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It's not all about the code.

While in California last week, I had lunch with a colleague from my days at Yahoo! In fact, I was the manager who hired this person, and I’ve watched him mature from a “wet behind the ears” (but very talented) n00b to a highly-skilled, valuable engineer.

One of the things that indicates maturity in a software developer is the ability to interact with others, to provide feedback when necessary, and to seek advice when it’s needed. This individual had been the technical lead on a project and was having his own problems working with some of the more junior members of the team.

The junior members appears to be somewhat intimidated when asked about their work by the older team member—this is not uncommon, since a junior developer is often unsure of his or her work and feels self-conscious about showing it off.

In addition, if the team leader simply “drops in” and asks how things are going, it’s often likely that the junior programmer’s code is not in a set state for demonstrating. For example, the programmer may have been trying to isolate a bug, and has just put in a dozen or so lines of bugs, trying to determine which path the code is taking—not exactly the best time to show it off to your leader! He asked my advice on the matter: how best to interact with his team members without intimidating them and yet still getting a feel for progress. I gave my advice, and here’s the note I received from him today:

Hey Glen, I hope you are doing well. I just wanted to send you a quick thank you note for the advice you gave me over lunch the last time we met. You may recall that one of my questions to you was how to ensure that a junior member of my team was pulling her weight without having her feel overwhelmed about her work or making her nervous with my presence. Your response was a two-fold solution: a) to remove the element of surprise by setting up regular meetings with her and b) to make these meetings as much about showing progress as talking about it. I am happy to report that we have been having said meetings since the start of this week and already there is a noticeable improvement in her work – not only is she delivering more than before but she has also become more open to asking questions rather than making assumptions (probably because she realizes it is the safer route to solving problems). So thank you for your advice. Not only is our project humming along nicely now but I feel a small sense of accomplishment on a personal level too.

I, too, feel a “small sense of accomplishment on a personal level.”

Glen Campbell
May 5, 2011