On the last day of class at Dev Bootcamp, the bootcamp where I learned software development, we presented our final projects and then promptly headed to a bar for a graduation party.
Dev Bootcamp was, as far as I know, the first “bootcamp” of its kind, and when I attended in early 2014 there were very few other schools or programs with a similar setup. The whole thing was relatively new, and as such we had an educator from New Zealand (whose name I sadly can’t remember) shadowing our cohort, seeing how the “bootcamp” style of education worked so he could bring it back to his country and potentially set up something similar.
So at our graduation party, I ended up in a conversation with our new friend from New Zealand. He told me something I will never forget: “Kid, you’re not just going to be a software developer. You’re going to be a team lead some day. Trust me.” Now, it’s been several years, so I’m very likely getting the exact wording wrong, but the gist of it was that he was potential in me and that I would eventually be a lead.
Back To The Future
By 2018 I had learned that the friendly New Zealander was half right: I was working, and in my humble opinion doing a pretty good job, as a frontend developer at relayr in Berlin. My team had just picked up an intern who was fresh out of a similar development bootcamp, and I volunteered to be her “team buddy.” Everyone on the team helped her learn, but as the designated buddy I was her first point of contact with questions, and it was up to me to help her find work and tasks that were adapted to her skillset while still being challenging enough to help her learn and grow as a developer.
I volunteered for this role because I had some bad experiences right out of bootcamp, with leads and managers who were not very supportive or kind, or who thought that mentoring junior developers was a waste of time that could be better spent on anything else. I wanted to make sure this new developer had the opposite experience: a supportive, helpful, kind, friendly environment where she could learn, make mistakes, and ultimately grow into her new career in software development.
My mentee eventually transferred to a different department within the same company, more focused on hardware and backend development than frontend. She had only done frontend development to that point and wanted to branch out and see what hardware or backend work were like. When she changed teams she sent an email thanking me personally for all the help and guidance at the beginning of her career. I’ll have a copy of that email forever and knowing that I succeeded in helping her get started with her career is one of my proudest accomplishments of my adult life.
Do You Have Five Minutes?
One day my current lead and the CTO came to my desk and asked if I had a moment to step into one of the private offices. Like I said, I was doing a good job and had no reason to believe I was in trouble, but it can be a little spooky when your boss asks to see you in private if you aren’t sure what’s coming. So we head into a private office. The CTO let me know that the current lead was leaving, and asked me if I’d like to take his place. The CTO said specifically that he had noticed my work in mentoring and guiding the intern, and thought that it demonstrated a lot of the qualities you would look for in a lead.
Never having worked as a lead, or even having had aspirations to do so, this was the last thing I expected to hear. It was not an easy decision, as I had never really done any of the “lead” stuff before, and I had no real idea if I was capable. It seemed silly to say no, though, as both my previous lead and the CTO said they were sure I could handle it. So I said yes.
It was one of the better choices I’ve made in my career. I absolutely loved being a team lead, and I think I did a great job at it. I think most people have had experiences with terrible bosses or managers, and so my driving goal in becoming a lead was simply to be the opposite of that. To support people, to make them happy at work, to help them grow both professionally and personally, and to tie all that in to helping my team and the company at large accomplish their own goals and be successful as an organization.
I plan to write more about my learnings, failures, experiences, and best corny meeting icebreakers from my time as a team lead, so check the rest of the blog if you’re interested in that.