Todays episode is from the archives.

We are joined this week by Chris McAvoy to talk about growing your people & their careers.   Learn why advancing your career is like playing great chess; It’s not about having a great strategy; It’s about playing positional chess so that you have all of your pieces in place so when an opportunity presents itself you can take advantage of it.

Chris is a technology leader with a passion for open source communities, innovative products, software and architecture.  He is presently a mentor at Techstars and the VP Engineering at Cognizant QuickLeft.  


Favorite Quotes & Highlights

  • I’ve built a career out of building software engineering teams & developing software engineers.  A lot of people join my team as junior engineers and leave as mid level or senior engineers.
  • My sister is a teacher and my mom is a teacher.  I like to learn new things.  I feel lucky when I end up in a place that supports that.  Given that that’s what I want from a job, it’s something I try to provide for my teams.
  • In practice, you need to have time for learning resources.  You need to have flexibility to experiment with new languages and techniques, new platforms.  
  • It’s got to be okay to make mistakes as long as you take care of them.  
  • Sticky note game
    • STEP 0
      * 1 employee
      * 1 manager
      * 1 or 2 advocates for employee (employee choses them)
      We bring lots of sharpies + sticky notes. Sponsors get diff colored sticky notes than Employee.STEP 1
      We Start by just asking “What does success look like in the next 6 months for you?”
      It’s totally open ended, that could mean anything:
      Community related
      Project related
      Skill related
      Work life balance relatedSTEP 2
      Then we put the sticky notes on the board and talk through them.
      1. Which are top priority?
      2. What are specific action items SOON you could take to reach them?STEP 3
      Optional: Follow up between advocate and employee a few weeks later
  • You have to be open to what people want to do and then support them as much as possible.
  • I believe in unstructured learning, because that’s what ends up sticking with people.
  • I believe in planning out your learning pathway.
  • If you come from small startups, the corporate world is a very different animal.  If you’re developing an idea inside of a 30+ billion company, what about equity?  Who owns the idea?
  • The example I give is AWS.  Amazon was a very large company, sold a lot of books.  Out of nowhere came AWS.  Someone inside of AWS had to advocate for it, they had to develop it.  I’d consider that entrepreneurship.  Whatever group of people came up with that idea, I’m sure they’re doing really well in Amazon right now.
  • Getting acquired was a lot weirder than I thought.  It was difficult in that little things can get really strange.  As an example, our team had to do security training.  The training only worked inside IE.  Little things like that can really add up and grind on you.  Once you get through it, you see that this company has near limitless resources — If you have an idea and you can convince the people around you, it can happen without you having to take a large amount of personal risk.
  • When I was young, I wanted to be in film.  NYU you had to show up with $10k in fees.  But at USC, you had to pay to make a film, and the administration got to choose to make a film.  This is a good analogy for corporate vs startup.
  • I’m 40 and I’m a 9 year old son.   My motivations are different & I’m enjoying working for a large company.
  • You can age in a couple different ways.  I know people who have aged in a way in which they remind you how into punk rock they were in back in the day.  One of the pieces of advice I give to younger engineers is three Paths you can go down: (1) CTO path, (2) Stay Technical, but manage teams.  VP Engineering path, (3)3rd path — Get into product management
  • Age isn’t always an indicator of where you’re at with software engineers.  I know of a lot of great engineers who came out of code schools but are older.
  • Be open to luck, be open to things happening.  Playing great chess isnt about having a great strategy.  It’s about playing positional chess so that you have all of your pieces in place so that whenever your opponent makes a mistake or an opportunity presents itself you can take advantage of it.
  • When planning your career, be open to luck, be open to things happening. That means (1) Create opportunities – Building a network without being a “networking thing” (2) Learn a language that’s weird.  Something that’s esoteric that cahnges the way you think at things.
  • Don’t be a feather on the wind.  Zero career management is a mistake.
  • Choose an IDE and get really good at it.
  • Recommended Book: Pragmatic Programmer.  
  • Three points to manage your career: 1) Learn a new language every year 2) Really learn your IDE 3) Sequel is not broken
  • Be cool; Try not to be *that engineer* that causes problems and gets into fights all the time.