How I Accidentally Became a Manager

I joined Lonely Planet in March 2014 to help with the transition from being a traditional book publisher to a digital content powerhouse. It was a tremendous risk for me because there are technologies here that I've never used before, and I'd be back in the business of producing code for a public site that is visited by millions of people. I'd spent so many years producing business applications for much smaller sets of customers.

After speaking with the leadership team in place at the time, we agreed that we could help each other and I joined the team as a senior technologist. I'll admit that it was a rocky start as the roiling changes to people and processes that were happening made it hard to get my bearings on how best I could help the team. Luckily, after speaking again with the leadership team, goals and plans were developed to steady the ship quickly and start moving forward as a coherent team.

Now, I didn't join to manage a team. In fact, I wrote at the time that I didn't want an official management position. I joined to mentor other teammates. I wanted to help other developers advance their skills without any kind of imaginary boundary between myself and them.

Then the day came when it was suggested that I become The Manager, and the other developers Report To Me. I thought about it almost constantly for two days, and had many discussions with my wife about it. Then, I agreed, and I haven't regretted a single minute.

Here's why.

I realized that there isn't, and shouldn't be, a distinction between a mentor and a manager. With the way I've approached it, the only "manager" thing I do is approve time sheets. Everything else I've done with my teammates had the goal of making them better developers, more engaged and excited with the work we're doing, and opening the door for them to become leaders themselves.

My singular goal, in fact, is to support them and be their advocate.

  • Make sure they have no obstacles in their work
  • Make sure they work together well as a team
  • Be a sounding board for their frustrations and aspirations, and help where I can with both
  • Protect them from useless/distracting information
  • Increase their skills so that they can excel, not only on our team, but in all their future jobs
  • Encourage them to get involved in the community, if they wish to do so
  • Teach them how manage time and research information

It's a responsibility that I take very seriously, but I also try to have some fun while doing it. To borrow a quote from one of my favorite philosophers, I'd like to think that this is my ultimate goal.

“When the best leader’s work is done the people say: We did it ourselves.” - Lao Tzu