Help Others Be Great
As Platform Delivery Lead for DataCubes, I find myself bridging two different worlds on a daily basis: technology and leadership. I love having a foot in each of these worlds but they are very different states of mind.
The technical world is about code, of course, but even more so, it’s about problem solving. At DataCubes, we are tackling enormous technical challenges on a daily basis. We use dozens of machine learning models to help tie together data from commercial insurance applications, loss runs, statements of value, vehicle schedules and over 1.5 billion data objects from hundreds of third-party data sources. Needless to say, in such an environment, we face challenges every day that require the full team’s talent, creativity and willpower to overcome.
The leadership world is about getting the best out of the people on your team. Similar to the technical world, it involves a lot of problem solving, but they are different types of problems. Often it’s about anticipating project and people-related problems before they happen. In order to deliver on our commitments, we need the entire team aligned and working together. I like to think I’m part of the glue that keeps it all together.
My typical day includes conducting all our code reviews, being the gatekeeper of code promotions between environments, leading our daily Scrum stand-up sessions and making sure we are on track to deliver the work we’ve committed to in each Sprint. In order to help ensure success on an ongoing basis, I’ve learned to stay focused on a few key areas:
- Clarity – Every team member must know what is expected of them and must be in agreement that the work is achievable. This is where having a technology background comes in handy – I’m able to help our developers estimate the time required for their tasks and ensure the requirements are well-understood.
- Cadence of Communication – In addition to our daily standups, I’m also highly involved with each developer throughout the day to ensure our tasks are being executed and any issues on the critical path are being addressed. I ensure risks that cannot be sufficiently mitigated are communicated to our senior management in a timely manner and make recommendations for project adjustments accordingly.
- Code Quality – My philosophy is to write code once, as DRY as possible, so it can still be used and maintained for decades. Many development teams kill their productivity by not putting enough emphasis here – in my experience, taking shortcuts in the code is never worth the rework that may be required in the long run.
For those interested in technical leadership, I recommend you first gain experience on the technical side while working for great leaders. Much of leadership is about drawing from your past experiences and working for great leaders is one of the fastest ways to get the right experiences to draw from (interestingly, working for terrible leaders is also valuable, as it teaches you a lot of what not to do). Also of great value is having one or more very good mentors to guide you in your growth. I've had some fantastic mentors in my career that have helped me achieve more than I ever thought was possible.
Once you are formidable as a technologist, you’ll find you will get opportunities to help other technologists become more formidable. This is an important part of stepping into the leadership world – your focus starts to shift from being great to helping those around you be great. Look for team members you can help and assume the role of mentoring them. Not only does this help them grow as professionals, but it also provides enormous satisfaction when you know you are having a positive influence on your coworkers' careers.
The best part of this transformation is the multiplier effect it has on the impact you can make. A great single developer can make a huge difference in a company, but a team of great developers working together will take the company an order of magnitude further.
Prior to her current role as Platform Delivery Lead at DataCubes, Sangeeta was a Principle Software Engineer at Infinite Convergence Solutions and, before that, a Senior Staff Software Engineer at Motorola. She has 18 years of professional technical experience and over a decade leading teams. She holds a M.S. degree in Computer Science from DePaul University and a B.S. in Computer Science from North Carolina State University.