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InfoQ Homepage News How Growing Tech Engineers Enables Growing Yourself as a Leader

How Growing Tech Engineers Enables Growing Yourself as a Leader

It’s challenging to grow into a new role when you are still holding on to what you have been good at and really love, and what you’ve been doing in your previous role. By attaching to everything you used to do, you are also depriving the people around you of an opportunity to grow and learn to master those skills and take on those responsibilities too.

Audrey Troutt spoke about helping others to grow in order to grow yourself at QCon New York 2023.

As you grow, you increase both the breadth and depth of your responsibility and expertise, Troutt said; first across technology, and then deeper into different parts of the stack, then across different development practices, then more profound skills are developed in those areas. Finally, it extends more broadly to the processes and business context in which your teams operate, etc.

Troutt mentioned that over time, we tend to alternate between increasing the breadth and depth of our responsibilities and expertise. And sometimes to get to the next level, we need to do both, but it is hard to grow in two directions at the same time, Troutt said.

One of the biggest challenges Troutt faced during her career was realising that she had created a bottleneck for her team, and that it was holding her back and holding her teams back too. The solution she applied was to help her team build the skills and expertise needed to carry out what she was previously single-handedly owning (like complex feature dev, team processes, platform release coordination, etc) so that she wasn’t a bottleneck anymore.

As a team leader, she learned to help other engineers grow to become leaders as well, in order for them to be able to plan and implement features independently, to triage production issues, and to be able to think and act without her.

With your bottleneck removed, your team can do more in parallel, Troutt explained:

Growing other engineers and letting go of being the only go-to expert for everything gave me the time to learn about and influence more projects and systems and work on larger technical problems. This gave me time and space to broaden my responsibility and deepen my expertise.

Troutt suggested looking at the role you play today on your team:

What are things that only you can do? What are things that really any engineer can learn to do? Are there responsibilities or skills that you can help the engineers around you learn, that would then free you up to work on other broader areas and in more depth?

Focus on doing what only you can do in your position with the context and expertise that you have, Troutt said. For everything else, be a force multiplier: coach, delegate, support your teammates:

Don’t deprive them of an opportunity to grow! I believe that the teams that approach growth this way are often the most healthy, effective, and resilient, which is great for you, great for your business, and great for our industry as a whole.

InfoQ interviewed Audrey Troutt about growth, both in herself and her people.

InfoQ: What did you learn when becoming a feature leader?

Audrey Troutt: To grow into a feature leader, you need to increase the depth of your technical and product understanding, and you need to increase the breadth of your skills to include communicating technical ideas. It is really important to break through this growth point, because what happens is that as a feature leader you become a force multiplier -- you can create clarity and direction for your teammates the same way senior engineers did for you when you were starting out as a trusted contributor. This is the stage when you make the transition from follower to leader.

InfoQ: How did you grow to become a team leader?

Troutt: As a team leader, you have the experience and the context to see the big picture for your team and shape the future of the code. That’s what you should be doing. Figuring out implementation details, writing code, and reacting to errors in production is something all engineers can eventually do—let at least some of that go. And remember, it’s not about delegating work that is "beneath you" – you have to give them opportunities to plan, implement, fail, and learn while supporting them and providing overall technical direction.

InfoQ: What’s your advice for people who want to grow toward the next step in their career?

Troutt: Figure out which dimensions you need to stretch in next in terms of the breadth and depth of your responsibilities and expertise. Depending on what that is, you might need to get more practice, or read and study, or ask for new responsibilities. Then, make sure you aren’t holding yourself back by not letting go of things you are really good at that you could help other engineers learn to be good at too.

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