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Code refresh: Knocking the rust off of tenured directors

Apr 30, 2021 - 6 min read
Joshua Ahn

For tenured directors, career growth involved a progressive transition from executor to a strategic visionary and leadership role. Technical skills that were once actively used daily gradually builds “rust” over time without practice. While the value of coding skills is less applicable to daily executable tasks, investing in a code refresh holds utility in three other categories:

Let’s walk through how these three actions and some practical examples can help you improve your team retention, promotion success, and leadership.

Staying Sharp

For the most part, a director’s career started as a software engineer executing code and eventually graduated to managing engineers, which shifted a large portion of your time from writing code to management tasks. Typically these career journeys see a reduction in technical skills but the ambition and intellectual stimulation required to become promoted becomes more demanding. Utilizing resources to do a code refresh helps keep the mind sharp and knock the rust off of skills that continue to be relevant in this field of work.

Let’s consider the rate at which any skill declines through a function of complexity and frequency of practice. Skills that have high complexity due to more underlying components will have a higher rate of declination. Additionally, skills with a lower frequency of practice will also show signs of higher rates of declination.

Coding holds a high level of complexity that compounds with the general trend of lower frequency of practice amongst directors. As a result, technical skills are at increased risk of becoming dull over time compared to most other skills.

Time becomes the most valuable factor when considering an investment for a code refresh. Despite the high rate of skill decline, it’s possible to stay sharp with low time consumption. Cognitive research done in 1975 showed an 80% improvement in the time required to complete a task for the second time and a 75% reduction in repetitions needed to reestablish a skill back to its former competence.

Occasionally knocking off the rust will keep your skills sharp as it was in the past, and you may be surprised by how quickly you regain your coding prestige. While we’re on the topic of time, you may want to consider finding code refresh resources that are text-based can reduce the time of learning by up to 50%.

To help you get started, here are some fundamental and advanced courses designed to keep your code refresh efficient, streamlined, and personalized:

Maintaining Credibility

Engineering teams consist of high-caliber developers motivated by their desire to create high-impact solutions to complex problems and ambitions to develop their careers. The priorities of a director should be empowering the engineering team for high-impact projects, meeting engineer’s career goals, and consistently delivering high-quality projects. To meet these priorities, leading a developer team requires high technical competence and management skills to maintain job satisfaction, productivity, and team culture. It boils down to the director of engineering being the technical leader and people leader on the team.

Being a technical leader is straightforward. It involves taking extreme ownership to find solutions for issues and developing a plan to execute the solution. It consists of championing planning sessions and diving deep into discussions on solving complex problems. The more nebulous aspect of leadership lies in being a people leader.

There are hundreds of books and papers written on becoming a successful people leader, and among the list of successful leadership is maintaining credibility across teams. Maintaining credibility is vital for moments where team morale needs a boost or when teams need to be pushed for an upcoming deadline.

The investment returns of a code refresh will show up when you lead your team through roadblocks or any issues. Having a team feel supported by their director’s technical competence can significantly improve retention and general job satisfaction. In return, directors will feel valued by their team and consistently deliver high-quality projects.

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Updating Skills

Never underestimate the importance of developing a growth mindset culture within your company. Microsoft is a famous case for undertaking the massive culture overhaul towards developing a “growth mindset” when Satya Nadella stepped into his CEO position in 2014. Put simply, JP Courtois, who leads Microsoft’s global sales and marketing, stated that “The culture at Microsoft changed from ‘know-it-all’ to ‘learn-it-all’.” This change has led to Microsoft’s success in attracting and retaining talented individuals. Most importantly, it started from the top and trickled down. Developing a growth-mindset culture within your organization begins with normalizing code refresh for tenured directors.

The tech industry is diving deep into topics such as cloud computing, AWS, ML, and AI. Concurrently, the evolution of programming languages should also be met with a standard of updating and learning new skills. As a technical leader, finding ways to update your skills sets the cornerstone of developing a “growth mindset” culture within your organization. It becomes a benefit for self-improvement while also paying dividends in successful recruitment and retention due to your team’s culture.

Here is a list of articles on popular programming languages you may want to update your toolkit with to get you started.

Wrapping up

Investing in a code refresh to knock the rust off of unused technical skills will pay dividends in team productivity, job satisfaction, retention rates, and recruitment quality. By staying sharp, maintaining credibility, and updating skills, you will ultimately see growth in your organization’s productivity and culture.

Every successful business should maintain a standard of innovation by seeking time-efficient methods to learn and develop practices to achieve high standards. The mindset to grow starts with your organization’s leadership, and the benefits of your investment will follow.

Happy learning!

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