Impressions of the LeadDev Together Series

After a year of remote work, the consensus among most of my coworkers is that “virtual” and “engaging” are two words that do not belong in the same sentence. So, I was pleasantly surprised that the LeadDev team was able to create such an engaging virtual experience in their LeadDev Together series. In this post, I will share some of my initial impressions of this virtual series.

An Effective Format

LeadDev Together is a six-part series. Every other week, there is a three-hour session covering a different topic related to engineering leadership. At the time of writing this post, my fellow developers and I have completed four of the six total sessions.

I have enjoyed this cadence. One three-hour block every other week feels like a small time commitment. It is not disruptive to my team the way being out of the office for a few days to attend an in-person event would be.

And, having two full work weeks between each session allows new concerns to pop up on our projects. This means that there is always something new to reflect on during each session. I would consider participating in virtual series such as this in the future, even when it’s not strictly necessary. That’s because this kind of schedule allows for both minimal disruption and continuous engagement with the subject.

The sessions consist of three talks, a panel, and a group discussion with your coworkers. A five- to 10-minute break follows each talk/discussion, allowing for a reflection period. The speakers and hosts provide insightful questions to help guide this reflection time. This time for intentional reflection goes a long way in helping us to internalize all of the suggestions presented in the talks.

As for the group discussion, the LeadDev team prepares a group discussion activity, driven by a series of round-robin questions. The focused questions and the emphasis on all participants sharing keeps these group discussions productive and, more importantly, inclusive.

Designed for Managers But Accessible for Junior Devs

The Atoms participating in the LeadDev Together series are all junior developers, with no more than two years of experience at the company.

During individual reflection and group discussion time, we’re able to consider how our team leads handled difficult leadership challenges. We also spend time considering how we might have approached similar situations, had we been playing the role of tech lead. Spending time thinking about these issues is helpful and our status as “junior developers” has not prevented this.

Additionally, the LeadDev team always provided suggestions for how to take these reflections a step further. They provide resources for creating concrete action items to influence change on your team and/or in your organization.

This is where I think the series is better suited for managers and leaders. To maximize the team/process changes that LeadDev tries to inspire, at least one more senior lead or manager with more power to champion a change should participate in the sessions alongside younger colleagues.

My Favorite Talks

In general, I’m impressed with the quality of the talks given at the LeadDev Together series. I was particularly impressed by the following talks and speakers:

Catt Small gave a talk highlighting the difference between sponsorship and mentorship. Mentorship is about sharing knowledge and experiences. Sponsorship is about being an advocate and creating opportunities and access for someone. It’s an important distinction and has made me examine what sponsorship currently looks like at Atomic Object.

Katie Delfin shared insight about when it is necessary to give negative feedback. This quote still sits with me several weeks later: “If unchanged, how will the consequences of this behavior play out in the long term?”

Phil Haack presented on “the human cost of introducing process.” Process reduces freedom and autonomy and creates bottlenecks. So, we were asked to consider carefully whether a process is really needed, as opposed to only being there to give a leader the “illusion of control.” Of course, advice on how to introduce a process carefully was also provided.

Overall, I’ve really enjoyed the time I’ve spent with the LeadDev Together series. The virtual format works to its advantage in creating an interesting and engaging experience. And, the ideas presented have had a lasting impact on how I view the role of a tech lead at Atomic Object.