When David Yee, VP of Engineering for The New York Times, took the stage at LeadDev New York, he spoke about how the moment signified a re-establishing of the engineering community. He said it felt like coming home.
For the hundreds of technologists in attendance, most of whom hadn’t attended a live conference in over two years, the sentiment rang true. Sustained engineering success is something that can only be achieved when an entire team works together. And though we’ve accomplished so much working remotely, there’s still something to be said for gathering in person and sharing best practices.
Achieving sustained development success together
In his opening remarks, David also touched on how we’re currently in a moment of massive change. The word unprecedented has been used so often it’s basically a meme, but it’s true. The level of change across the tech landscape mimics that of society as a whole. The focus on how to navigate this change sharpened with every presentation. The way to not just survive but thrive in this current chaotic moment is together.
An interesting truth that arose from LeadDev is that, in the engineering world, change isn’t novel, it’s constant. A quote by Sarah Hendron cited by David captured this idea: “What’s powerful about engineering is an understanding that the built world isn’t permanent.” Technologists are capable of handling change, and the way to adapt your organization is through agile, data-backed decision-making that lifts up your team, improves communication and installs a culture of collaboration.
Neha Batra, Senior Director of Engineering at GitHub, spoke passionately about how communication needs to be the central focus for engineering leadership. Focusing on communication drives a healthy, transparent culture. This transparency is vital in optimizing delivery lead times. Transparency comes in many forms, whether it’s simply leadership admitting where they made mistakes in a stand-up or using engineering insights platforms like Pluralsight Flow to better understand, and report on, the health of overall workflow and the team at large.
Leading engineering teams by example
Transparency means tracking data for good and creating inclusive, helpful, trustworthy and predictable communication. It leads to objective decision-making, more productive (and calmer) retrospectives and highlights opportunities for every member of the team.
Usha Kuchibhotla, Principal Software Engineer at Neuro-ID, expanded on ideas of transparency in her discussion on clean code by emphasizing the importance of leading-by-example for senior team members. Showing junior level engineers that they collaborate on code and are open to honest feedback lays the groundwork for sustained communication.
There were two presentations about building quality and observation into the process, which, again, drives home the vitality of constant collaboration from ideation to product release. A small number of people can, of course, drive initial success, but long-term success and productivity comes through cultivating communication, culture and community.
Psychological safety and team health
Meri Williams, Chair of The Lead Developer conference, talked about psychological safety when she emphasized a need for leaders to “create space to be awesome for everyone, so they can be themselves and succeed. All your team members need to feel like they do quality work. That they belong and can be satisfied and productive.”
Aisha Blake, Pluralsight’s Director of Developer Relations, drove home this throughline of culture and communication by giving a dynamic talk on equipping your teams to support junior developers. She emphasized team spirit of development by comparing teams to the theater. “Everybody sweeps. It’s a rule that comes from theater. It doesn’t matter what your role is when it’s time to clean up. Everybody sweeps! We should be distributing available tasks in a range that offers challenges and interests but everyone needs to be involved to build culture.”
A final takeaway from LeadDev New York was that change is not linear. It doesn’t follow a clean path, but it’s constant. To continue to build products and code that solve real-world problems, developers need to embrace this change and act accordingly. The good news is that the natural state of an engineer is to be productive and engaged, and by providing data-driven insights that foster a collaborative culture, leaders can create happy and healthy engineering teams.
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