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piątek, 20 grudnia 2013

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Technical leader worries: to be a tech expert or not to be

The most of IT leaders are promoted IT specialists. Many times it happens surprisingly. And we usually are not well prepared for this change. We love our tech job - programming and suddenly someone wants to take it from us. Of course we are free people and we can say "NO". But it doesn't happen too often. Becoming a leader may be real next step in our career, a new opportunity to learn something completely different.
No matter how we love a new role, one question wants to be answered: Ok, I am a leader. SHOULD I still be en expert? Or what is very common - I still WANT to be an expert and how to do it being a leader at the same time?

There are many ways how you can handle it. Some of them may be quite reasonable some of them may not.
STRONG EXPERT - you choose this strategy, when remaining an expert is extremely important for you, and becoming a leader will not stop you at developing your hard tech skills. It's quite possible but usually it means that you have to spend a lot of your spare time to be in touch with  new technlogies. I know a few people who chose this strategy. They usually have no family (and I am afraid they will not have because of the strategy, but all in all this is not an obligation).

Just LEADER - this is another strategy, which is the easiest one to handle day to day. You just give up the technical side still having precious experience which is more than enough to work with the team. But this strategy is hard to accept for those who still want to develop their expert skills.

COACH - this is strategy enabling you to take the best of both worlds. You are mainly focused on leader type tasks but you use your team and team uses you as a leverage. What it means? When someone needs help and you can help you share your knowledge showing how a person can approach the task. And in turn when a fellow from your team uses new tool, library, technology you may ask for some introduction to the subject or for sharing the gathered experience. You can learn a lot this way and still be in touch with tech stuff. When I personally used this strategy for the first time I was surprised that within six months I learnt much more than during a year before (almost not coding at all). And another surprise was that when I was to use this knowlege later that was quite easy for me.

What I also want to say is that choice expressed in the subject of this post is not a dichotomy, it's more like a continuum where you are probably somewhere in between. And there is another dimension of this phenomena and this dimension is TIME. Time in some way moves you towards a leader position, because the longer you are at leader position, the more your expert skills become outdated (you are no longer fully devoted to the expert work). It may be a sad statement for some of you but it's just like that.

The picture below is a simple visualisation of described strategies and their relationships:

(top image source:

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