How to Find Your Role on a Software Development Team

As a software developer, finding a team role that leverages your strengths and aligns with your interests is essential to feeling fulfilled and motivated in your work. In an agile software development team, crafting a role that meets these needs is a design activity. This involves analyzing responsibilities and the make-up of the team to optimize for team happiness and effectiveness.

Craft a Role?

One way to simplify this design challenge is by using Developer Archetypes as a shorthand for communicating your strengths and interests. An archetype is a coarse-grained description of a region of the developer “space” you occupy. That could include being specialized and passionate about pure coding and development (“Software Craftsperson”) or more drawn to computer-sciencey topics, such as architecture, system design, and abstractions (“Strategic Engineer”). (We’ve identified 6 – see the post!) When you identify your archetype, you can more easily communicate the career directions that best align with your skills and passions in a way that is easily understood. That will help the team make informed decisions about how to leverage your involvement best.

On a team like those at Atomic, where there’s usually a Delivery lead, designer, tech lead, and several developers working through a backlog, it may seem that there’s not much room to adapt or craft roles, but this is an illusion. Self-organization is a key responsibility of an agile team. This means that the team has the autonomy to decide how best to solve customer problems and how to organize themselves to achieve this.

Self-Organization on Agile Teams

As the team breaks work into stories, you can slice that work to create different kinds of opportunities. The team and team leads can do so to leverage and support the team. They can also play match-maker between the work and the maker best suited to that work.

For example, you can:

  • Create spike or technical design stories to allow a Strategic Engineer to wade into ambiguous technical waters, where they love to swim.
  • Give an Explorer ownership of a larger feature area. Support them as they perform the tasks of a tech lead in how they must plan, analyze, and lead development over a set of stories to prepare them for future projects.
  • Help a new team member gradually ramp into a complex stack or domain by enabling them to focus on a smaller part of the project. When they build a base of mastery, they can grow over time instead of being inundated with too much novelty on day one.

Remember that an engaged and fulfilled team is likelier to deliver its best work. By working with your team lead to craft a role leveraging your strengths and aligned with your interests, you can help ensure the team is motivated and productive.

But finding the right role is just the beginning. Once you’ve found a fitting role, it’s important to continue learning and growing. This could involve taking on new challenges, seeking out additional responsibilities, or learning new technologies.

Overall, the key to finding a fulfilling role on a software development team is to think proactively, communicate effectively, and continuously learn and grow. By working with your team lead to craft a role that leverages your strengths and aligns with your interests, you can help ensure that you are happy, engaged, and delivering your best work.

Tips for those in an Execution (development) Role

  • Identify your strengths and passions. Take some time to think about what you excel at and what you enjoy doing. This will help you communicate your preferences and goals more effectively.
  • Be proactive. Don’t wait for your team lead to assign you tasks – take initiative and suggest ways you can contribute. This can help you find opportunities to work on tasks that align with your interests and goals.
  • Communicate openly and honestly. Share your preferences and goals with your team lead and team openly and honestly. This will help them understand what work you find most rewarding and where you’re looking to grow or explore in your career.
  • Seek feedback. Regularly check in with your team lead and ask for feedback on your performance. This helps you identify areas for improvement. It also shows your team lead that you are committed to your development and growth.
  • Collaborate and brainstorm. Work with your team and team lead to collaboratively brainstorm opportunities within the project to take on responsibilities that align with your interests and goals.
  • Be open to new challenges. While it’s important to work within your strengths, it’s also important to stretch yourself and take on new challenges. This helps you grow as a developer and shows your team lead you’re willing to take on new responsibilities.
  • You are not the artifact you’ve created. Be open to feedback and constructive criticism. This can help you identify areas for improvement and growth.

Tips for Team Leaders

  • Analyze the project situation. Assess the project’s current state and map out challenges and opportunities the team must consider to deliver value.
  • Allow the team to get to know one another. As a leader, get an understanding of where they’re at and where they’re headed in their career. Archetypes help summarize some elements of makers, but use them as a starting point for an ongoing dialogue.
  • Explore options for role crafting and assignment. Try out different role mixes of responsibilities as the team gains momentum and a deeper understanding of one another. The situation changes over time as team members learn and grow and the nature of project challenges evolve.
  • Encourage learning and growth. Foster a culture of continuous learning and growth on your team by providing opportunities for team members to learn new technologies and take on new challenges.
  • Communicate openly and regularly. Encourage open and honest communication on your team. Check in with team members regularly to see how they are doing and address any concerns they may have.
  • Foster a sense of ownership and autonomy. Empower your team to take ownership of their work and make decisions about how to solve customer problems to increase team happiness and engagement.
  • Recognize and reward team members. Show appreciation for your team members’ contributions through recognition and rewards, from public praise to more tangible perks.
  • Provide support and resources. Make sure your team has the resources and support they need to succeed, whether it’s through training, equipment, or access to necessary tools and technologies.
  • Be open to feedback. Encourage team members to share their thoughts and ideas, and open yourself to feedback on how you can improve as a team lead. This will ensure your team is happy, effective, and able to grow and learn from their project experience.

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