Category Archives: Leadership

Developers – You are not just the sum of your technical skills

I’ve been pondering the fact that when I started out on a career in development, I focussed on the technical side of it almost to the exclusion of all else. This was especially true for me since I was coming from a non CompSci background after spending years sticking electrodes in people’s heads and doing biological research. This made me painfully aware that in an industry like programming, if you don’t know your stuff you are useless to your team and your company. Worse, you run the risk of ending up a Net Negative Producing Programmer and reduce your team’s output to less that it would be if you weren’t there.

Thus the first few years of a my career as a developer were spent focusing entirely on technical matters. I fought hard for the expertise in the areas that I worked in: Java, JavaScript and C, web development, back end services and multi-threading… the list is long and mostly distinguished (EJB’s… blergh!). I wanted to be that go-to guy for all thing technical and do my part in making my team the best in the company. As a contractor, my skills were the yardstick for how I was judged for new roles so of course I was interested in keeping them up to date.

After a relatively short time it became obvious that this wasn’t enough. Being technically adept is the foundation of our job but certainly not the totality. Even before you get your first job you realise the importance of communication. Not just in communicating your skills to get that first job but then once you’ve got it, then communicating with the rest of your team including the non technical members. This is especially true in an Agile world where you have to be able to tell others what is going on in a way that they will understand.
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Yahoo! announce that the new CEO is…a coder?!

So Yahoo! have announced that their new CEO (the third in the last year) will be Marissa Mayer, an executive from Google.

This is big news but why? It’s not just that she’s a woman or that she’s only 37 or that she’s leaving the dominating Google for the¬†beleaguered Yahoo!. Actually it is all of these things but to me it’s also that she used to be a software engineer. For start-ups, it’s obviously common to have a techie as the CEO since they are normally the ones that kicked things off but for mature companies it’s almost unheard of. Then again, maybe this is Yahoo!’s style since they did the same with previous CEO Carol Bartz, another pure CompSci grad and former “field analyst”. Tech companies like their C-levels to have some level of CompSci but normally along with some sort of business degree. It’s just not that usual to see engineers make it to that level.

Developers are normally seen as being unable to see the bigger picture or stay hands off. They struggle to move from an individual contributor to a strategic force multiplier since there is rarely a sense of achievement at the end of the day. In strategic posts decisions may take months or even years to come to fruition, completely unlike the minutes or even seconds long cycle of code>compile>test>deploy that developers are used to.

Whatever the successes or failure of Marissa Mayer, and I hope she does better than Ms. Bartz, it shows that these attitudes are changing as people realise that developers are more then just code monkeys.