Engaging, Leading/Managing


How do you engage different groups of people and keep people engaged? These people may be some of the most highly skilled and sought after professionals. They could walk into the larger IT conglomerates (The Googles and Microsofts of the world) and name their price. They have families, nice things. So why do they give up their spare time over weekends to work on something they will have known for 5 minutes beforehand, with the potential of pulling an all-nighter. For little or no reward. If there is a reward it’s unlimited coke, burritos and pizza with a dash of chocolate and crisps. I believe they do it for the thrill of the chase, camaraderie and the challenge.

In conversation with a good developer friend he added that “90% of open source software exists because people can’t get any software written at work”. He was quoting a source which I’ve forgotten, but if someone can enlighten me I would be grateful; It’s a great quote!

It brings me on to musing about the dynamic between management and leadership. When I was eighteen I was at a leadership seminar, which for the first hour found very tiring. A combination of ironing and shoe shining the night before with a refreshing run at period zero (circa 05:30). The second hour I’ll remember for the rest of my life. It started with the beach scene of Saving Private Ryan, Tom Hanks gets disorientated coming up the beach, things go numb, then a solider is screaming at him “What do we do now, sir?”. Our hero organises his troops then, from the front, charges up the beach and his soliders follow him. They beach is taken, good guys win, bad guys loose. The end.

This part was led by a guy who, frankly, had been sunk a few too many times in his illustrious career. However he launched with gusto in leading by example, however impressed the point of knowing when to let others take the mantle. Being an exemplar shows to others how to act, even if they’re afraid, galvanising them into taking a deep jump into the unknown. But said leader needs humility to know when they’re not the best person lead and allows others to step up and show the same level of skill.

One of the sayings I’ve across (from my  father) is “Too many chefs, not enough cooks”. In theory it holds, but in practice falls over horribly. Consider a developer team, hungry for success, in all probability educated at the finest institutions on the planet and capable of developing cutting edge software and hardware. Each one of those developers will have ideas on how the project could work better and given the opportunity probably would manage an aspect of the project better. In the context of a hackathon, I think consensus can be reached within the group, in trusting the individual coders, who are giving up their free time, effort and skills to achieve the best they can do. This effort inspires other people and by default, the people that first step out into the unknown become the leaders instead of managers. These people form a nucleus around which the project (with respect to Taarifa, but could easily be a product or service) is built, they lead (not manage) by example. This doesn’t particularly conform to a specific type of programming ethos, it isn’t Aglie, Scrum or Lean, it should just be common sense.

Written and submitted from the Novotel Docklands Hotel, (51.50789,0.02329)

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Author: Mark Iliffe

Traveller, Programmer, Geospatialist and Motorcyclist

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