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Is Your White Space Safe?

White space can be beautiful and important

You have probably seen an org chart of your, or some other, organization before. Usually, there are lines and boxes, with boxes representing people or teams, and lines representing relationships of authority and reporting. However, an org chart contains a third component that is rarely mentioned explicitly, even though it is of great importance to organizational health: the white space between all those lines and boxes.

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Are You Too Busy?

Being busy is not good for you

Question to you if you are a manager of some sorts: Do you have a secretary? An assistant? My guess is: No, you don’t. Nor do I, for that matter. The thought almost seems megalomaniac and elitist, doesn’t it? An assistant? Who do you think you are? The Prime Minister? Tony Stark? Similarly, there are no office clerks who can take over tasks like copying, booking trains or flights, entering data, or getting books from the library. How did they all go away, and should we bring some of them back?

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Special Assignments Instead of Cogs In a Machine

You do not want to feel like this, right?

If all you do day in, day out, is write code, you might wonder at some point if this is all you are here for. Writing code is fun, and software engineers should enjoy it - otherwise, they will have a problem sooner or later. However, if every day looks the same, and every week looks the same, then you are probably not using the full range of your potential, or growing as much as you could. It is hard to feel unique when you do the same as everybody else, and the same holds true for them. Instead, you feel more like a cog in a machine - fulfilling its role, but exchangeable.

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Catalysts and Psychological Safety

Catalysts are important not only in chemistry

In the timeless classic Peopleware, the authors tell the anecdote of an employee who was, at first glance, not visibly standing out in terms of any particular ability. One thing was striking, though: Projects she was involved in had a significant higher chance of being successful than projects she was not a part of. The secret? Tom DeMarco writes:

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The Horowitz-Buckingham Leadership Argument

There has been a lot of discussion lately about Steve Blank’s article in which he argues that Tim Cook leading Apple is comparable to Steve Ballmer leading Microsoft: Both followed after iconic visionaries - Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, respectively - who embodied the company like no one else. Both were able to increase revenue and profit numbers at an impressive scale. However, both also failed to stimulate and harness the innovative powers within their respective company, and relied mainly on their strong brand for several years.

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Recognizing a Training Dead End

Not all training is equally effective

Do you remember Math in school? If you were good at it, did you help others when they were struggling? Did you always succeed? I remember that I did not. There were these recurring situations that left me clueless on how to make my point, and how to get my tutee to understand. For example, I would try to explain to a friend how to solve a simple equation with X as an unknown. This would go something like this

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On Being Surpassed Gracefully

When you become an engineering manager, others might surpass you technically

Who do you think will be able to run faster after a year of training, given that both have similar physical abilities: Somebody practising eight hours a day, or somebody practising two hours a day? Most likely, it will be the one practising eight hours a day. A similar logic applies with technical skills, and this logic becomes very real when you transition from an engineering or tech lead position into a management position.

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Avoid Shuttle Diplomacy

Don't be a shuttle

I am a middle child, with an older brother and a younger sister. My brother was pretty jealous of me when we were little, so, in order to avoid triggering his jealousy, I learnt early on to care about his interests, sometimes as if they were my own. When my sister entered the scene, this tendency was even intensified. She was the first girl in the family, and under “special parental protection” - meaning that if she was unhappy, one of her brothers was likely to be identified as the culprit. Better keep her happy, then…

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Giving Feedback Without Much Context

Situation: I noticed that one team had almost no discussions around their code changes before they were merged. Other teams did. They would make suggestions for improvement, point out flaws, and sometimes do several rounds of commenting and re-committing before code was actually merged. This was the point of code reviews, after all.

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What is Your Territory?

Your territory is where you build up mastery

One of the most interesting things I took away from The War of Art by Steven Pressfield is the distinction between territory and hierarchy. Pressfield introduces the concepts as follows:

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