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Cover image for Triumphs & Tradeoffs (Life after being made Dev Lead)

Triumphs & Tradeoffs (Life after being made Dev Lead)

heyjtk profile image JTK ・6 min read

People were so f#$%ing nice when I shared on Twitter that I was made Dev Lead

I don't know why anyone really follows me to start with, I post a lot of kitten pictures, I'm a prolific shitposter, and occasionally I'll go on a Microsoft rant or touch on something remotely tech related.

People were REALLY happy for me when I announced this a couple months back. It honestly made my heart grow three sizes grinch-style.

But I wanted to share some of the underpinnings just for anyone out there wondering why they haven't hit that milestone yet, or thinking other people who do these cool sounding things have their lives all together.

Spoiler: I ABSOLUTELY do not.

The backdrop to this story

I would be lying if I said I got where I am in life from this wonderful supportive team and I owe all my success to my environment. I'm more like a weed managing to grow through the pavement.

I have had consistently challenging environments, but not always in a positive way. In my previous job, my amazing boss was ousted in a coup and I was reassigned under a boss who had called me a Diversity Person, like affirmative action hire. Couldn't stand him ever since, if you can imagine. Decided to leave as soon as I heard he'd be my new boss.

Out of the frying pan into the fire, I made a very tough call faced with a Senior Software Eng offer from Red Hat and the offer for my current role, which I (obviously) accepted. If I'm being completely honest with you, there are dynamics on my team that had me so shaken in my first 1-2 months I almost tried to renege and go back to Red Hat. Part of not doing so was just embarrassment at my absolutely terrible decision.

One thing I've learned is that it is extremely rare to be able to outwork a bad team environment or certain structural challenges, so for several months where I am currently I hustled to my normal level, but you could sum up my motivations as golden-handcuff-syndrome. I'd love to be in a position in life to just walk away, but I'm definitely not.

Interestingly, in this rare case, I actually did outwork a negative environment. I began work on an application where one developer had made the backend and another the frontend. I discovered that because of my unique background (equal parts Vue, SQL, and maybe slightly lighter on Python but I'm still very productive) I was able to hustle my way into getting more challenging teammates out of my workflow.

I've never been able to just work my way out of a nasty teammate before, but in this one instance: I actually did it. In the course of doing so I also managed to double the feature set of a frontend and two backends without much of any instruction. Difficult parties involved in my project learned to move aside or disrupt my ferocious velocity, and no one wanted that.

Even so...did I actually deserve this(?)

When I got made Dev Lead you could probably have knocked me over with a feather. For anyone keeping score, it happened only 7 months into this really mixed bag job where I'd been tearing my hair out half the time.

  • I didn't expect to be able to outwork a bad situation, like I said. But I think at this point its fair to say, I did. The tenor of the team is completely different than when I started, night and day. TBF, my progress brought us a lot of positive external praise to the point of me getting called out personally and publicly by people at the VP level. As a previously more junior dev doing a lot of background tasks, the praise was very unexpected
  • With three years of developer experience, I'd been planning on spending year(s) 3-5 ramping up from mid to senior
  • I wasn't pushing for the change, so there was no reason for it other than merit that I can think of
  • Even WITH my merit - keeping a single page app, API, ETL process, and database running and managing the bulk of new feature development, deployments, testing, and bug fixes - there are so many things I don't know that in my mind make me NOT a Dev Lead. When I first started telling people about it, I mostly prefaced it with So I'm pretty sure this is title inflation, but guess what...

There's nothing really I can say to make it fair or make it make sense.

In the context of MY team, I am absolutely senior. I can recall down to a constraint the way our database is structured, I picked up Node on the job and took to it like a duck to water, and I can write Vue all day. I had intimate understanding of the three codebases I took over by idk, month three(?) of working there?

But in many other ways, I'm the first to tell you I'm not a Lead. I have a generalists working approach to just about everything I do. I'm not an expert in any language. I'm a googler, not a memorizer. I have 3/4 of a software engineering degree making me the least educated person on my team. And I still screw things up from time to time in embarrassing ways.

You take me to, idk, Facebook, and for all I know they'd call me a junior. That's not humility, I promise you, I have healthy self-esteem. That's my honest take.

K so...why did I accept(?)

Well the irony of this all happening during a pandemic is that maybe it was preemptive. Like maybe I had Dev Lead duties, but since like a lot of places we are on a hiring and raise freeze due to Coronavirus, its a no stakes move to change my title right now lmao. They headed me off at the pass to give me the title bump when no pay bump could accompany it.

I accepted for related reasons. To be completely honest with you, my opinion at the end of the day is that I am a Lead for my app, somewhere else, maybe not so much. But at the same time, I have a philosophy that has gotten me far as a random gal with no college degree whose made it surprisingly far in life anyway:

Never say no to yourself. Make someone else say it. (IE - I'm never going to disqualify myself for an opportunity, someone else is going to have to be the one to put the brakes on because I know I can do big things

Why else did I say yes? IDK, we're in a global pandemic, and if nothing else I think it shows a positive trajectory to be promoted so soon. It is a gamble though. If I were laid off tomorrow and put Dev Lead on my resume and don't meet people's expectations...? Could blow up in my face.

The truth is this is both personally and globally uncharted territory, so I may be making bad decisions, and there's no way really of knowing until they either pay off or turn into a disaster, lmao.

In summary

All to say, I don't know if any of us ever feel ready. At the end of the day among other reasons I know Lead is where I want my career to go, and if that means me hustling like I've never hustled before to grow into those shoes, I'm okay with it.

Its also SO important to me to be that person I never had, that underrepresented person who is a Lead, that underrepresented person who is a Software Architect, the idea of getting to be that to somebody and walking away is something I can't do.

So for now, my plan is to just fake it until I make it. Or in other words, basically the exact same approach I've had my entire time being a dev.

You may be like Well this post sucks, all you told us about was that you settled, basically, at a mixed bag workplace

Not really. To recap:

  • I made it to Dev Lead 3-4 years earlier than I thought possible
  • My contributions turned a challenging workplace into a much better one
  • I'd already decided to stay where I am because it is in my rational self-interest, but now I get to do so with a better title and environment. End of the day, strange as the turn of events were, my future outlook is extremely positive

And - oh yeah -

  • I finally remembered to write this post because they just laid out our work for the whole year, and I got the most technically sophisticated and interesting task, an LMS + streaming app. So whatever my mixed feelings about "am I really a lead?" I am leading. So that does make me happy and hopeful

I doubt I have any words of wisdom but I guess if I did, it would be that your opportunities in this field are always going to be morphing and changing. Don't say no to yourself, and if my approach is any help just take things one day and one line of code at a time <3

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JTK

@heyjtk

She/her. Multithreaded wonder. Snark pinata. Come for the code, stay for the sass. Dev Lead, and head over heels in love with Python, SQL, and JavaScript.

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This post made me happy and hopeful. I wish you all the best 😊