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365 days codeless: From Developer to Delivery Manager
By Mário Carvalho
10 months ago

First things first: let’s go back 6 years, on the 4th of 2015, the day I joined Blip. Back then, I was really excited to start my journey as a Software Engineer at a Google-like company. As you can imagine, my expectations were high but what was expected of me was much higher. Indeed, not long after I realized that I needed to step up my game.

I still remember telling my manager at our first one-on-one meeting that, in 3 months, I would like to apply for a manager vacancy. I was young and I still thought that if I wanted something and put effort into it, it would have to happen overnight. At the time, it seemed completely reasonable but now, 6 years later, I laugh with empathy as I reminisce over my younger and innocent self. In those days, I wanted to be a manager for all the wrong reasons. There was not much about managing, but a lot about ego-boosting, meaningless ambition, and the urge to follow what I considered the “natural way up the corporate ladder”.

My manager knew I wasn’t the slightest ready to become a manager, but he began teasing me to play SCRUM MASTER in the team. This helped me to understand better the team’s dynamic and how to engage with them. One day, I decided to run a 360 feedback round table with the team. I booked a restaurant nearby and we went there to have our feedbacks thrown at each other over a glass of wine. In the end, I learned four things: first, I wouldn’t like to trade seats with my manager; second, face-to-face feedback with the whole team requires maturity and preparation; third, we required training on the importance of feedback and how to give it; and fourth, not everything improves with social drinking. In the midst of this apparent disaster, I gained a valuable lesson and understood that I simply wasn’t ready.

Let’s now fast forward 4 years, to 2019. My overall feedback as a software engineer was really solid, and coaching and leadership skills started to show, and I was invited to become deputy Delivery Manager for a completely remote team with members from Russia and Ukraine (even to think about it was a challenge!). At first, it was really hard to adjust. Given that I had also been a developer for that same project, it was hard to avoid the “let me show you how it’s done” trap. I realized the difficulty of separating myself completely from the code. As a manager, I had to show the direction without pointing towards the solution itself. Show the way, not the destination! It was during those new times that I was challenged to apply for a Delivery Manager vacancy at Blip, and so I did.

In the first couple of weeks on the job I only focused on one thing: people. Let me just say that I got lucky to be handed a solid, mature and impressive team, which made my work a lot easier. I started with one-on-one meetings with everyone. Meanwhile, in the team’s meetings, I watched quietly to get acquainted with the daily processes and team flow before starting to share my ideas. During this adaptation phase, I could count on the Delivery Managers team for support at all times.

In a glimpse, it was time to access the performance review for the whole area, something that I had never done before. Once again, my peers supported me. There was already a solid process for preparing and doing performance calibrations, so it was better than I had envisaged. It wasn’t easy, but having an established process to follow helped. At the end of the day, my main struggle was being absolutely fair and fall for the ‘make everybody happy’ attitude. To be absolutely fair with team members doing an extraordinary job, those that fall below excellence must be pointed out. Besides the individual growing path of each team member, I had to develop a vision within the team, “our direction”. We rely on OKRs to help us keep track of common goals. This is something that is very important to me. I learned that leadership shouldn’t be a ONE-MAN SHOW. So, I often encourage my team to help me co-lead. I believe we must delegate leadership the same way we delegate tasks, and that is the way to optimise team engagement.

Whilst I was learning how to sail a boat already on high-speed, COVID-19 happened. In a matter of weeks, we were all working from home at the most challenging period of the year: the Racing Season, with Cheltenham and the Grand National happening. In normal circumstances, this was hard enough, but adding the panic news, misinformation and disease fear could have been disastrous. We joined forces and did the best we could. In the end, it was a huge success. We proved that the company was ready. With ambitious business needs, Blip soon became proficient in working from home and we have continued to deliver outputs the same way we used to in the office.

At these strange times, I was thinking on the single most frequent comment I had heard while seeking advice to prepare my journey as a manager: “The most challenging part of the job is the people”. I had taken this comment lightly because I always considered myself a people person. After all, I wanted to become a manager to help people grow and achieve their full potential. I could handle people. Or so I thought. It was only while working from home that I fully understood that sentence. To keep the team engaged, I needed to feel their problems, hear their difficulties, connect with them. I started to feel their problems as my own and rejoice their victories, from the smallest behavioral changes to the delivery of a big project.  This is still what I believe to be the main challenge as a manager: not to be overwhelmed with information and to keep providing clear guidance. That is why you need to be true to yourself about your motivations. Really consider why you want to become a manager.

One note on the technical aspect, someone with technical background can add more value to discussions. I was more of a front-end developer, or at least focused on Javascript, so my programming language tech skill set adds nothing to my team. Yet, I can offer an architectural view and foster discussions on operational tools and processes. It has been a challenge for me to keep up with all the different technologies and this what I am working on.

Only one year has passed, but I feel I’ve grown so much. I found my sweet spot: not being too comfortable and having a lot of room to grow. I’m really excited to see what’s out there for me.

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