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A Whirlwind of Foundations of Effective Tech Leadership

Jean Hsu

Jean Hsu

Co-founder of Co Leadership, engineering leadership coach. Previously engineering at Medium, Pulse News, Google.

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My heart rate picked up as I sat across from the brave volunteer who had raised his hand to be coached in front of the room. It felt like a lot was weighing on this one coaching demo — for it to show, within five minutes, the power of coaching. My co-founder Edmond and I wanted people to know that you can support your colleagues, even when you don't have technical domain expertise, or when they show up with interpersonal challenges or career growth aspirations.

The demo went off beautifully — as it always does. The person I was coaching gained clarity around next steps, successfully getting himself unstuck.

Another participant commented: “It seemed like you didn't have any context on what he was stuck on at all. Can we just automate that framework and have a bot ask the questions?”

I laughed in relief. But what was also clear in that moment was that the simple framework we had created successfully demystified a skill that, to engineers, can seem very much like a black box. It broke down what seemed like an intimidating and unlearnable mystical art into something that participants could use to support the people around them.

That’s exactly what we what aim to do in all our work at Co Leadership — give engineers a learnable structure for the human-centric skills needed to be an effective leader.

This past year, Edmond and I have been really diving deep into the transition from engineer to technical leader — we've interviewed dozens of technical leaders and distilled our own experiences and those that people share with us to come up with a foundational course for technical leaders.

It's the course we wish we had access to many years ago. And we created it so that tech leaders in that transition can have more support, more resources, and more connections.

All that work has culminated in the past month. We ran three iterations of the two-day Foundations of Effective Tech Leadership course in three back-to-back weeks. It was exhilarating, rewarding, and incredibly eye-opening.

We showed up eager to share everything we had created — the two-day tech leadership experience we had crafted to result in the greatest delta in growing the attendees' leadership. The engineers we met showed up hungry for community and to learn and practice the foundational leadership skills and resources we had put together to navigate this often ambiguous transition.

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We shared stories about when we felt that our time at work was most joyful, well-used, and impactful. We helped each other gain clarity on what kind of tech leaders we wanted to be. We learned how to set clear expectations with people around us so that we can explicitly design our roles.

We explored our internal resistance to “managing up and communicating out” — shouldn't our work speak for itself? We shined a light on the black box of skills such as coaching and sponsorship.

We spent two days immersed in a learning laboratory, practicing new frameworks and skills that were sometimes uncomfortable, sometimes difficult, and sometimes surprisingly productive. We shared what we learned, what was difficult, and how to best apply everything back at work in the rest of our lives. As we closed out the course by sharing reflections on the two days, one attendee shared, “This course is light years ahead of anything else in the tech industry right now.”

This week, we're catching up on emails and also taking care of ourselves after the whirlwind of the last few weeks. As an introvert, leading from the front of the room takes a lot out of me, and I also know this is important work that's so needed for the tech industry right now.

We reviewed all the feedback from the course and are thrilled by the personal reflections people shared, as well as the quantitative feedback of 41 out of 65 attendees giving the course a Net Promoter Score of a 9 or 10 out of 10.

People shared that they had been having the same ineffective conversation for months — and in the span of a 10-minute exercise, they had a major breakthrough in how their two teams relate and work with one another. Or that the ambiguity of the tech lead role that once felt hopeless is now an opportunity for them to define their own impactful role that plays to their strengths and passions.

One participant shared: “Having worked through Edmond and Jean's workshop on the foundations of technical leadership, I now feel empowered to work through the challenges of technical leadership in a more intentional and deliberate way. There are patterns in the things you can do to be a more effective tech lead, and there are ways to understand, discuss, and execute on them systematically; I am much more confident in my ability to do this going forward.”

This is the course I wish I had taken years ago, when I was a new tech lead — when I was scrambling to try to stay on top of all the things, hoping I was doing a good job but not really knowing if I was, trying to lead but also grasping at solo coding work because it was what I knew and felt comfortable with. It's the course that creates clarity for technical leaders and teaches them to intentionally design their roles, not just go along for the ride.

What's next for Co Leadership? We'll be at Lead Dev Austin in two weeks running Building Alignment, and then we'll spend the rest of the year prepping our online Building Alignment course for the new years.

2020 will be a year of expanding our own impact and influence beyond the Bay Area, both through online courses and continued writing for all of you. We'd love to see you at a future in-person course or an online course or just to hear from you about your current challenges and wins.

As you think about your own path in technical leadership, take a moment to reflect on these questions:

When have you felt like you really hit your sweet spot at work — when your time was most joyful, well-used, and impactful? What are a few ways you can think of to shift your current role to be more in your sweet spot?

Feel free to email us at hi@coleadership.com with your reflections.

Jean Hsu

Jean Hsu

Co-founder of Co Leadership, engineering leadership coach. Previously engineering at Medium, Pulse News, Google.

Read More
A Whirlwind of Foundations of Effective Tech Leadership
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