy and productive in their jobs. Second, find something to do. If possible, delegate it; if not, do it. Repeat."

I have nothing to add except that this struck me as such an excellent distillation that a mere upvote seemed inadequate.

I made a similar transition myself and have one piece of advice for you.

Forget about all that "leadership" and "management" bullshit. Seriously. When you have direct reports your primary function is to serve them. I'm not kidding - I know it sounds all squishy and kumbaya-ish but if you think about what it means to serve somebody else you'll have a really good compass to guide you through your day.

Everybody seems to throw around bits of advice around what to do and even how to do it. The problem is every person is different and since people make up teams, every team is different. Plus, they change. Don't get lost in the what and the how until you understand the why. Everybody on your team has different needs and serving those people means understanding their needs. Some people need to be micro-managed and some people need to be given tons of space. Don't let their needs/situation effect your respect for them and always remember that people change.

Your to "why" will be different than anybody else's answer to that question and will give you immense insight into which "what" and "how" things you pick up from all that advice that is out there. It will also determine what kind of a leader/manager you are. This is important.

Identify what makes you and others around you happy and you will probably find yourself asking "what should I do?" a lot less often. Oh, and in case it's not clear, don't be so naive to think that "happy" is all fun and games and wine and roses and group hugs. And don't forget that you serve the "team" too - it's an entity with its own needs and challenges.

Absolutely agreed.

There's a saying, "shit rolls downhill." I'd argue that a surprising amount of your job will be to keep that from happening to your people. Providing top-cover is one of the most important ways you can serve your team. Keep the crap off of them so they can concentrate on doing there jobs.

Yup. It's all about crap reduction. Nobody wants to deal with stupid shit. Most grown-ups understand life involves the occasional bit of excrement and can deal with it.

One of the biggest mistakes I see managers make is failing to view people as people. The shit flowing downhill is a symptom and not a given fact of life.

Agreed. This reminds me of the article from a few days ago about maximizing shareholder value being the 'dumbest idea': https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3392500 .

If you consider yourself a mini-CEO, you could think of your employer as your shareholders and your direct reports as your customers. If you can serve your customers well enough to make them happy and effective in the long run, you will also please your shareholders.

This may require periods of investment where you focus less on delivering immediate results and more on removing impediments for and building experience in the people who could help you achieve exponential results in following seasons.

"Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their efforts. For if either falls, his companion can lift him up; but pity the one who falls without another to lift him up. Also, if two lie down together, they can keep warm; but how can one person alone keep warm? And if someone overpowers one person, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not easily broken."

I think I'm worst at delegating

I'm having a hard time being a good listener

Wow that is a description of me 10 years ago to the T. I was always the guy that people turn to and the guy that pulled the project out. It can and does go to ones head. Be very careful to not become arrogant, I really wish someone gave me that advice 10 years ago.

As for your case specifically, the delegation is going to be the hardest one and the one that you have to cross the chasm on. Given your nature (I know from experience) it will be hard but you just have to trust in your people. Hire people that you believe are smarter than you, this will help in delegation because you will perceive their opinions higher than your own. Also try to remember, you design systems the way you do because it worked for you, they will design it their different way because they are drawing on what worked for them, look at it as an opportunity to learn a different way of doing things. Many times when people like you and I enter this type of role we believe that we are the authority, it can make working with our personality type unbearable when you are a subordinate. Instead take it as an opportunity to learn. Help them make their solutions better, not make your solutions better. Just because you are the lead does not mean you are the best at every situation, be humble and try to be an eternal student, that is the best advice I can give you.

Shortly before I started managing engineers I read "Managing Humans" (I'd already been following http://www.randsinrepose.com/) and found it helpful. One of the best resources I found was (luckily) my own boss. Find others in a similar (or higher) position and talk with them regularly, openly, and candidly about any challenges you're facing.

I wish I had better advice, but what you'll find is that being a good manager/team lead is at least as hard as your old job (and probably harder). Continuing to do your old job alongside it, while probably a good idea for your own job satisfaction/sanity, will only make it harder.

Random bits of advice I find helpful:

* Your primary job is to shield your direct reports from management BS (false priorities, unrealistic deadlines, company drama); while this is less of a problem at a small startup, don't ignore it. Your secondary job is to make your direct reports look good; promote what they're doing and make sure what they're doing is aligned with the company's goals.

* Schedule 1:1 meetings. See Rands' advice on how to structure and run them, but basically keep them short, informal, and regular. Start with a softball and use it as a time for your direct reports to warn you about any upcoming problems that may be bubbling. Avoid the temptation for status reports, one larger team meeting instead, etc. Sit down with each individual direct report and get to know them better.

* Set clear goals and priorities for everyone.

* Avoid the temptation to micro-manage. You may eventually find you have an employee who has to be micromanaged, but most people hate it and will find it counter-productive. While this sounds obvious, it's hard for someone who likely got to their new management position because they were the best at the job they're now managing. Let people make mistakes and then let them recover from them.

The first thing you need to do is learn the capabilities of your team.

Who are the best programmers? Who are the best programmers for the given types of problems you have to solve? Who are the most creative thinkers? Who is good at meeting deadlines?

If somebody is bad at meeting deadlines, why?

One of the best programmers I've ever worked with was always missing deadlines. Turns out, it was only because he was really bad at estimating time. Once I learned that, and started handling some of his estimates for him, he was the best programmer on paper too.

As for managing, I try not to micro-manage, but it's easier to get a sense of who does and doesn't need it once you understand, from a manager's perspective, who is capable of what, and to what degree of consistency.

For the actual management, most of the time, I would just periodically see if anybody needed any assistance, and let them know that I was always happy to help where needed.

Great advice, thanks! On a sidenote, that guy:

"One of the best programmers I've ever worked with was always missing deadlines. Turns out, it was only because he was really bad at estimating time. Once I learned that, and started handling some of his estimates for him, he was the best programmer on paper too."

...was most probably me =D

The best advice I could give is, whenever someone you manage brings you a problem, resist taking it away and solving it for them. Instead, give them some pointers on how they might solve it, but leave ownership of the solution with them. This is hard to do consistently, particularly when it would take you less time to do the work yourself, but the long-term effect is that you grow a team of self-sufficient people, who only bring you problems when they have tried hard to solve them themselves and genuinely need your help. This in turn means your time is freed up to work on the most important things.

This is very important imho - the temptation to just do it yourself is for me personally a hard thing to resist, but you will definitely strengthen your team this way and gain more respect from your developers. You obviously want to be there for them for any help and advice, but allow them to be the ones to solve it in the end.

Congratulations on the new job!

It sounds like you've already identified your weaknesses, and they are EXTREMELY COMMON - especially for really great engineers.

You used the word entrust, and this is key. It demonstrates that you have a great sense of ownership over the work, and feel personally responsible for the team's output. This is great, but now that you are the team leader and not the team itself, you need to get three additional ideas burned into your brain.

1: The members of your team are working with you toward a common goal, but they are not performing brain surgery on your first-born child. A little imperfection and inefficiency is OK. In fact, it's good business.

2: It is your job to set that common goal - which must be based on a business goal - and get the team to buy into it. Getting buy-in is, ironically, more a function of how well the individuals on your team believe you hear their opinions than how well they hear yours, so this is a great opportunity to practice your listening skills. But once you are all focused on the goal, the fact that someone solved a problem differently or more slowly than you would have will bother you less, because you will know you were doing other important stuff at the time and together you got closer to the goal than you would have alone.

3: Innovation means trying things and learning from them. The more people on your team try things, the more you all get to learn, so give them the space to try and celebrate the process as a team. Yes, sometimes that means people will try things you already know won't work, but sometimes you will learn a better way, or fail in a new way that leads to a new success. None of it will be a waste of time.

Finally, remember that these apply to your own performance on the team as well. Allow yourself the time to experiment and learn as a manager. Listening, delegating, and coaching are all learnable skills that require practice more than study, so just work at it and know that you'll get better at it.

Agile Coaching helped quite a lot (even if you don't use Agile)[1].

A CTO of a very successful startup on the valley recommended me Difficult Conversations[2].

As long as you remember that empowering other people to do great work is very valuable in itself (as it is a multiplier), you can motivate yourself into getting to understand this side of software development.

It is not only important for tech leads, but for CTOs, and open source project leads.

Good luck on your new job!

[1] http://pragprog.com/book/sdcoach/agile-coaching

[2] http://www.amazon.com/Difficult-Conversations-Discuss-What-M...

I generally think of it this way: a manager tells you what you have to do. A tech lead tells you what you'd be stupid not to do. You won't have much formal authority. At the same time, you hopefully won't be under much formal authority if you chose the right startup.

At the same time, you earn a significant amount of "political capital". People will probably give you a certain amount of deference. And you earn the unique benefit of having a unique perspective on something.

Don't think this can't all be taken away from you, because it can, either due to political or technical considerations. You can get marginalized by someone with an agenda, or you can lose the respect of your peers with a few wrong decisions.

The good news is that you really don't need great leadership or people skills. You just need to convince people that the benefit of having worked with you is greater than the cost of having to put up with you. People are willing to forgive the occasional foot-in-mouth incident or the occasional screw up. You just have to make sure people know what benefits you're providing them in return. And having been objectively right or gotten great results will more than make up for having accidentally hurt a couple of feelings in the process.

Congratulations on becoming the lead. You already got some excellent advise in this thread.

I found some good advice about managing and leading teams in books:

"The Wisdom of Teams: Creating the High-Performance Organization" by Jon R. Katzenbach, Douglas K. Smith

"Leading at the Edge : Leadership Lessons from the Extraordinary Saga of Shackleton's Antarctic Expedition" by Dennis N. T. Perkins, Margaret P. Holtman, Paul R. Kessler, Catherine McCarthy.

Few suggestions from personal experiences:

About not delegating, getting your hands dirty can play to your benefit if positioned right as trying to understand what team members goes through in their activities so that you can make better decisions that are in best interests of team members.

Consider your team lead role as mentoring role and not as a "manager" role. Allow people to make mistakes and do lesson learnt type sessions.

Depending on the size of team, have lunch/ informal gathering as a team and also meet with individual team members informally at regular basis.

Watch patterns and signs in how team behaves around you. If they are quiet around you or always agreeing with you, you have a problem.

Some of the comments below are a bit scary to me, it seems everyone things architect = manager and I work in a company where this is also the prevailing thought and I just can't agree with this line of thinking. There are a lot of nuances to developing a complex application and the longer someone gets away from coding on a daily basis the more they forget these things, they forget how to "think like a programmer", they overly abstract things and trivialize things. I can't help but realize that the "architects" who I have dealt with who no longer write code always seem to be stuck in the past, they want to use older libraries, patterns, etc that they used back when they were programming even if the prevailing wisdom of the platform currently differs. I guess the only advice is to be aware of this and don't become like this, you still should be at the code level, at least part of the time, if you are truly an architect and not just a manager.

Accept that being a lead is going to be challenging. That whatever tasks you have taken on for yourself, you may or may not get to them when you want to. Accept that you will be the bridge between upper management and the technical folks and that you will be dealing with any number of issues.

Also, keep in mind that there are lots of resources out there about how to lead people and be a better leader. Look to the Harvard Business Review ( http://hbr.org ) for some good resources on how to be a better leader.

At the end of the day, as a lead, there is a process that you can follow to help you along. The process includes the following: 1) Meet with your team and work out what tasks are assigned, follow up with each team member and confirm that they understand the assignment by asking them to describe to you what they think they are doing, follow up with each team member on their assignment and measure their progress, and finally, check in with them to review their work and let them know when they are done or have completed their assignment - then start again. Use this process no matter how small or big the assignment is.

Some folks use an agile like approach to management of projects and one of the nice things out of this world is SCRUM and the concept of daily stand up meetings. One of the things I would recommend is to get into the rhythm of meeting with your team for about 15 minutes every day to check progress, see what they have accomplished and see what they are working on for the next day and to see if there are any things keeping them from meeting their goals. If you ever hear a complaint, that is a red flag and try to use whatever resources you have to remove those obstacles.

At the end of the day, you only have so much time and energy. Do the best you can and never loose your cool no matter what the situation is.

Best wishes and a great new year!

Do you like your team members? If not, find out why and find a reason to like them. Once you develop that basis to like your team members, everything else will fall in to place. You will take interest in their activities, not just in terms of getting your work done, but in terms of what they are trying to achieve.

Talk to your team members on an individual basis frequently and in an informal setting - people are much more open in an informal setting. Keep these meetings to 5 mins. If there are more topics than can be covered in 5 mins, increase the frequency of meetings, not the length.

Never do your team member's work. Help them in every way for them to do their work, but just don't do it for them.

(Break every rule / advice that people are giving out. Finding what works for you is one of best parts of management)

The fact that you're even asking how to be good at this is a really good sign. I wish some of the folks that I've worked under in the past would have done the same. There's lots of good advice in this thread.

My advice is to find a way to handle the pressure from above without letting it affect how you treat your team. Technical teams are built on a tremendous amount of trust and understanding.

If you're constantly getting hammered on by your non-technical boss, try not to pass the buck and hammer your team in turn. You may find yourself in very combative situations with the nontechnical leadership, and you certainly wouldn't want your teammates to feel the same way about you. That makes for a very ugly environment, and most smart people won't stick around for too long if that happens.

Set up weekly 1:1 meetings. Never miss them. And whenever possible, do the meetings outside, even if it is just taking a walk.

I came here to say exactly the same thing... so, here's my other piece of advice: Think about very good managers that you've had; what was it that made them good managers? Try to emulate that (for me it was the weekly 1:1).

Don't express appreciation, show appreciation. What do I mean?

Express appreciation: Hi Jane, I really appreciate that you worked until midnight to get rid of that bug.

Show appreciation: Hi Jane, I looked through the code - and you've really improved it by replacing that buggy lookup with a hash function.

Anybody can do the first and it does not take time or effort. The second shows that you've taken some interest and taken the trouble to understand what they've done.

An MBA probably won't help you and may even make it worse.

The first step is recognizing there's a problem and seek help, which you've done and I congratulate you for that. I think you just have to be more patient and humble.

Even if you think you're the smartest person in the company, you have to learn that others can bring something to the table also. Just setup what the goals are of the meeting at the start then give people a chance to speak and withhold your own opinion until after you've heard everyone else talk at the end. Again don't try to interrupt too much and give everyone a chance to voice their opinion, and use it as an opportunity to try to learn something from others (ie. respect that others have something to teach you as well). And sometimes you'd be surprised at learning something you didn't expect or know beforehand that would change what you thought should happen.

You might want to simply look into reading some leadership books. Leadership 101[1] is one you can read in probably an afternoon, to get you started. From there John Maxwell as a few more books on Leadership as well.

As I haven't been in a team lead position myself, I'm not sure if any of these books can help you learn how to delegate as that seems something that would take time and practice.

I have however, worked under a few engineer-become-leaders that are simply horrible leaders, and I -wish- they would read a book like this some day and have it click. Your success as a leader can possibly be measured with how successful you are at raising leaders under your wing.

[1] http://www.amazon.com/Leadership-101-John-C-Maxwell/dp/15964...

I tend to be of the mind to learn by doing. As many of the others have mentioned, have conversations with your team members and spend time with them. A common practice is to grab lunch with them. This will help you get to know them and become more comfortable talking and listening to them.

I would also recommend regular work oriented meetings with them. Some may disagree, but I think regular meetings to review work, and go over tasks has a lot of value. You will see when they are finishing up their work and be able to hand off tasks more readily. Also do what you can to get feedback from them on you, and don't take it personally when they are critical and learn from it.

Ultimately there is no one answer and you have to find your own style as well as a style that works for your team. A conscious effort and trial and error will be better than books.

Make lists. That's 90% of the job of a manager. Always have an answer to "what should I do next?"

Well...I've been in the software engineering biz for a while now and go between being an engineer, an architect, and manager depending on the company and group. I don't have any formal management training and don't even have a post-high school degree. But I love building software (I started writing assembly on an Apple II+ way back when) and working with people and am in a constant state of learning.

The quick answer is that there's no easy path if you want to be good at this. You need to be aware of your natural strengths and weaknesses, and what you've built up over the years to compensate. If you can, find a mentor, or at the very least have regular lunches or coffee with folks with more experience.

It sounds like you are a technical leader with management responsibilities, which is a very tough position. A lead/architect position without management duties usually means that you are involved with all technical decisions in the group but don't have direct reports. When I'm an architect, I expect the majority of my time will be writing code with maybe 30%-40% of my time split between formal meetings and hallway conversations. I will not take an architect position that has no hands on coding - it's a recipe for failure. An architect/lead will need to understand the business and technical needs and help drive things forward so both sides are happy. Look for quick wins here to keep things moving and 80/20 solutions. Also know when to stand your ground on things that you know are wrong - be able to communicate your reasoning for both engineers and non-technical folks. That role will also need to have strong technical vision and the ability to communicate that vision so other engineers will be able to follow the path. Figure out the types of engineers and what they need to get their jobs done - some like diagrams, some like talks, some like code examples, some just need a few lines in an email. Conversely, you'll need to be able to help the business side understand the technical side. You'll also have to know your team and help with things like pushing things through to avoid engineer navel gazing, balancing NIH attitudes, breaking ties on proposed solutions, slotting in engineering driven changes that destabilize things, helping the engineers understand why they can't rewrite a key component of the system without showing the business value, helping the business understand why adding a fifth story to their building won't work because really have a bicycle, etc.

Architects are expected to be "big dawgs" in terms of technical skills, so it's ok to be opinionated and try to out-think others. Your own style will come into play and you need to recognize it and be ok with how you work - you might be the type who doesn't suffer fools lightly and because you see the solution before anyone else, you just make your vision happen and ram it through. Or maybe you have a high end team and you need to listen to the other ungodly smart people around you and do more consideration. You do need to pay attention to other engineers and business folks, and listen to them.

A good manager requires an addition set of skills. Management is really a career restart because you're really going down a whole new path. The things that got you to the management position aren't the things that will make you a good manager. Being the smartest person in the room does not a good manager make. A good manager creates an environment for others to succeed. A good manager listens a lot and doesn't try to come up with the solutions. A good manager recognizes that the right idea will present itself because the team is awesome. Try to come up with as many options at possible decisions points. If a tiebreaker is needed, a manager should be able to argue both sides convincingly and not take sides (unless one side is just flat out wrong, but hopefully it won't come to that). A good manager will let problems and solutions come up from the team. Managers need to be aware that each person is different and adjusts to each person. Depending on the group, they also need to have a slightly more balanced view of the business then an architect. It does require some politiking as well - you shouldn't go into a meeting for a big decision without knowing where people stand ahead of time. Managers also have to deal with the 'kindergarten' issues like ruffled feathers, misunderstandings, bruised egos, etc. You'll need to know when someone is just venting versus needing your action. And people have lives that impact the team as well - people get divorced, have kids, get sick, have people die on them, switch genders, come out of the closet, find Jesus, etc. A good manager makes a personal connection and gets to know each person's story. This lets you figure out where each team member is coming from and then how you can make sure their needs and values are met at work. People are happy when what they want out of life lines up with what the company needs. Managers need to know when someone on the team is causing issues and maybe isn't working out. Letting someone go is tough, but usually it should be obvious to everyone involved that things aren't working out. It also involves bearing bad news to both your team and other teams. Telling the CEO that your team fucked up and caused customer level issues is rough.

Let's see...what else...hiring the wrong person is orders of magnitude more difficult than delaying a hire. Be super picky when hiring, even if the executive staff is pushing you hard to fill those reqs.

Engineers like to solve problems, so presenting things in the form of a problem can be a useful approach.

Even if you have a solution in mind, start from the top and lead people through. Let them come to the same conclusions you did and when they do, them tell them the pros/cons of each decision.

Sometimes you have to be the alpha dog and make a decision that someone heartily disagrees with - you need to understand their position, be able to echo it, and stay the course.

You cannot take on other's emotional issues - you can be aware and offer help, but you can't internalize them.

Try not to play favorites - this is tough because you'll find people that you connect with easier.

Put yourself out there, let the team get to know you as a person so that connection is better.

You need to keep in mind that you might have to fire anyone on your team at some point, or give them feedback they don't want to hear, etc. So there's a fine line between becoming friends with folks and being their boss.

Have fun with it, I try to keep a sense of play with me because that's part of who I am.

I dunno - that's it for me - this was kind of a lot of stuff without much structure, but I wish you the best of luck. This is a tough change for an engineer but the fact that you're asking these types of questions shows that you care and are willing to change to be better.

This sounds like great advice, and your post would make for a good blog entry.

When I first landed this kind of role, I was given a copy of "Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams ". In some circles it is considered a bit of a bible for this topic.

It's kind of an old book, but then the principles have remained the same. It also means this book isn't then laced with specific methodologies of the day or what not.

Downside is its a tad expensive on paperback, but reasonable on Kindle:


One little piece of advice: your priority is giving work to your reports. Avoid at all costs that they're idle. To achieve that, you must plan to be idle yourself half of the time, so you can attend them when they need it (they will.)

The other half of the time is to explain your bosses what your team is doing, so if you're thinking of programming yourself, think again.

Edit: for both halves you absolutely need to know at all times what everybody's doing, how they progress, what obstacles they're finding.

For me, I was only able to learn through experience, but hopefully my experiences can help you avoid my mistakes. My first lead opportunity at my first company was about 2 years in. It was a 12 or so person company, and all positions were flat except for the owner. When I was promoted, I considered my new main goal in life was to improve efficiency. While true to a point, I decided that the way I was to improve efficiency was to start tracking every piece of work performed. I created elaborate tools to allow everyone to check-in their time, and built amazing executive reports to interpret this data. However, efficiency (or rather actual work being done) was dropping. Identifying this as a failure on the team's part, over the period of a year, I implemented a series of changes ranging from good cop stuff (take the guys out for team-building) to bad cop stuff (threaten pay-cuts, firings etc..)

Later at a new company, the opportunity presented itself, and I was sure I had figured it out this time. Around this same time, I was really into design patterns and diagramming. In fact, I felt as though every problem in life could be distilled down to a pattern. Every member of my team could fit into nice little diagrams as boxes, and the work would get done like magic. A designer was a designer, and programmer was a programmer. Everyone and everything was interchangeable. We could outsource work when we needed it, and get rid of people when we didn't.

A bit later at a different company, I was able to give leading a third try. Around this time, I was reading a lot of joelonsoftware, and randsinrepose. Instead of implementing anything, I decided to just try to eliminate obstacles for my team. I started weekly 1 on 1 meetings with my guys, allowing them to talk about anything they wanted for as long as needed. Lastly, I just tried to be the guy that I wanted my guys to be. I made a conscious effort to keep my morale up, not let things get to me, and lead by example.

Looking back, I see that in the first two, I was trying to implement things that motivated me. I love analytics and treating tasks as games. I love seeing charts go upward. However, management is about your people, not you. People are emotional and complex. This sounds pretty cliche as I write it, but try to improve yourself as a person, encourage that in your team, and the productivity / efficiency / whatever will take care of itself.

Good luck!

Leadership revolves around having respect for your colleagues and believing in them. This component is very similar to an ability to maintain healthy relationships with family and friends.

Don't be just another software developer destined for a career in middle management. Spend quality time with your team and get to know them as people. Find out where they excel and assign responsibilities accordingly. The listening part will then come naturally.

I found this book very helpful in understanding of my role as manager: http://www.amazon.de/F%C3%BChren-Leisten-Leben-Wirksames-Man... (German). Malik's style is probably not to everyones liking - I enjoy it, though.

manager-tools has a nice website of podcasts about some basics of management. I find these guys to be really sharp. Here is a link to their basics page: http://manager-tools.com/manager-tools-basics

one on ones, coaching, feedback and delegation. They make a great logical case delegation.

Hard to answer but: 1. know the design better then anyone else. 2. Be ready with any question that may come up. 3. Know what your guys do at any time. 4. Plan a good gantt. 5. Be a friend with your team until it comes to work decisions. 6. Backup your team against anyone outside the team.

I'm having a hard time being a good listener

Fix this first. It's a prerequisite for leadership.

Hard but honest... any specific advice on how to do it?

I hate to say it, my friend, but learning to listen is largely about changing your attitude towards the people around you. It is very difficult to listen when you perceive that you're miles above everyone around you. Consequently, the first step is to learn to see how wonderful, competent and intelligent every single person around you is. If the people who surround you are (in actuality) neither competent, intelligent or even remotely wonderful, run (don't walk) away and find new people!!! :)

Once you have built a genuine interest in the people around you, good listening skills naturally develop. When you're interested in the people around you, you will hang on their words, ask probing questions and reflect back what you heard to make sure that you understood it.

If you can't engender a natural interest in the people you surround yourself with, you can fake an interest. To do so, I recommend getting in the habit of repeating back things that you hear, nodding in agreement when the person says something you agree with, not interrupting when they say something you disagree with, and asking probing questions when you don't understand/agree with something.

Have you ever considered Toastmasters? It sounds silly to join a public speaking group to become a better listener, but I can't tell you how much Toastmasters helped me!

Just keep your mouth closed. That's a first step. Resist the temptation to solve problems - as that is no longer the primary purpose of your job. Your job is now to ensure that others have the resources, environment and information they need to solve problems. You are a gap filler - and to do that you'll need to listen to your superiors and your subordinates to understand where those gaps are. It's just a change of focus.

You don't need an MBA. You already know what you need to do. For every conversation you have, concentrate on one thing: being an active listener. Focus on that like you would focus on a technical problem.

I'd recommend reading "Being Geek" by rands. Its great.


Lead by asking questions. It will force you to change your style, and it will grow others at the same time.

Congratulation first.

Managing people is easy—but being a manager is not about managing people.

You have to be aware that managing is not as satisfying as coding and your goals have totally changed from now on.

- Learn to listen—that's so crucial—they're tons of techniques to get a better listener. Listening can be boring but these techniques enable you to listen hours (even with a smile on your face) without getting bored. It's so damn important that I stress it again: you should listen 95% and talk just 5% (from now on meetings aren't fun or a relaxing break, they become hard, boring work).

- Always 1-to-1 meetings—always. Every meeting with more than two people is worthless, try to avoid them, if you can't just keep them short and full of small-talk, fun and non-sense but without decisions. Harsh words, but leading is not anymore about cookie-cutting talks with colleagues. That's one of the big downsides of leading.

- Don't focus too much on your staff—look that they are happy and motivated (most important) and they have always challenging work, that's it. Don't try to be all the time around them—if they need help be there. Don't change your communication, just be yourself, but don't think they are your friends. Focus now on next steps within the company—you are now doing first steps in management and your work changed from working yourself to networking, to give and take and last but not least to power politics (if your startup is >100 employees). Look that you spend more time with peers from other departments and higher level peers in your company. If you can't progress or your company sucks in less than 12 months, look that you spend a lot time outside your company (there're lots of ways) and move on.

- Don't use tactics or manipulative techniques even if you are good in it. People always feels there's something wrong. Be yourself but keep distance.

- Get a mentor or coach with leadership experience in highly volatile environments, preferably outside the company

- Because working oneself is still most fun, look that you keep coding on private projects, even while in office (there're lots of ways). That's good for your own motivation and keeps your coding skills fresh. Otherwise you burnout after 6 months of all the meetings, mails and bullshit. That's important because from now on you will slowly loose close relationships within the corporation, upcoming relations are different, more political and it's important to stay grounded, meet lot of people (again leave your company often, go to meetups, because there you can just be yourself and that makes you happy; if you don't do this you'll quickly degenerate and get isolated because the working contacts are less and less true relationships). To officially code yourself is not an option anymore (which is sad) because after the first bigger mistake your management will tell your that you are not able to lead your folks when they see you coding with them (which would be better but non-technical management and c-level just don't get it)

These are all only very small hints without giving you the big picture which would take more time and there is no book giving a really deep understanding (I've seen many books before I had my first leadership position, none of them is written by real leaders).

If you want more advice: renmarksky at live.com

I like your advice, except for the insistence on 1:1 meetings only. When there's a dispute on the team, the best option is often to grab a meeting room with a whiteboard and hash it out right then and there. Trying to mediate via 1:1 meetings or e-mail threads often just lets the dispute fester and poisons interpersonal relationships among team members.

Meetings aren't easy. Sure it can help to grab a room, gather and talk and calm down but an existing dispute can also further escalate in a larger meeting—it's gambling. One does always loose after a dispute (in his point of view) and that's much harder to accept in front of many than in front of one. If two have already a dispute, sure then you should talk with them both at the same time and act as a moderator. But still it's a very complex dynamic process which is harder to control with more participants.

Moreover, you can often clear/avoid a dispute when you had lots of 1-to-1-meetings beforehand where you got a good understanding of peoples thoughts, fears, etc.

Firstly Congratulations,

Now coming to how might probably go about this is awesome opportunity. Remember a very important thing about software today. Its extremely difficult to do anything big without a team these days. Even giants need teams. There fore I will first start out with both the Technical and Managerial areas you need to be aware of.


As a manager, you might not have to know and understand each and every line of code that is out there in your code base. But you definitely need to understand enough technical details to consciously solve problems, take decisions and assign and referee things among team mates when needed. This means you have to on a day to day basis keep track of the developments. To me this can addressed by separately planning a part of the day, this can achieved in a stand up or status call, where everybody quickly reports three things "What they did yesterday", "What they are doing today" and "blockers". Your job is to first get sufficient perspective and context about he work your team is doing, incrementally know their progress every day and remove any thing that is coming in their way of achieving those tasks.

In turn you will have your own updates. Its not difficult with a little discipline. You can take strides.


Here, you need to take a little care. Planning, Prioritizing, tracking and course correction are crucial. They say, a true appraisal in any company is when the junior and manager know exactly where they both stand. A good appraisal has no surprises.

Talk to your team mates and be friendly with them as much as you can. Develop their trust as a friend. Most people will do work for your just out of politeness and courtesy. Never use provocation or threat as a means of motivation(Often geeks make this mistake). Try to take things as easy as you can, but be serious and stand up and make the person understand the seriousness of their mistakes. Stop there, no further. Basically they must respect you.

Trust them, or at least make them feel you trust them. Even if you don't internally. The reason being once they realize you don't trust them, they will loose all respect for you. They will fail to replicate the same feeling back. Work, productivity will dry out and ultimately lead to a separation.

No invisible assumptions. Neither assume, nor allow others to assume. Make plans, and prioritize, execute, track and course correct in iterations frequently.

Your job must be to inculcate this agile discipline, with as little distractions, more trust, friendship, higher productivity and aligned towards goals.

P.S :

I am not a manager, But I would like my manager to be like the one I mentioned. I admire some of my managers who truly were like that.

Here's a good tip. When you write something find the ratio of the number of times you refer to yourself in what you wrote to the number of sentences. It's a good indicator that others will find you self obsessed. Well experienced leaders I've known almost never referred to themselves except in telling a joke.

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