A little over one year ago, I received a message from Jan (our Head of Development in Berlin and former CTO of Exozet) that would change my professional career completely:
“Do you have 30 minutes tomorrow? It’s about your and my future… 🙂”
To be completely honest, I wasn’t fully surprised when we talked about becoming David’s successor as Backend Discipline Lead. David had other plans and already joined another department when Exozet was merged with Endava. So at some point, I knew, that someone needed to replace him. Yet, I was positively surprised – and I am still extremely honored that they have thought of me being a suitable successor for David. And I want to take this moment to once again say: Thank you for giving me this opportunity and having trust in my abilities!
Why I said “Yes”
Obviously, with this change, there came along a few complications. I was still the Lead Developer for one of our long-term projects and I was involved in daily business almost my entire week! On top of that, we had to do hand-overs while still not being 100% integrated in this huge company’s universe. (Imagine coming from 150 employees to an international group of more than 6.000! Now more than 10K by the way).
After talking with multiple people about what this new position means and weighing the pros and cons, I decided to say “Yes”. Why? First of all, because I thought I might actually be good at leading others. Also, I knew that there were things that I wanted to see improve! Things that didn’t get enough attention, time, or money. So instead of complaining about it – why not change it? And finally, I experienced in my team, by mentoring Kai through his apprenticeship, and through regular 1on1s, that I really like to enable people to become better and provide them with opportunities to grow!
“So what is it that you are doing?”
As Discipline Lead, I am the disciplinary supervisor of all our backend developers in Berlin. I am responsible for hiring new employees, deciding about promotions and salary increases. I am also handling staffing issues and I’m offering new backend developers to projects. Lastly, I am part of a management team and I am trying to strategically steer our Discipline in the “right” direction for the future. That also means building new communities, learning opportunities, team-building, sending people to conferences, training, or certifications.
Surely, this new chapter in my career doesn’t come with its own kind of struggles. New ways of working and communicating during the pandemic, keeping your colleagues healthy and sane during times of isolation and quarantine, and the job market situation are just some of the challenges many people might have experienced over the last two years.
As mentioned before, there were certain things I wanted to see advance further. One of them is the support of young talent at the beginning of their career. Apprenticeship/Vocational Training is a whole complex topic of its own and I learned it’s very special to Germany’s job market. Basically, after you finished school to become a professional in IT you can decide to study at a university or apply for an apprenticeship at a company. The apprentice program takes up to 3 years and is a combination of “learning on the job” (i.e., in your company) and in a specialized school. If you want to find out more:
As I myself started my career as a working student, and many of my colleagues are perfect examples of why the apprenticeship model is a great way to find talent, I truly believe in the long-term benefit of investing time & effort in teaching and mentoring juniors and apprentices! I also love teaching and explaining the reason behind best practices. That’s why we recruited some brilliant apprentices in the last 8 months and grew our number of apprentices from two to eleven! There’s a lot to know about apprenticeship and it takes quite some responsibility to educate apprentices as young as 16 years! For this reason, I am more than happy that I successfully finished my trainer’s certification (Ausbilderschein) last month.
Increase training opportunities/material
Endava has some great principles and concepts in place. There is a great culture of “Pass it on”s and lots of training resources already. In addition to providing time for my developers to learn, I wanted to specifically increase our pool of technical training resources. This is why we invested in learning platforms like SymfonyCasts, O’Reilly SafariBooks, DevOps training courses, conference tickets, and certifications.
On top of that, Endava has the concept of “Communities” which are free for everyone to join. This is where we regularly discuss everything from hot new language-specific topics up to basic programming concepts like SOLID. My goal is to grow these communities, increase cross-language communication, and create new communities.
Communities are a big factor in sharing knowledge and experience outside of your project. But with the “forced Home Office” situation, certain ways of communication and spreading knowledge/information are lost. That’s why I wanted to increase the transparency of what is happening in the Berlin office and be more transparent about what we are doing and planning to do. Therefore, I decided to write a monthly newsletter covering the most interesting topics, MeetUp links, book recommendations, surveys, and more. But newsletters are very a very unidirectional way of communicating. This is why I also created a new “Backend Community” where we talk about what’s happening in the projects and answer questions directly.
Another important way of communicating is through 1-on-1s. We want to give every employee the possibility to grow and help them succeed in their career. That’s why when migrating from Exozet to Endava, we adapted the Career Coaching model (instead of Chapter 1on1s before). The difference is that the coaching is less technical (while you can still do that obviously) and more focused on career-related topics.
Another goal was to grow our discipline and explore even more options in terms of languages, frameworks, and technologies. Thanks to the hybrid work model, we are not completely limited to office space anymore! As a result, we can also hire with a broader radius. That’s why, even in a very tough job market situation, we were able to grow the Backend Discipline by 60% since last July!
What I learned
Tough conversations are… tough!
I certainly realized that, in so many ways, managing code is so much easier than managing people! Everyone is different, in a different situation with different expectations and values. This also means: you won’t make everybody happy! And having salary discussions isn’t always fun. Or having to let someone go…
I miss coding
I would think of myself as a good developer. There is definitely room for improvement, but overall I’m quite okay! That makes me wonder sometimes why I spend so much time honing this skill when I’m barely even programming anymore. I’m reviewing lots of code, organize training/coaching sessions, but me writing a feature has basically vanished. Yet, I still write code! I can focus more on internal tooling, coding challenges, teaching others to write better code.
Resisting to do it myself
There are things inside and outside of projects that I’m very good at. There are also things that I really like doing, or that are very interesting to me. But even if I can do them three or four times as fast as someone else, it’s more effective in the long term to teach others to do it on their own. Everyone needs to gain experience by doing certain things. On the other hand, I also have only a limited amount of time that I can spend on certain topics. For that matter, even if someone demands me to do X or Z, I’m learning to resist the urge to absolutely have to do it on my own. I’m not avoiding work, but sometimes what’s a burden for me is an opportunity for someone else!
Enabling people feels amazing
This isn’t new, but it shows regularly in my daily work that it’s a really gratifying feeling to make others succeed and grow in their career. It’s great to enable people to take responsibility, their first leading position, or give them the chance to work with their favorite programming language.
Becoming comfortable with being double- or triple-booked in my calendar
When I look back one year in my calendar, I see more “empty space” than meetings. Nowadays, it’s something tough to even squeeze in a 10-minute conversation on a busy day. As you can often read in productivity/time management books: “Saying yes to one thing means saying no to another. Yet, you somehow have to manage expectations and urgency. With a multitude of people inside and outside of my discipline “fighting” for my attention, prioritization takes on a whole new meaning.
Would you say “Yes” again?
Looking back over the last year, it certainly was challenging. And it was challenging in a way that I did not anticipate at the beginning of 2021. I haven’t even thought about going into the Management career path. Would it have been a less stressful year when I said “No”? – Definitely. But as the saying goes: “You grow with your challenges”. And I definitely grew a lot!