Lesson #31: Staying technically fresh when it’s no longer your job to code
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Staying technically fresh when it’s no longer your job to code
I’ve been in engineering leadership for over 9 years now. While I absolutely contributed to our code base at my two startups (I was still a key engineer in both scenarios), at Spot AI I have opened a grand total of one pull request which was really just renaming Office 365 to Microsoft 365. In other words, I’m not doing much coding these days at my day job.
If you’re in a similar position, it’s easy to feel like you’re falling behind from a technical standpoint. Your team may be having conversations comparing different technologies and you haven’t actually worked with any of them. Or perhaps if you’re on social media you see folks talking about what they’re building and you may be getting a bit of FOMO. (And if you’re perfectly happy not writing another line of code, that’s fine too!)
It’s important to remember that you can stay technical while not actually doing the hands-on development work. In fact, I encourage you to find a ways to stay technically fresh. You’ll thank your future self should you need to, say, suddenly interview for a new job or find yourself with a burning desire to move back into hands-on development work.
So what can you do in this scenario? I’ll outline what I do, and you can use this as inspiration.
Review pull requests. This is an easy on-the-job way to stay technically fresh. You may not be writing the code, but you can review the PR with the author and have them walk you through their technical decision-making. I’ve learned a ton going this route while also being able to actively contribute more thoughtful design decisions.
Immerse yourself in architectural design reviews. I always make sure the engineer(s) in charge of a project are the ones driving here, but I like doing a decent amount of research ahead of time so I can add some useful input. You can use this as a thought exercise to think about how you’d design the system or architecture yourself.
Start a side project. This is of course one of those luxuries of having the time to code in your free time, but if you do want to get your hands dirty with some code, this is a great opportunity to do so. I always have app ideas floating around in my head, so sometimes I’ll just be on a flight and open up my Notes app (or VS code or wherever you feel like sketching) and sketch out the architectural design for one of my many ideas. Do I ever actually get around to building it? Not yet :) But I did find a fun way to practice my French by building a small Remix app to test my knowledge AND dive into Remix, which I haven’t otherwise had an opportunity to do. (Github Copilot being able to accurately predict French translations is one of the coolest things I’ve encountered while working with the tool.)
Volunteer for a non-profit. I am a regular volunteer on Catchafire, a website that pairs you with a nonprofit needing technical help. Sometimes it’s as simple as updating a logo, and sometimes I’ll do some heavier development work like wiring up an e-commerce store on a WordPress site. It’s a great way to give back while not committing a huge amount of time, and these non-profits are SO grateful for your support.
Take a course. I’m a big fan of Frontend Masters and I can highly recommend a paid membership as an opportunity for you to learn something new. You can do this on your own time, of course, so when things get busy you can set it down and pick it back up again later.
Staying technically fresh doesn’t have to be a huge time commitment—you can build a small curriculum for yourself around your workday or take on some extra learning time outside of work if that is something you have the time and desire to do.
What I’m reading
I’m back to reading Wiring the Winning Organization by Gene Kim and Steven J. Spear. Also some hockey romances but we don’t need to talk about those.
Check out the full book list for recommendations and an ever-growing reading list.
Note: Links to books in this section are affiliate links to help support the purchase of the rest of my books :)
What I’m working on
I’m finally past the planning phase for Q1 both for my Core Experience team and my IT team so it’s time to hit the ground running working. Really excited for what’s to come. I’m also actively working on our SOC 2 Type II audit requests from our auditors so we should be wrapping that up shortly hopefully. Then it’s onto rewriting policies. Don’t you all get excited at once!
I’m also putting finishing touches to my course content for next week - SUPER excited about it!
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