In early November I flew down to Austin, TX to attend The Lead Developer conference. It’s a conference designed for leaders in the tech industry. The content is geared for anyone from Tech Leads to Software Engineering Managers, Directors and above. This is a quick writeup of my experience and some highlights.
Why I went?
Scale my experience
I’ve never had a proper tech leadership job title like Engineering Manager or Director. But my work involves a lot of the same things (and if you count running a band I’ve been doing it for a long time). Finding ways to make teams and organizations work better is part of my job. Even if this isn’t done explicitly. One of my goals was to get input from tech leaders not in my direct network. As a consultant, I get to see how many organizations work. Much more even than the most job hopping employee. Each new place provides more context. While I get a more diverse view of the industry than most other tech leaders, this was an opportunity to learn from even more people.
Most people get into management by proving their worth with a company over years of work. Knowing your employer’s internals is valuable. But leaders miss out on outside perspectives unless they explicitly search them out. Attending Lead Dev is a good way to scale your experience.
Austin has been on my bucket list for a long time. It’s the live music capital of the world and I’d never been. Austin’s BBQ is legendary and I wanted to try it for myself. Honky tonks and BBQ. Sold.
How to get teams working from the same playbook
Providing a way to make decisions as your engineering group grows is a common challenge. Teams that don’t interact on a regular basis lose track of what concepts should be prioritized. Without clear direction, devs can waste a bunch of time arguing over debatable decisions. Or making decisions that work for their team but don’t align with the higher level goals. Part of a strong organization is providing direction to avoid these missteps.
This is frequently done poorly. You either have overly locked down requirements that stifle progress, or it’s a free for all. Two talks from Lead Dev Austin focused on keeping your teams on the same page while allowing them to keep an agile approach.
Architecture North Star
Hanjie Ji from WeWork describes how his teams used an Architecture North Star to keep them aligned. This is a document that (in his own words) is “A coherent, forward-looking architecture design upon shared understanding of requirements and constraints”. The goal is to provide
- Shared Understanding
- Coherent Architecture
- Less Coordination
Two key points to avoid an innovation stifling requirements doc:
- The document should be lightweight and be updated frequently
- It should only look forward 6-12 months.
Here is the talk in full: Guide your scaling engineering team with an architecture North Star
Iccha Sethi & Jony Jeyaratnam from InVision shared how they used Architecture Groups to accomplish similar goals. This is a group that is focused on creating a shared understanding of how the systems should work.
While many companies create full time architect roles to help coordinate teams. I’ve found this to be an anti-pattern. Full time architects lack the context of how everything is implemented. This can lead to overly complex designs or plans that sound great on paper but don’t work out in practice. The leaders at InVision created an alternative approach. The members of Architecture Groups are developers whose main focus is delivering code. They dedicate a percentage of their time to the group. This gives them context on what’s happening on the ground. This also gives faster feedback when a high level decision needs to be rethought.
The groups are designed to change. This isn’t a full time appointment. A key benefit is you can rotate in jr developers and give them a taste of how higher level decisions are made.
Here is the talk in full: Growing pains: how to use architecture groups to scale people and technology
Who else is writing about Lead Dev Austin?
I’ll post more later. The conference itself was like drinking from a firehose. There was tons of great content with little time to absorb. I’m still taking it all in. Fortunately the talks were all recorded and available for everyone on the LeadDevAustin YouTube Playlist.
Other standout talks covered how to effectively allow your workers to take maternity/paternity leave. And tips for working with remote teams. Check the playlist for links. Otherwise stay tuned.