Identifying Future Leaders

One of my personal goals as Lead Instructor at Nashville Software School is to identify students who have the potential to grow into leaders in our field. Lack of strong, upcoming leaders is an issue that often comes up when I speak to existing ones in the Nashville tech community. There are several shining lights throughout the city, but there needs to be many more.

As Nashville grows, our technical leaders need to be able to bridge the gap between the financial and business worlds, that far too often see software developers as commodities, and the craftspeople who want to be creative partners. It's a long play, and a large challenge, but we all need to be the trailblazers now that future generations of developers can benefit from.

I believe I'm in an advantageous position to be a small part of the solution, since I'm the first guide many people have into the world of software.

Identification Isn't Enough

It's easy to identify someone who has natural leadership traits, and say, "That person is going to rise fast and be a great asset to our community." Unfortunately, not much else gets implemented to ensure it happens. Natural leadership needs coaching and refinement, just like natural coding abilities.

Therefore, I'm doing what I can in the limited time I have with apprentices while they are enrolled at Nashville Software School. In the first three months of the course, there are many group projects. This has many benefits for the students, but I benefit by observing which ones step into a leadership role. Each student gets the opportunity to be a team lead during the cohort. The job of a team lead is to

  1. Ensure each member is contributing effectively.
  2. The design process is adequately followed.
  3. Standard Github techniques are being observed.
  4. The requirements are met.

As this happens, I start to see who is taking the time to ensure the entire team understands the code. Which teammates are ensuring that requirements are met? Who is helping their teammates when they are stuck on a concept? Who is putting in the effort, and asking for help when necessary?

These are the traits of someone who has latent leadership potential. As soon as I see this happen I start coaching those individuals.

  • I discuss strategies that great leaders use to challenge teammates and accelerate their growth.
  • I explain how caring about your team's success gives them the courage to try, and allows you to speak to them with brutal honesty. I provide tips on how to help others achieve their potential without doing the work for them.
  • I help guide them on how they choose their first development job. If I believe someone has leadership potential, I certainly don't want her, or his, first experience in the industry to be one that makes them wonder if they made a mistake.

More Leaders Needed: Apply Within

Nashville's technical economy is growing rapidly (one of the myriad reasons for Nashville Software School's success), and having enough people available to fill the existing roles is critical.

One thing that few people talk about is the shortage of technical leaders in our community. If you are currently in a senior technical role in a Nashville company, you likely already recognize this problem. As I mentioned earlier, it's a common problem for teams to take their most seasoned and skilled technical worker and put them in a management position with no training. This leads to underperforming teams, since the most skilled person is no longer the main contributor, and can't effectively lead the team.

My hope is that I can identify people who can grow into leadership roles, and then work with companies who are interested in developing them further. I've already spoken to a good handful of existing leaders who have made a commitment to this. It's encouraging, and I hope to make the movement grow. It's a long play, but it's worth it for the long term health and growth of our booming local economy.

If you aren't comfortable hiring software developers yet, there are plenty of engineering leaders who share their thoughts online, and you can always reach out to local leaders who have managed to build amazing teams. It's important that we train the right people for the right jobs.

At Nashville Software School, we train junior developers to start their journey. I plan on helping others develop programs to build rich teams, with great leadership.