In a recent conversation, a friend told me he was grappling with an interesting problem. He had promoted a great developer within his organization into management to show his appreciation for his hard work over the past few years. However, the senior developer — while highly skilled technically — did not have the right skills for leadership.
Generally speaking, the skill set required for a great coder is different from that of a team leader. Simply being great technically does not mean that your star developer can step into a position of management. He may have mastered the nuances of development and he might be a technical wizard, but that is a far cry from assuming he will be able to keep a team together and motivate them to work toward a common goal.
1. Give Your Tech Talent Options
The assumption that the best developers must be promoted into management is misleading. If developers enjoy writing code and building products, why should we force them into leadership? We should give the best tech talent options. The key is to provide a pay increase so they are rewarded for their great work, but allow them to choose the track they are most comfortable with.
Offering choice is also great for your organization. A developer who has been coding for 5 years at the same company is critical to the organization, so finding the right path for them is key to increasing their job satisfaction, retention and productivity.
2. Find Natural Mentors
While all software developers cannot be great managers, a great tech manager should still be a talented coder. After all, in order for them to be successful, the team has to acknowledge their authority and respect them. If the manager is knowledgeable and comes across as an expert, then they will be reasonable in their expectations and can act as a mentor.
To find the right leader for a technology team, you first want to find the best developers in your team and look for natural mentors by asking the following questions: Which developer mentors and guides other people in the organization? Do they have a great ability to connect with people and understand where they are coming from? Do they want to lead a development team? Will they be able to attract the best developers to join the team and work with them?
3. Create Open Communication Between Teams
Usually as the tech teams scales, so does the rest of the company. Communication between teams tends to decrease. How should you make product decisions as the company grows? The developers in most organizations have little to no information regarding the problems the sales team and customers are facing, which creates a problem: How can your developers and designers empathize with customers as they build the product?
Without any intervention, this gap tends to increase as the team expands. To address this issue, it is important to open up channels of communication between the tech team and the customer-facing team. Make sure the development team can easily access and search feedback and customer support questions. This will help them think beyond the coding and structure of the product and recognize the end user’s position. This valuable insight into consumer behavior helps your technical team members better understand where to focus their energy.
I would recommend Hipchat or Slack to easily communicate with other teams within your company. Of course, Hipchat rooms and Slack channels are great for messaging and communicating. But the best aspect of each tool (especially Slack) is their search. Any developer can go into Slack and search for discussions about problems that came up in the past or issues mentioned by a customer support person in a convenient and efficient way.
4. Keep Screening for Culture
Finally, one commonly overlooked issue is culture. Similarly to how we sometimes sacrifice on quality of talent when we are growing, many times we also overlook cultural fit. Finding development talent is hard, so some companies decide to omit cultural screening when assessing developers. This is very costly in the long run. As companies grow, it is harder to manage the culture and subcultures quickly develop. Screening for values and fit in addition to talent helps create a better environment for existing and new developers.
In the end, scaling tech teams is not as simple as promoting employees from one position to another or recruiting externally to fill the gaps in the hierarchy. It is about having the right people in the right positions and focusing on clear communication throughout the organization.
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched BusinessCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.
Image credit: CC by Kathleen_Murtagh