Monday, June 27, 2016

Managing someone elses software development career

In my last post I talked about how to manage your own career as a software engineer. In this post I want to talk about managing someone else's career. As a manager you have a responsibility to your directs to make sure they're aware of what it takes to get to the next level, that they're on the right path, and that they've got the right opportunities to achieve their goals.

Here are some tips to managing someone else's career in software engineering.

Understand their career development goals

Don't make the assumption that what you think they're good at is something that they want to be doing. I've had engineers that would make tremendous project managers or software development managers that just didn't want to pursue those roles. While they were good at them, it was wasn't something that they were passionate about. One of your jobs as a manager is to find out and explore what they're passionate about.

Some of your engineers may not know what their goals are. In this case you should be able to walk them through what options they have available. Help them understand not just how they can advance in their current role, but what other roles are available to them.

Identify their strengths

As a manager you should be able to discern your direct reports strengths. This is does not mean identifying just what they are great at, but also what they would be great at if they just had some coaching. As a manager you need to understand that your directs have both realized and unrealized strengths. Your goal should be to help them realize the ones that they have not already.

Identify the gaps and set some goals

This is probably the most obvious job of a manager but it's also the most over indexed one and one that is often misunderstood. At the core of this problem is helping your directs be aware of the areas that they need to improve on. This will involve having a tough conversation with them about things they're not doing well. When you have this conversation you should be prepared to help them formulate a plan to overcome these deficiencies.

Not all gaps are worth closing. There are some weaknesses that your directs may have that aren't going to be worth the investment from them to fix. Either because it's not going to help them on their desired career path or because the level of investment wont produce enough return to make it worth it. It's as important that a manager helps their directs avoid taking on the work that doesn't play to their strengths as it is to help them take on work that does.

After you've identified the gaps you should set goals to help them gain the skills they need. The key to them achieving their goals is having the right opportunities. As a manager one of your responsibilities is to identify the right opportunities for them and give them a chance to take these opportunities.

Get them visibility

It's important to make sure that as your direct reports achieve their goals that you get them the right level of visibility into their achievements. Getting them visibility helps them gain the trust of other leaders in their space. This in turn will help them get bigger and better opportunities.

Solicit feedback

Part of helping your direct reports grow is getting them good feedback from their peers as well as other leaders in their space. In the course of their day to day they may not have the time or opportunities to debrief on the things they have completed. As a manager you should be periodically checking in and helping them to get this very valuable feedback.

Be able to articulate their achievements

The last key to managing someone else's career is being able to articulate their achievements. This is key because you're likely to have to be their proxy at some point and your ability to articulate their achievement is paramount to their success. At a minimum you should understand:

  1. What the problem was
  2. Why solving the problem was important
  3. What trade-offs they had to make along the way
  4. What the impact of solving the problem was

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