In July of last year, I stepped into my role as the VP of Technology at Cappex where I oversee software engineering, QA, operations, and corporate IT. Now that I've been in this role for 6 months, I thought I'd take some time to jot down my thoughts about my experience thus far.
What I've been doing in this role
This has been the first time in my career where I'm not spending the vast majority of my time in the code--writing it, talking about it, reviewing it, and contemplating about it. I got my first computer at the age of 7, started writing code in BASIC soon afterwards, and once I hit 16 years of age I started writing code professionally, interning at a small software shop in Naperville, IL. Being a software developer is really all I've known in my career. I still get to write code in my new role, but not nearly as much as I'm used to writing, of course. I still get to review others' code, but again, not nearly as much of it as I'm used to doing. A lot of my time is now spent on things like hiring, dealing with vendors, working on budget-related items, spending more of my time in meetings, spending more time with other management folks in the company, and doing a little bit more thinking about the future, such as upcoming projects, how I want the team to look like in the future, and how I want technology to help meet Cappex's key objectives.
The best way to describe my role is that I get to do a lot of different things, which can be rather hectic and mind-jarring at times, but a lot of fun overall. Oh, and I'm now spending a lot more of time buried in emails (ugh). I've probably exchanged more emails in the last 6 months than in the previous 6 years of my career combined. No joke.
What I've enjoyed about the role
I've been enjoying the opportunity to get my hands dirty in a lot of different things. This has helped me to obtain a better understanding of how all of our technical pieces fit together. In addition, more frequent communication with senior management has helped me to obtain a better understanding of the company's key financial numbers as well as the company's key objectives.
I like that I still get to do technical work--especially being able to write production code. I spent my first 2 years at Cappex as a development lead and as a result, I have a good understanding of our code base. I try to use that to my advantage in my new role as much as possible. I believe that my understanding of the code base is helpful to my team and helps me to do a better job of supporting the guys on my team. I never want to become a technical manager who is out of touch with technology. I also never want to become a technical manager who is completely hands-off with doing technical work. Thankfully, Cappex is small enough that I don't have to use up all of my time doing "management stuff".
What I haven't enjoyed as much
Getting my hands dirty in a lot of different areas has meant that I'm not able to focus on my tasks as much. It's become close to impossible for me to have extended stretches of uninterrupted times where I can devote to getting a single type of work done. And while I'm still writing production code, I'm usually writing them in chunks of 30 minutes to an hour. Maybe 2 hours at the most if I'm lucky. I find myself having to constantly switch between tasks, which has led to inefficiency at times and is a bit tiring on the mind.
I noted above that I've been doing a lot more emailing in my new role. I've found that it's easy for me to spend several hours a day simply exchanging emails. While I try to keep my inbox as slim as possible (both personally & professionally), it's been very difficult to do that in my new role and I've seen my inbox slowly grow over time in the course of these past 6 months. I'm going to need to employ some extra discipline in how I attack emails in 2015.
Lessons learned so far
Being in this role has been a solid learning experience. I think my biggest learning experience so far has been in trying to strike a healthy balance between being an individual contributor Vs. leading, supporting, and encouraging others on my team to do their job. I have the kind of personality where I absolutely love being productive. I would go so far as to say that I get a certain high from being productive. I get a certain satisfaction from not only getting my own work done but also from picking up others' slack. And while I think this can be a good trait to have for individual contributors, I've been recognizing more and more that this can be a very dangerous and damaging trait to have as a manager.
I've been slowly getting better at coaching and encouraging the guys on my team to do their best work possible and to not get in the way of them doing their work. I've been slowly finding more and more satisfaction from seeing the guys on my team achieve success in their work Vs. focusing on my own individual successes. I've been slowly understanding that I can only be successful in my role if the guys on my team are successful in their roles.
On one hand, my role as a VP has afforded me more control at work than I've ever had before. But on the other, I have less control now than I have before because I've got more people that I need to rely on in order to be successful in my job. And there's just no way that I'm going to be able to control them. I can support them, coach them, encourage them, and lead them. But I'm not going to even attempt to control them.
I'm thankful that I was given this amazing opportunity to lead the overall technology efforts at Cappex and thankful that I've received a lot of support from the guys on my team as well as from senior management. I was short on management experience when I took on this role (and I still am) but I'd like to think that I've been doing a good job overall and that I'm on my way to becoming a really good VP of Technology.
There's a lot that I'm looking forward to as I continue in this role in 2015.