6 years in the same job is pretty unusual these days, especially in the tech industry (although perhaps not as weird as you’d think). This week marks six years for me at Vend, so I thought I’d share some of my tips on how to stick around as a leader at a great tech job.
Worry constantly. Always be concerned about whether you’re missing something, whether you have blinkers on, whether the way you are working is the most efficient or productive. Worry, or more accurately concern, is where growth and change come from. If you’re not concerned that your team is moving too slowly, then it probably is. If you’re not worried that your team structure is correct, then you’re probably growing too slowly.
Avoid rockstars, and don’t kick-ass. Productive longevity requires a caring and nurturing mindset as a leader. Everyone wants to perform at their best, and your job is to create the environment that allows this to happen, rather than continuously intervening when it doesn’t. What works for a brand new grad out of university won’t work for a caregiver with a bad case of gastro running through the family. High productivity (especially in software engineering) is a long game of short sprints, and we know the best sprinters do cross-training, long-runs, and recovery days
Don’t seek promotion. Do great work, prove yourself capable, find ways to do more of the things you enjoy in your job and fewer of the tasks you hate. Seek responsibility and exude trustworthiness. Caveat: meritocracy works best for cis white dudes, so as a leader you need to be seeking promotions for everyone in your team. Ideally they’ll all end up in bigger, better jobs than you.
Don’t be nice. Be genuine, be caring, be vulnerable, be yourself. Don’t create some fake work persona that seeks to be loved by everyone and infallibly nice. That way lies dysfunctional workplace politics and personal emotional turmoil. Sometimes “No” is just better: there is clarity and closure in a “No” that’s absent in a dragged-out “Maybe” (which is probably just a no in disguise, if we’re honest). Additionally, you can be emotionally engaged, helpful, and deeply caring as a leader without always being nice.
New ideas suck. Avoid modern trends, or at least evaluate them carefully. That shiny new technology will not save your project – in fact it will be your new annoying legacy problem in 2 years, max. Be particularly skeptical of trendy team organisation or corporate structure memes: these often stink of survivorship bias, and definitely need to be viewed through the lens of corporate cultural relativism. Incrementalism is always the cool new trend you’re looking for.
Ignore work. Cultivate yourself both physically and mentally. Your body and brain are just machines that need care and maintenance to work well. If you eat less meat, exercise more, and find ways to create space in your mind, your machine will run better. You will get better at your job by finding time to ignore your job. I know you don’t want to hear that, especially if (like me) you’ve not been great at doing these things. I guess you could dance while no one is watching, but taking care of yourself is easier and more productive.
There you go: 6 tips from 6 years at Vend. It really has been a most excellent few years, working with some of the most amazing people I’ve met in my career so far. I’d be happy to work with them for another six.