This week I attended Lead Developer, a conference for technical leaders. Lead Developer is organized as a series a conferences around the world. I’ve attended it in London, but there was one in NYC in April and there’s one in Austin TX planned for December 2018.
For me, a conference us usually something purely technical, with a bunch of people sharing code and telling stories about solving problems. Lead Developer was rather different. Its main topics are leadership, soft skills, communication and efficient management - exactly what I was looking for lately.
The quality of the event was very high: all speakers were well prepared, M.C. was professional and funny, all talks were subtitled, there was even a chillout room and a mindfulness session.
Was it worth £700 to attend? If you work for a small-ish company, the answer is absolutely yes. If you’re at a larger company like Shopify, where there’s a lot of internal resources and training available, it’s probably worth attending too, but not too certainly. Out of 23 talks, there’s been maybe 4 or 5 that were extremely valuable for me. For the rest of talks, I’ve already learned much of that from those 3 years that I’ve spent at Shopify.
I could probably watch those few talks without going to the conference, but the thing is that you never know what talks to watch if you haven’t been there.
Below is a list of talks that in my opinion are worth sharing.
It’s personal - the art of giving and receiving code reviews gracefully
I wish I saw this talk by Alexandra Hill a couple years ago! Especially recommended for people who come from direct communication background (like Russia or Germany).
Alexandra wrote a blog post which is essentially an extended version of the talk. Please go and read it.
Using Agile Techniques to Build a More Inclusive Team
This is not a talk about Agile! Kevin Goldsmith speaks about things that you learn when you become a manager (like preparing 1:1s), but my favorite part was about mentoring future leads. Here’s his approach to delegating tasks to his reports so they can learn more about lead’s responsibilities:
Make a list of things to delegate
When you delegate a task to your report, ask them to prepare and show the execution plan first
After you approved the plan, let them execute
Tips for managing a widely distributed team
This talk by Dirkjan Bussink was probably my favorite. As someone who works remotely, I was pleased to hear GitHub’s approach to building remote culture. There’s a lot there that’s similar to how we do it at Shopify, as well as something I haven’t thought about:
Have regular team gatherings. Don’t do usual work on those. Instead, do project planning, socialize, come up with fun activities like lightening talks, cooking and volunteering. Use this as an opportunity to learn about individuals on your team.
Mind timezones. Don’t stay online when it’s too late your zone. Being on the other side, don’t start discussing sensitive matters when it’s late someone’s time so their evening is not ruined.
Use timezones as your power. For instance, hand off ongoing incidents to people in the earlier timezone if it’s late your time and you are exhausted.
The Hardest Scaling Challenge of All - Yourself
A very American-style talk on personal efficiency from Christian McCarrick. Please don’t take it too seriously, but it gives good tips: