You need to code

As a senior member of the team, its very easy to get into a comfort level and literally stop coding. Have seen many people do that.

Especially, in the kind of software industry we work in.. you’re encouraged to leave coding and get to the so-called ‘Next Level’. That means a raise in salary. That means a higher position. And yes.. that means people work for you.

There used to be a sugar mill in my village. Incidentally, it closed down few years back. It had a similar tradition. Your importance was measured by the number of people working under you. You were the boss to 10 people under you meant that you’ve achieved the greatest feat the village folks have ever achieved. I’ve seen tears in family’s eyes once their son was promoted to that level.

It kind of made sense there. Not completely, but some sense. The kind of work performed did not really need a great deal of creativity or thinking. It was a mundane job. Loading/Unloading a sugarcane truck. Moving the load to the machinery. and so on.. So if a person was very good, he’d be twice as productive as the regular guy. Frankly, it didn’t mean much. Twice as good.

But, you’re in a software industry. A good software engineer is many more times productive than a mediocre one. So if he’s not coding.. its a team’s loss.

One of the reason given is.. you need to get other people to work and help them get to speed.

Frankly, I’ve been long enough in this field to know that it just doesn’t work. You can’t really replace a good software engineer with 5 mediocre ones. The output will only be mediocre. Add the fact that, leading a team is not something that comes naturally to software guys. In fact, on the contrary, good software folks aren’t really preachy types. They prefer showing the stuff in practice.

The speed with which the world is moving, most of the technologies get outdated pretty soon. So there is no real fun in holding on to Dracula and angels. In few years you’d find yourself struggling to keep your job competing with young guns equipped with modern artillery.

One way out of it is office politics. No one loves it. But they don’t have a way out.

And of course, management in no way compares to the fun and excitement that programming brings to everyday life. Isn’t it.

So let go of the status quo. Get back to programming. Show them how its done.

 

Team is as good as its Leader

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As the saying goes ‘A leader is as good as the team’, most of the times the reverse is true as well ‘A Team is as good as its leader’.

In our part of the world, we believe a lot in bonding and forming close communities, with our leaders at our center. They are the source of inspiration, energy and direction. They command utmost respect from one and all and are a huge part of what we are as people.

During my startup, I wanted to be all that a leader should be. In the process, used to involve myself in all activities starting from product design, architecture, technical decisions, marketing and sales strategy, day-to-day operations, finance and all the rest too. The intention was to help all departments and be on top of all the things going on.

Soon I realized that there was a trend contrary to my beliefs. The team started depending on my views for everything that was going on. I was becoming the bottleneck.

This is the basis of the post: The team started becoming a shadow of myself. It could be only as good as me.

I had no clue what to do. For few months, I was able to stretch and be there at every place helping the team. But after a while, I was really struggling.. with time, with pressure of work and stayed drained out most of the time. This started affecting the quality of my decisions too.

So.. driven by compulsion, I started taking myself away from these activities, and started giving my folks more room to make decisions on their own. They were uncomfortable at first and afraid of making any crucial decisions but things improved with time. After about couple of months, surprisingly for me, the team started taking more responsibility and at times were taking better decisions than what I would have. It also increased the motivation levels among team members. All of this and their respect for me was still the same (if not higher)

I tried to see what caused this and following were my inferences:

1. People got more empowered, resulting in higher motivation to do the work.

2. They appreciated the trust that I showed on their work. This improved their morale too.

3. The decisions were taken in a democratic way. This had a very positive influence on the culture of the organization.

Conclusion:

Add right people to your team, and then trust them to do their work. Never limit a team’s capability depending on your own.

Sometimes Strength is their greatest weakness..

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Its odd, but true. Really. Many companies suffer because they did not evolve their business models at the right time.

We’ve heard of companies that fail very early on, in the startup phase, because of lack of a strong business model primarily. But, in current day and age, it is not enough if you’ve made through that phase. In the face of competition, first mover advantage is restricted to very few domains. Certainly not software.

Its essential that company evolves its business model, considering the state of economy, political structure and basically the environment. Many companies make the perennial mistake of sticking to their assumed strength for too long. Yes, I don’t mean to say that one should not value their core value proposition, I’m saying that one needs to continuously keep evolving it.

It’s about continuing to innovate in every means possible, and building that innovation around your core abilities.

When companies get bigger, they tend to be more focussed on their core abilities, simply because it is difficult for them to innovate and grow at the same time. Hence we see a trend that most innovation come from smaller players, who have little to lose and are willing to go that extra mile to build something that breaks the predefined rules. And naturally, bigger companies are found wanting.. playing the catch up game in the competition.

Recently, there has been lot of movement in this space. Many companies have tried to redefine themselves. Companies that have always been very traditional about their business models are getting out there and trying newer things. It is for the benefit of everybody. Those who are not doing it, they better have a very good reason for not doing so.

Going to office or going to work?

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Really, where are you going?

I’ve been thinking about this for quite a while now..

I spend about 1 hour 15 minutes to reach my office from home. That makes it about 2 and 1/2 hours daily.  On a five-day week, this sums to 12.5 hours (equivalent to 1.5 days of work). So as per figures, I lose 1.5 days of work time per week for a totally non-productive thing.

Now add money into the equation, if my per-day salary is about 2k, i’m losing 12k on a monthly basis (which is 1/4th of my overall salary). Thats significant money and time. Quite significant.

Ok. Enough of numbers. So.. why do we then go to office?

I’m of a firm opinion that it is absolutely essential that we utilize this time more effectively. And, it’s not just me. I see more and more companies are realizing this and are offering a alternative plan to their employees. Some even feel that offices would be “history” in few years to come.

We need to make some major changes to our mental setup to change this..

1. Need to identify better ways to measure work.

2. Communication facilities need to improve

3. Need better planning

4. Need to be sensible about collaboration and utilize time more effectively

5. Need to get more self-organized and self-employed style.

Of course, I agree that all nature of work do not permit this. But especially in software, its absolutely perfect. Infact, there’s a whole industry which works on remote communication. It certainly can work and work well..

Let’s stop going to offices. Let’s start going to work.

My people always ask me “what to do”..

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As an entrepreneur/manager, believe me, its not a good position to be in. You want people who can/are willing to take decisions.

The reason you hire them is because you think they are good at what they do (ideally.. better than you too.). So you need them to tell you what they want to do.

Sadly, many argue that its a very ideal state to be in.

Ok. Point taken. Back to reality.

Don’t tell them what to do and observe them.

What could happen? Will no one work? Would there be no decision at all?

Or

Would people start thinking what to do..
Would people start taking decisions and learning from their failures/successes..

Remember, the reason people ask you what to do is because they’re not confident of their decisions and are afraid of failure. Give them the cushion for failure and encourage them to take decisions.

Embrace innovation. Accept failure.