Charity Majors @mipsytipsy CTO @honeycombio, ex-Parse, Facebook, Linden Lab; cowrote Database Reliability Engineering; loves whiskey, rainbows. I test in production and so do you. 🌈🖤 Oct. 29, 2018 3 min read

hey friends, forwarding on this 100% remote devops lead/manager role from @philfreo.

(caveat: I don't know him or them personally, but roles like this can be scarce and I applaud folks who are all in on distributed.) 

this also gives me an opening to weigh in on something that has come up recently: are hybrid tech lead/manager roles like this one unreasonable, even impossible? or totally ok?

In brief: reasonable, with asterisks.

This might seem incredibly obvious to you. But there's a bit of backlash rumbling around hybrid TL/Mgr roles.

Possibly because they are handed out carelessly, performed haphazardly, and tend to exist for all the wrong reasons.

Pessimal Scene

<boss> I have a great idea! Let's have a few engineers report to $(tech lead). Productivity will increase all around!

<TL> well I'd really like some career advancement, and I'll get so much more done with 2-4 people who do whatever I say. Sure, I'll manage.

Fast forward 6 months, and you've usually got one of these:

a) TL insists on the maintaining the level of productivity that made them tech lead to start with, despite managing 2-4 people. Days are back to back interruptions so they do their technical work from 5 pm-2 am.

b) the org is dysfunctional and the TL finds herself doing more project planning, people-corralling for her team and other adjacent teams, picking up stuff her boss neglects, etc. Her hours in the code taper off, she loses context -- and is soon no longer an effective tech lead.

c) the TL is heroically juggling both roles, but it's her first time as a manager, and she doesn't spend any time leveling up on management skills. So she's effectively just a tech lead with extra 1x1s; there is nobody advocating for her reports or developing their careers.

There are many variations. The worst outcomes are when the person really doesn't want to be managing and just wants power and status, or when they are so attached to being tech lead that they hog all the juicy problems and deprive their team of technical growth.

Happen a lot.

So here are a few things to consider if you're thinking of creating a hybrid tech lead/manager role, or taking one.

1) what are the expectations around your technical productivity? A rule of thumb: each direct report takes half a workday from your week.

2) not only that, but as a manager it's your job to take yourself out of the critical path. A manager's job is to be interrupted, an engineer's job is to avoid interruptions. You need to select technical work that is less critical/more interruptable.

3) never hire someone into this hybrid role if it's going to be their first time managing. Sorry.

4) if you're converting internally and it's their first time managing, invest in training. Make sure they aren't skating on their tech chops. Take it seriously.

5) finally, this is temporary. I mean, all roles are temporary ☺️ but this is a particularly unstable combination. Sooner or later the team is gonna grow, or tech priorities are gonna shift.

Don't grip too hard. When it ends, it usually means you're doing something right.

(I wrote about this a little bit in my piece on the manager pendulum, ... Have been meaning to do a followup on *why* the role is so damn tricky for like a year now. Oy.)

oh shit just thought of one more.

6) make sure the person REALLY WANTS TO MANAGE PEOPLE. Never push someone into mgmt, there is nothing worse than reporting to someone who doesn't wanna be there.

You can follow @mipsytipsy.


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