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Better Report, Better Manager - Two Questions to Find Guidance If You Don't Have A Manager

Published 3/28/2022

What should I do if I don't have a manager? There's a lot of answers to this question, but the first route I want to suggest is to find someone who can provide the guidance and empowerment you need in your career. This is someone who has skin in the game and the agency and skill set to actually help you.

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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
What do I do if I don't really technically have a manager? That's what we're talking about on today's episode. My name is Jonathan Cutrell, you're listening to Developer Tea. My goal on the show is to help different developers like you find clarity, perspective, and purpose in their careers. We've been in the series of better report, better manager. And in this series, we're talking about how you can become a better report so that your manager can actually be a better manager. This is kind of a back and forth relationship, a give and take. And in order for you to be a good report, you need a pretty clear picture of who your manager is and what their role is in your career. Now for many reasons that we won't go into all of them, we'll go into a couple of them maybe. But there are many reasons that you may not be clear about who your manager is. Or perhaps more accurately, the person who is your manager isn't really doing the things that we've talked about a good manager doing in this series. For example, you may have a boss who has no engineering experience or doesn't really have an insight into the specifics of your job. They really are just acting as essentially an extension of HR or maybe an extension of some kind of executive leadership or something like that. But they're not really in the specifics of what you do. They have a hard time really understanding how to help you grow. They're not really at that level of detail. In that way, they are your boss, but they're not necessarily your manager. Another situation you could find yourself in is in a startup where the company structure doesn't really have managers necessarily. They have people who are in charge of departments, but they're not really doing those kind of investments into the team. Team might be composed of a couple of engineers. You might be, for example, the senior engineer on that team, but you're not a manager. The only person that's above you in the technical team might be the CTO. The CTO might be meeting with you about projects, or they might be meeting with you about hiring, but they're not necessarily investing on a regular basis into your career. First off, I want to say this can be a difficult position to find yourself in. If you're in this position for too long, it might be time to start looking for a different situation. In the startup example, it's very possible that the company is prioritizing hiring a manager, or maybe there's somebody on the team who is looking to move from being a software engineer to being an engineering manager. I'm going to give you two questions that you can ask to help you identify someone in your career, someone in your life that can give you some of the things that your manager would give you. I want to be clear here that we're not necessarily talking about replacing your manager. That's a very difficult position to actually replace. And certainly, if the person that kind of answers these questions, or that you think of when they give you these questions to answer, if they're not in the same company as you, then there's a lot of caveats to that situation. We'll talk about that after we talk about these questions. But the loudest message I want you to hear from this episode is that you can't wait on someone else to just come and invest in your career. Sometimes, it requires you filling some of those gaps. This is a very hard thing to do, and it's also harder for some people than others. For example, people who are historically more likely to be discriminated against in the workplace. If you go and take these actions, they might feel more risky than it would for someone who is not historically discriminated against. But regardless of your situation, regardless of your background, I can't recommend that you sit back and wait for the situation to change around you. And so the two questions I want you to answer to point you towards the people. It doesn't have to be one person, but the people in your life and in your career that can help you grow like your manager would. I'm going to give you those two questions now. The first question, who has a stake in my success? Who cares about my success? Who has some skin in the game? If I succeed, who else stands to succeed? And perhaps just as importantly, if I fail, who does that affect? And then the second question, and this might sound very simple, but once you combine these, it makes sense. Who has the ability to help me get there? Who has the ability to help me grow in my career? Help me achieve the goals that I'm trying to achieve? Now here's the very important nuance here. There may be someone who is invested in your success, but they're not necessarily invested in your specific goals. Think about this for a second. Your manager may not necessarily have a stake in you becoming ahead of engineering at a different company. There's not really something there to incentivize them to help you do that, but they are incentivized to help you succeed. So part of your job as a report and part of their job as a manager is to try to align those two things together. Your success in your current role, which will help you take the steps towards your long-term success and your personal goals. So let's reiterate that nuance here for a second. You want to find somebody who is invested in your success, not necessarily you succeeding towards your goals, but you succeeding in your performance in the meantime. Now here's why we want to make that distinction. The number of people who could be incentivized to help you succeed now, right, that performance based success, provides a much better pool of options than if you were to look only at the people who want to help you reach your goals. I keep in mind that as we mentioned earlier, if the person is not within the company that you're currently working at, you're going to face some hurdles specifically, it may feel like they are invested in your success, but you need to ask why specifically are they invested? When I say invested or when I say skin in the game, I mean they have an actual upside for them, not just something that they hope that you're going to succeed, but rather that they actually benefit themselves. This is why I tell you over and over when you're listening to this show to take it with a grain of salt because I don't have skin in the game for your success, right? Anybody who is on the outside looking in, it can provide a little bit more of an objective, kind of feedback to you, but someone who has skin in the game, someone who is actually going to succeed when you succeed and fail when you fail, they're going to have better alignment of incentives with you. This person might be another engineer on your team. This person may be somebody in a different department. It may be somebody who's in that executive leadership group, someone who you can look to for some kind of guidance and enablement and that they will be incentivized to give you that enablement because when you succeed, they succeed. In a future episode, we will try to disambiguate between a manager as a mentor versus a manager playing different roles from mentor. This is kind of getting into that territory a little bit, somebody who is enabling you could be a mentor rather than a manager. We do want to kind of disambiguate between that in a future episode, but for now, these are the questions that you can ask. Who is that person that has both an invested stake in my current success, my kind of localized success, short term or in the next year or two, and who has the ability to help me, right? Who has the ability to push me towards those goals? Thank you so much for listening to another installment in this series, Better Report, Better Manager. We'll continue this series, we may do some on and off, kind of like we did last week with the interview with Svizek Teller. If you missed that, make sure you go back and listen to it. It's was an excellent thinker and presenter and you will be a better engineer if you listen to what he has to say in that interview. But I want to keep this discussion going and I'd love to hear your feedback. If you enjoyed this episode, if you're interested in kind of digging into more of this Better Report, Better Manager series, come and let me know in the Developer Tea. Be a discord at over to developertea.com slash discord. That of course is free, always will be, particularly for listeners of this show. Thanks so much for listening and until next time, enjoy your tea.