Friday, October 7, 2016

In That Moment of Terror, Evolution Occurs

There has been much of interest in my day job as of late. Much to keep me busy, much to ponder and consider, and definitely wondering "where do we go from here?"

In the course of the past two weeks, we've received the news of two, frankly, heavy departures from my company. One of them is for an amazing reason. Our senior software developer, Audrey Tang, has left us to become a Minister without Portfolio in the Executive Yuan of the Republic of Taiwan. Seriously, how does a software company compete with that? The second is of our Vice President of Engineering, who has been with our company for ten years, and has the deepest institutional knowledge of anyone in our company. With these two departures, I've come to realize that I am now one of a small few who are the senior members of the team. In short, whether my role or job title reflects it, I'm now one of the "sages" of my company. Only four other people have longer tenure, and that's measured by months, not years.

To be honest, some people are fearful. What does this mean? Where do we go? Can we do what's expected? Those are completely legitimate questions, and I find it interesting that a number of people are asking me for my "lay of the land" in this situation. I'm not going to talk "out of class" so to speak, but I am going to share some general thoughts that I think are relevant to anyone in any work capacity, and they match my general philosophy overall.

This is a time of uncertainty, sure. How long will it take for us to replace these two people? I'll argue that they can't be "replaced". We can hire people, or promote people, to fill their roles, but we will never "replace" their drive, genius or quirks that made them effective. My answer is "don't try". No, I don't mean give up, I mean don't try to replace them. Instead, forge ahead with new personalities, new ideas, new modes of genius, and dare I say it, insert yourself into the conversation or situation if it makes sense. First, who's going to stop you, and second, they probably are elated you want to help carry the load.

Evolution doesn't come at times of health, well-being, peace and comfort. It comes at times when there is a crisis, or a threat of extinction. We don't learn when things are going well, we learn when things are going haywire, and we need to solve real problems. Over the past few years, I've determined the best course of action is "We seem to be having some trouble here. How can I help?" I came into my current company as a tester, with testing my sole focus. Upon the death of a co-worker and mentor, I took over their role as Release Manager, and became more familiar with our code base than I likely would have otherwise. I didn't get promoted into that position. I saw there was a hole now, and no one there to do that job, so I decided to figure out how to do it. No one said "No, you can't do that, you have to go through channels". Well, not entirely true, I did have to convince a few people I really did learn enough about what needed to be done to get access to resources necessary, and in that process, I did basically declare "I'm Socialtext's Release Manager", when there was no one official to back me up. What happened? The de-facto became official. I became Release Manager because I declared I would be it, and under the circumstances, there was no one in a position to really object.

Today, I see similar opportunities. If I ever wanted to declare myself as the head of Dev-Ops, or to declare that I am now a supporting software developer, or even help chart architecture decisions, that time is now. However, I will not be able to really do that unless I am also willing to put the time in necessary to show I have both skills and willingness to do it. I'll not pretend that I'll be promoted to VP of Engineering. That's a bit beyond my skill set or desire, and we've already got a new VP of Engineering, but they will feel like a fish out of water for awhile. My plan is to do what I've found to be most helpful, which is to say "you seem to be struggling with some challenges... how can I help?"
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