Thursday, July 10, 2014

Inspire the Troops

Ok, so today I want to talk to the team leads, the tech leads, and the tech managers out there, the people that other developers and software engineers look to when they want answers, the people whose job involves technology thought leadership.

One of your biggest challenges at your job is motivation.  Not yours, obviously.  No, you're the kind of go-getter who gets up in the morning and eats a big bowl of "I can do it" for breakfast.  You read blogs.  You watch your favorite speakers on Twitter.  Your motivation is beyond reproach.

But you've got folks on your team who have been doing this whole development thing awhile.  Maybe they've been working on that document management subsystem for two years and are really coasting. Maybe they've been stuck on the same platform or same language so long that you see them not being able to think outside the box for a solution.  Maybe they are sitting around waiting for direction instead of proactively looking for improvements the way they used to.  That doesn't make them bad employees.  Life sometimes happens.

As a team lead, you need to get their enthusiasm up.  You need to generate in them a lust for coding.  Not so they'll code for you 12 hours a day.  Don't do that.  Burnout is as bad as or worse than a lack of enthusiasm. No, you need your folks to enjoy coding, to enjoy solving problems, to think about their work critically and try to find and suggest new ways of doing things.

But that's a slippery and elusive thing to go looking for.  Team motivation might as well be your white whale. You've tried lunch and learns, brown bags, watching team internet videos, and that seemed to help, but you're only one person, and you can't do your job and also manage an inspirational team calendar.  Or maybe you can and it's just not enough.

So here's what helped me.  That Conference.  I've made it no secret that community conferences changed my life.  That's just me.  But you're not me.  You're a successful team lead.  You've got the motivation.  So don't come to That Conference.  Send your team.  Here's why.

See, if you want them trained on a particular topic, send them to Pluralsight (I'm not a shill, and they're not a sponsor, but I've had good luck with them).  Send them to a class.  There are lots of good training programs.  Sometimes those programs inspire, to be sure.  But I've seen so many people sit through a dull class and come out bored.  That's if they were even happy to be there or paying attention to begin with.

What about big conferences, like TechEd, or Google I/O, or one of the huge $2500/ticket conferences (never mind the per diem, the hotel stay, the air fare => maybe you're looking at a $5k total)?  They have value, sure, and employees may be motivated by the fact that you've given them a perq.  There's value in that , too.  But motivation to code and get things done may not be the value there.  Maybe it's too marketing-speak.  Maybe it's too specific.  Maybe it's too platform-limiting.

That Conference, and polyglot community conferences in general, are designed to inspire.  By getting attendees into a place where the boss has no presence and giving them a buffet of technologies to feast at, you allow them to rediscover why they came to that field to begin with.  You offer them a chance to see different approaches, try different platforms, or understand a different technology culture.

August 11-13, we're hosting the biggest, baddest community-led technology conference/summer camp at the Kalahari Resort up in the Wisconsin Dells.  150 sessions on a glorious and dizzying array of technologies are available to attendees.  Encourage them to go to sessions outside their comfort zone, and they may amaze you with what they learn.  Even if they stay near to their platform of choice, however, they will find their ideas challenged, and their techniques extended with everything from overview sessions to deep dives.

Of course, it's not just about the technologies.  At the end of the day, we're all people interested in similar things.  Many of the Speakers (err... Camp Counselors) are industry leaders, but they don't fly in and fly out without interacting.  They hang out, meet people, share war stories, and in general are available.  I have chatted to people on Twitter forever and then met them for the first time in person at community conferences. Meeting inspirational people is just another way to get motivated.  Heck, just meeting a new colleague at another company who is doing similar types of development can be rewarding.

All that would be totally invaluable at the price of one of the bigger conferences.  Inspiration and motivation are hard to create, but they seriously affect your team's productivity.  That Conference tickets come in at $399.99. With easy travel by auto for anyone in IL, WI, and MN, and most meals included with the ticket, you're talking about more enthusiasm and motivation for potentially south of $1k.  Such a deal, really.

So send your teams.  Let them bring back their enthusiasm to you.  Let them share with you what they learn. Tickets on sale now.

Hey wait, before you go, remember how I said not to come to That Conference?  I lied.  We totally want you to come, too.  We value that leadership and enthusiasm.  Speakers for the main sessions are already set, but there are dozens of Open Spaces slots over three days where you can share what you know and maybe even get a little inspired yourself.  Come out and meet me.  I hope to see you there.

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