An Engineer’s Experience Into Leadership
In the last few months, I have taken additional responsibility at Vuclip in a leadership role (addition to the core engineering work)
I am put in charge of a relatively new area, in a familiar domain. I have been trying to set up, and optimize processes, and getting things done, to provide a smoother experience to everyone involved.
Every single day of this experience has been a huge learning opportunity for me, and here’s an incomplete list of things that I have learned, and how can one optimize for such a role.
I am not claiming that I am perfect (or even good) at what I do, but I am doing an honest attempt to improve it every day — and I am writing this from that experience, as well as observing some of the successful leaders around me.
Note – this experience is related to someone responsible for setting up processes, and getting things done via working with engineers, directly. The list is not on the order of priority.
Get your hands dirty
It is VERY critical to get your hands dirty — for you as a leader, you must have a detailed knowledge of what your team is doing (or supposed to do), and for that, you must dive into it yourself, from your heart, and do it when needed. Unless you understand the fine details of what is happening, and how things happen, how are you supposed to get it done via other people?
This is (unfortunately) typically underrated, although this should be the very first thing that you should start doing when starting your role.
Having good domain knowledge really helps here, and it should be your very first priority to get it.
You must be able to further process whatever comes to you / your team, and add further value to it, and guide it.
Put people first
People are THE most important part of everything! It’s not the systems, it’s not the processes or documents, it’s the people who get things done, put them first! Be it your stakeholder, or be it your team, put people first!
This is very easy to be said than done. Putting people first, and in such case putting “what” people first can be very tricky and very difficult to navigate. Not having people skills should not be an excuse because these, as of any other skill, can be cultivated with honest efforts.
You need to build patience, and ability to be calm, and that can be hard work.
The simplest way to start is being kind, and emphasizing, understanding and trusting people, (part of it will come from understanding yourself and your own cognitive biases).
Almost everyone that you will meet/talk/connects will have some real concern / real thing to be done — otherwise, why would they bother? Understand them.
Optionally, it is always a very good idea to see if you can connect them at a personal level (not too personal — there is a fine distinction).
For me, my vast interests in history, geography, sociology, philosophy (and gaming!) helped me to connect with people across different cultures all over the globe. That helped me to do what I do better.
People WILL make mistakes, YOU will make mistakes, WE ARE People! One key can be — optimizing on avoidance of repetition of mistakes (I say “make new mistakes every time! – that means you are trying something!”) and turnaround time of recovery from that, which brings to the next point –
Someone at my org asks me almost every time we meet — “what are you doing differently now”
Answer to that question can be key to this point.
Every time you do anything — ask yourself, is your value-addition accelerating — what I mean is, every time you get some things done, are you adding more value in doing it in SOME way?
Now that optimization can be anything — it can be the time taken, or the quality, or general process improvement, or just the happiness that you gain (or not lose!) when that is done. An engineering mindset can really help here.
Now, this is a REAL hard thing to continually do — and you as a leader this can be the single most valuable thing that you will bring to the table!
Don’t expect others to do this — or keep doing — they might not be able to understand the value — but you — the philosopher leader (derived from Plato’s idea of philosopher-king) must be able to envision that.
Pay it forward
Whatever you are learning — you are doing — envisioning — you must be able to trickle it down to your team. People do observe. Once you set examples (by being one), they will naturally follow the steps — that’s why we have mirror neurons!
At times, you should be able to accelerate this process by doing whatever is necessary — and that can be simple. Just by talking to your team, casually, a lot can be done. Keep it natural!
In the long run, your goal should be to become as irrelevant as possible, in what exactly you are doing right now, by trickling down that to your team, along with your values, so that you can optimize further, in a different (yet complementary) area, and move forward in the vision.
Note – All of this comes purely from my experience and observation, I haven’t taken any education and reading into leadership.
Have you recently taken any such roles? Do share your experiences too!