Things I Was Unprepared For As A Lead Developer

Sharing buttons:

fair warning this is gonna be a little

bit interactive so please try to go

ahead and raise your hand if I asked you

to would be nice first question who here

is a developer and/or designer and

please keep your hand raised if the

answer is yes who does not to be intent

to be a developer for ever

okay okay quite a lot of people good

good good

then who here thinks he or she is ready

to lead a team lice lice who just likes

raising their hand

cool thank you all so my name is Chris

Kyle the Fink I do stuff at AB stamp HP

I was a coach at we camp which is an

awesome adventure of full of coding on

an island in the Netherlands if you want

more information for next year I can

recommend it please ask me later

I also currently work at ticket swap but

this story is not about ticket swap

before I go ahead and tell my story can

anybody tell me who this is

it is Alex and that is great indeed very

good this guy was 33 years old when he

already was the greatest emperor in

general that the ancient age knew

he conquered dozens of countries he led

great armies and he was raised from a

little boy up to the man that he became

through military school and army school

to to become that that great emperor

that leader of men now of course he had

all that privilege remember privilege he

had it I didn't you probably don't have

access to military school from birth

either so the question then becomes how

do you get to be that that grade leader

that some of you think you are we are

which is which is great I learned it on

the job I didn't went to school for it I

learned on a job

and this was basically my past this is

an oversimplification of a couple of

career options that most developers know

this light was not made by me was made

by Brendan Hayes he did an excellent

talk at Rubicon a couple of years ago

about hacking your career it's on

YouTube and I can really recommend it

but what it shows is that you have

junior development where most people

start when they leave the university and

then you have a myriad of options

development offend you Liz become a more

senior developer you can start your own

company you become a project leader all

these things that you can do what a lot

of people I know do is they start junior

developer they've come a MIT developer

senior developer and then they take a

turn to the left that's what I did and I

became an engineering Lee team lead lead

developer as it was called in my company

back then now what you can see here is

that it's not a developer role anymore

right this is in the management track

and this is interesting because the role

was still called lead developer but it's

in the management track now this can

differ for copper company some

definitely developers I know do only

that they lead the development team they

don't do vacation days they don't do any

of the personal things just development

that's cool but just to realize that for

companies it can be in that track ok so

my story at the time I was working for a

small company within a very large

company it was one of the biggest media

companies in the Netherlands which to be

fair to analysis very small but still we

were in a very new development

team this company although being in

existence for 15 years didn't have a

development team of their own so the

form of a development team I was part of

it but the manager there left okay that

happens right so right before Christmas

my boss she comes up to me and she says

you know we think that you would be the

ideal person to be the leader of this

team what we call lead developer oh

that's nice came with a good pay raise

of course sure yeah yeah I'm up for the

task I'll do that this was a team of

four out of developers next to me there

was a second fly more technical support

team which was supposed to be merged in

to that development team and there was

more to external teams that worked on a

remote location so all in all this was

twelve thirteen people I would start 2nd

of January first was on a Sunday 2nd of

January and I had for a week long like

from Christmas to New Year's Eve New

Year's New Year's sorry I had all these

dreams these hopes these things that I I

knew I could do they had a huge amount

of legacy I hate that outward but the

Hat a huge amount of unmaintained comme

des we're still running on a older PHP

version they were still using a database

out of the stone Age's which requires

two people to administer insane I had

all these things that I saw it by myself

like oh yeah now is my time right my

opportunity to change things in here I'm

ready to lead this team

to victory did it go so well at all I

had at least these hopes and all these

things that I want it but I could so

distract it I could distract it by a lot

of fire things things have nothing to do

with upgrading PHP or databases or

migrating or legacy nothing whatsoever I

did other stuff and so a couple of

months and I started to ask myself the

question why were these tasks so

distracting for me what were these

things that took up all of my week and I

couldn't do anything done why I just

wasn't prepared I was not prepared for

this job at all it turned out that the

company and I had a very different

meaning to what it meant to be a lead

developer they thought this is just

gonna be a manager type of person a

manager type of person that has intimate

knowledge into the code in our code base

so that has all kinds of benefits whilst

I thought I'm just gonna be the one

responsible I'm gonna spear had new

ideas they didn't wanted to wanted me to

spearhead new ideas at all at all so my

first lesson the thing that I learned

and thing that I want to give you today

is expectation management it is perhaps

the most important thing in your career

but especially to me when I transition

to to being a leader Phillip ER in fact

I'd say that you should learn what is

expected from you

and be honest about would you expect

from others when discussing the

possibility even of becoming a leader

you can you can stand up right now you

can leave if you think I'm boring you

can fall asleep you can open Twitter and

just sink into your timeline if you want

but please go home with this there's one

lesson everybody got it

expectation management very important

cuz I didn't do this I didn't do this at

all and it left me to not even see the

code at all anymore

none of it oh that's not true the only

time I did saw code was during a coat

review which I did a lot of now spending

less time on your coat is of course

logical you're in any role it is a

leadership role and there is different

other stuff that you have to do to come

to it but nothing at all that's that's

too little I'd say so if you're ever in

this kind of position if you're in that

kind of position right now try to find

ways to get more Co time again people

ask me okay so what is a good sort of

trait that trade / / time what what how

much percent of time should I dedicate

to the coat and I can't answer that I

don't know it depends on the context it

depends on you as a as a leader depends

on your company it depends on your team

heavily but I'd say personally my god

feeling would say at least 40% of your

time should go to the code because it is

the output of your team and being our

coding doesn't mean just being behind a

computer on your own programming it can

be a myriad of things like pair

programming and stuff like that which

all help so make sure you still got

enough code times basically what it


I figured out three things to cope with

this the fact that I didn't see to go

anymore three little things that if you

hear them you're probably thinking what

the hell is this guy thinking about I

mean couldn't you figure it out in the

first day seriously but no I could and I

hope you all could but if not take this

home so the first thing was agenda

management who here uses an agenda

nobody a couple of people then who uses

it every day a lot of people okay that's

cool cuz I didn't do that either

when I was a developer we had the Sprint

planning retrospectives and the daily

standup that was it

no more meetings other than that plus my

entire team had to go to that meeting

room so I just followed along with them

was easy I didn't need an agenda of

course I had one for personal stuff and

it wasn't my phone but yeah how many

appointments do you have I didn't need

it so it wasn't very good at managing my

agenda either then the week the same

week as I became a lately developer so

from 2 to 6 of January my entire agenda

was filled for the rest of the year all

these meetings about new projects

products board meetings keeping the

board in loop system administrators that

wanted to talk to me perfectly support

people that wanted something of me and

they all needed my time multiple times a

week hours on end with no agenda for

those meetings so agenda management

is something I had to employ I had to be

able to block hours in my agenda to keep

him free no meetings my entire morning

no meeting if you're somebody that it's

more productive in the afternoon block

your afternoon do the meetings in the

morning this really helps you to keep

that focus keep that code time as well

because otherwise it's so hard other

people will just walls over your agenda

and it's gonna be filled up now this

first thing required a second thing of

me to say no more often I don't know

about you but for me that's hard it's

hard to do I don't often say no I like

to say yes I like to help people if they

come up with a problem I like to say yes

I like to get them moving and solve

their problems it's what I do I'm a

problem solver right so saying no that

was super hard saying no to a project

request sorry I can't do it right now it

was super hard but I have to learning

now I'm not saying that you should be

impolite to people though I'm not saying

that you should shut him down off and

shum down and not interface with him at

all what you can do though is give them

alternatives sorry I won't be able to

make that meeting on Tuesday but what

about next week I have a slot open there

sorry I'm probably not the one that can

produce that sequel report that you're

asking but there's a database

administrator right there try him he may

have time you know help people on their

way they'll remember you as a polite

person and hopefully they won't ask so

much of you anymore but at least you say

no so you said a boundary for yourself

it's very important cool

agenda management saying no more often


this school I got this there was a third

thing though something so easy that I

totally forgot about it

delegating I'm not alone I am NOT the

team there is no I in team I found out

that every little thing that people

asked of me I took it as a very personal

question I thought I had to do it I

thought I had to fix that bug I thought

I had to implement that feature I was

personally responsible of it which of

course makes no sense there's an whole

team there was 12 people for crying out


I could do this I could go up to his

team and say hey this new feature came

in what do you think how should we build

it hey people support reported a bug

who's free who can do something from

here delegating and I'm not saying that

you should tell people what to do

that's very bossy style now it's not my

style but discussing things and

delegating them asking people to help

you people want to help like I did for

me the best time was when something came

in and I was able to pair up with for

example a more junior developer because

then I could have the more delegating

exercise and I was able to do code time

so it was like a double high-five

seriously people love to help especially

in a team otherwise they wouldn't be

working in a team makes sense right

I've got three things agenda management

saying no more often delegating cool dit

dos that was still not able to do all

the other things that I wanted my god

what was it doing where was my time

going I looked at my agenda and over

time I saw a pattern of things that I

was doing other than all those things

that I set out to you for the most part

I was doing a lot of cultural things and

culture building things now like I said

this it was a very new development team

and it's very hard for new people to

come together and form a culture now I

had to form an idea in my hat what I

wanted that culture to be this is before

I even took this to the team this was

like okay what what as a leader what do

I want this culture to be in this in

this group of individuals that have come

together and be paid to do this job so I

thought of you know what are things that

I like behavioral thinks that I like in


I like promoting good ideas for example

taking responsibility for your work and

your IDs those things that I value

highly but there's also a saying that

the culture of any organization is

shaped by the worst behavior a leader is

reeling to tolerate it's like okay worst

behavior what's that got me thinking

what is the behavior I'm not willing to

tolerate people coming in late I come in

late people have good reasons to come in


I don't know people didn't transfer

knowledge when it happens hate it when

it happens

and of course one day on a Friday five

o'clock in the afternoon

something broke down on the website most

people went home already

and it was in a new feature that's

somebody that went home built and all

signs pointed towards the knowledge not

being transferred you know all this

stuff that I was thinking about that I

wasn't willing to tolerate so next week

we fixed it barely we fixed it and next

week when I was calmer I organized the

retrospective an extra retrospect if I

should say to you know discuss why did

this happen what was the root cause of

it and I of course stupidly saw I

already know what I'm gonna hear I

already know the answer I'm just gonna

ask it to be polite I knew that they

didn't transfer their knowledge but they

did of course they did they were not

stupid they're professionals they're

paid for it their team I just had to

learn another big lesson which is Trust

trust in the professionals that you work

with I had to let it go literally I had

to stop micromanaging I had to trust

these people to do their job they were

paid for

and Trust is something I also fell you

highly I like to be trusted and I

learned dust ly to place more trust into

people so I think that a culture is also

shaped by the best behavior

a leader is willing to promote works

both ways but there was more things to

this culture thing things that I that

took a lot of time for me especially

because we had quite a number of junior

the ratio between junior people and more

senior people was like 50% which is a

lot especially for a new development

team so it was hard so one of the things

that I took extra amount of time for was

motive mentoring sorry mentoring people

to reach their goals the things in their

careers and life's that they want to

achieve through work as one of their

means you know figuring out what you

want to your career when you want to do

what are your not so good in yeah and

how can I help you with that trying to

unlock people themselves trying to

unlock their process of thought it takes

a lot of time but it's so important to

do especially as a leader because if

ready we wondered or not but a lot of

young people still look up to older

people and leaders so if you as a leader

open up and start mentoring and in

return be are willing and prepared to be

mentored a little bit that opens up a

world of possibilities

giving and receiving feedback it's also

something that I took a lot of time for

I personally think it is very important

for my personal growth to constantly ask

for feedback of people I do that I did

that back then I still do it in my

current job even if there is not an

official feedback program or anything

where I 360 degrees feedback program and

I believe what they call it even if we

don't have that officially I still

created it and I want feedback give me

feedback in turn I would also like to

give you feedback in order for you to

grow and again having a very union team

that was very important to me it shapes

your culture whoo what happened there

there we go

motivating is another thing I I had a

lot of issues with like I said we had a

lot of legacy we were working with a

database technology from a company I

will not mention you probably guessed it

already and it's not very up-to-date

anymore especially the version that we

were using so motivation was hard to

find it was hard to find motivation for

people to get up in the morning go to

work work on a feature in that database

and then have join their work because

joy and your work is really important so

we found out that by by trying to

motivate each other more you can really

find that fun spot again and motivation

can be can be very interesting thing to

see it can be like I don't know if

there's anyone here that does boxing but

if you do there's a punching bag and

somebody holds it for you you start

punching it and then this other person

it's like yeah come on you can do it one

more punch Artur up up down up this is

very motivating if you've ever

experienced that you know that is it can

be a very motivational thing to to have

experienced and it is roughly the same I

found in in a work situation if there's

someone who says yeah we can do this and

it's gonna be fun because we're gonna do

this and this and this and there's a

challenge over here clone let's do it


that is extremely motivating to people

but it takes a long time it's a huge

impact on your culture

I know companies that don't do it and

the people just leave after a certain

amount of time and it's just sad to see

talking about leaving I know it came

back down your culture is hiring and

firing people sadly I had to fire

someone once in my life and it was one

of the worst experience that I ever had

because it's really sad but equally

interesting is hiring people that's

that's incredibly hard as gram told us

this morning it's not just a pipeline

thing it's a culture thing as well and

having it all correct and in order that

is that is hard especially as a white

male but the impact on your team is also

very interesting because teams are


that means the teams don't change if you

take team a at two people it doesn't

become team a plus team plus two people

it becomes team B which is an entire

different team with different cultural

values different insides different roles

even though they're not explicit so this

is very important to know and as a

thought experience if you are currently

in the process of hiring someone or you

just got a new teammate watch this

process happen in your own team it's

very interesting your team becomes new


sickness and other personal problems of

people are some things that I wanted to

handle with grace so I invested a lot of

time in it I had a co-worker that had a

baby on the way which is great it's

great but as soon as he got the call

come to the hospital you know he would

drop everything out of his hands which

is fine of course go here take my card

go but we as a team had to talk about

okay how are we going to resolve it that

moment in time when he leaves how are we

gonna handle the work that he'd leave

that he left us people getting sick has

an equally dentin on your or not a dent

but an impact on our culture especially

if the sickness is prolonged for a

period of weeks or months if somebody's

missing you can see that the team droves

back to another team again because teams

are immutable take somebody out it goes

good goes okay for a couple of days but

after a couple of weeks this team starts

to rearrange their roles you know if

this this person was a more natural

leader and this person is now gone and I

don't want to will stand up like yeah

but I have a more natural leader now you

know there's processes in teams that

happen so y'all influences your culture

and the last thing I thought really

important was leading by example all

these things up here that were important

to me all these cultural things that I

wanted to have without my team having

wanting to have them or you know just

they were just my values I find I found

back then and I still think so that I

had to lead by example if I wanted to be

mentored I had to start mentoring if I

wanted feedback I had to give feedback

first and ask it

so what I'm trying to say here is I'm

more of a leader kind of person and

that's not a boss up there not caring

about the people he has to work with

like my mom that's not me

but then I also mean that you're much

slower to reach the top sorry I'll get

out of the way okay go with sculture now

something different something entirely


that might or might not be recognizable

for you

financial injuries is there anybody here

that it owns a company quite a couple of

people yeah you probably know what I'm

talking about here so when I wanted to

new IDE before a new license for we use

Jetson jetbrains life ideas at work I

used to go up to my manager or we had an

assistant of the director that handled

all kind of transactional things with

money but when I became elite developer

my team start to go to me you know how

do we get money I don't know let me

check because even in personal life I'm

not I'm not very good with money so let

me tell you how how I handle my money

money comes in

some of it goes through a separate

account for you know all the standard

things like Rend and insurances don't

like that

and the rest is basically for me to

spend and then there's a little piece at

the end of the month that's left but so

I'm not very good with money but

businesses don't like it when your

miniature their money like that they

don't like that for you well so that day

the boss comes up to me and says hey you

know that database company that we've

hired for six months now how much did it

cost us up to now and how much more do

you want to spend on them

interesting question let me get back to

you on that now back then I didn't have

to beard but if I had I would be

stroking it all day I cleared out my

schedule this was out right after lunch

s I cleared up my schedule for the

entire day I thought you know I'm not

the best in Excel and in accounting but

I can do this I can do this I'm a fairly

decent programmer I should be able to do

this right so I downloaded all the

invoices that I had for my mail and and

other places I did an ephah system and

started typing away in Excel and making

formulas and you know like you do when

you don't know Excel at all I I didn't

know what the hell I was doing and I I

fail miserably so it was six o'clock I

thought you know I'm just gonna go home

take all these with me have a nice

dinner first and then re-energized and

in the evening and if need be the entire

night I can just do this so I got home

and luckily my wife already prepared

dinner but I wasn't I wasn't paying

attention you probably know what that's

like right coming home and not paying

attention to your wife or spouse so she

says you know what's wrong you're

distracted with something what's wrong

so what tell are the entire story she

tells me you know what

go sit on the couch is the remote the TV

go what chump thing give me 30 minutes

and I'll be back with the solution okay

nice nice cool yeah sure why not

finally half an hour not having to think

about it that's good and she comes up

like literally 30 minutes later with

this and she says yeah you know all

those invoices just fill them out there

and then over there you can see how much

you spend and over there you can

estimate how much you can still oh my

god your life saver Wow

now if you're questioning this story

she's right here so you can ask this was

one of the hardest thing I had one of

the hardest thing I had to do at that

moment but it taught me it occurred to

me back then I know that I had managers

before leaders financial people that you

know I'd seen these things before

couldn't I have asked them to take a

better look at it could could I could I

have done that and I guess I could have

I could have learned more from the

leaders that I already had I could have

asked them hey what's their budget as a

deaf team where are we spending our

money on how do you do that what's your

system I don't need to the exact numbers

I don't care about those just teach me

here it more than just developer stuff

because I know code already and you

probably don't teach me what you do now

learn from our previous current and

future leaders is something that I

learned by now another thing that I used

and their skill that I had to use quite

often there was public speaking so tada

Here I am

is extremely useful to be able to tell a

story about a problem in laymen terms

because the board of directors data no

code your clients probably don't know it

support people don't probably don't know

it and marketing probably don't know

that know it sales does sure doesn't

know it so being able to explain things

in a simpler way it can really make your

job easier for example I once use this

picture to explain the state of our code

base true story and after me telling

stories about you know why is it so hard

to migrate our code base from one

hosting provider to the other hosting

provider using this as a metaphor it it

clicked better with the board that yes

we needed more money we needed people

and we needed more time to do this so

being able to explain that safe to our

team a lot of trouble talking to others

and with others I do not mean other

developers or designers or product

managers because I I knew how to talk to

those people now they're my kind of

peeps marketing sales communication

people accountings controllers people

like that

those were the hardest ones to talk to

because what do I have in common with

them but it turned out it was very

important to be able to talk to them

because marketing was about to launch a

marketing campaign at primetime that I

didn't know about oh so it was very

important to me to do to be able to do

that to be able to talk to other people

outside of my comfort zone I had to

learn that I had to find out how to do

that and it turns out

finding common ground with these people

is the key to success so I for example

the luck that I had to do a management

training and so did all the other new

managers in the company

I wondered then was the marketing

director so next Monday I could ask him

you know how was your weekend how did

you do that exercise as well and we had

we found common ground to talk to each

other we connected a little bit more and

it was easier to talk about work after


these are all the things that I've

learned that I struggle with that I've

probably done wrong things that I've

probably doing wrong right now just the

fact that I know what I'm doing wrong

doesn't mean I'm not doing it wrong

anymore but if there's one final thing

that I've learned is that it's not about

the title yes my title was lead

developer no my title isn't lead

developer anymore and just a software

engineer but that doesn't mean that I

cannot do things that I can't take

leadership of my own life my own career

my own work my own team the culture in

it so there's a lot of things that you

if you want to of course can do right

now like Monday when you're back for

example start mentoring if there's no

formal program within your company start

one you don't need permission to do that

just take somebody else that feels the

same way and go to a meeting room and

and start flushing out how you want to

do this more people will tag along if

nobody's into it you can always ask

others friends former colleagues people

in the community for example are very

good ways of mentoring as well there is

this website called PHP mentoring now it

has been mentioned to me that there

should be a - between PHP and mentoring

this is a website started by a couple of

PHP people but is not exclusively for

PHP they do mentoring all sorts of

different topics mostly non-technical

leader and you can assign yourself

either as a sign up as a mentor or a

mentee looking for a mentor and this is

a great way to meet new people meet new

people that have all these other skills

that you want to learn or if you think

you know I have a good skill that I can

give to other people's

up there and and become a mentor it's

something you can do Monday ask for help

more from your peers from your current

leaders whoever that may be like I said

learn from them ask them for the stuff

that you don't know already that you

might be able to use later on I found it

very hard like I said and this book was

gifted to me it's called the art of

asking by Amanda Palmer and I can really

recommend it it is a great book there's

also an audio book which she has done

her self and it is excellent feedback

you can do this some Monday just ask

somebody give me feedback create a

Google forum or talk to each other

whatever you want you can do this public

speaking again you can do this

right here at a conference for example

but if this audience might be too large

for you you can also do lunch sessions

which your own team go to your own

community I know there's a quite a

couple of communities around here you

know go there speak

they're probably always looking for new

speakers I know in Amsterdam and I'm

Steph HP we are and it is a great stage

to try out new things even when you're

anxious to speak and generally take an

interest in other people again something

you can do today talk to some money

today that you haven't met before take

an interest and maybe you'll learn

something thank you