Monday, 11 June 2007

Headless Chicken

I've been officially a Team Lead for a while now but this week it's really started to feel like it. Design was interesting, new to me and provided lots of scary opportunities to stand in front of clients and try to explain myself but it was nothing like this week. Firstly, I was then leading a team of... uh... me. Not so much leadership required, although more than you'd think! Secondly, because I hadn't managed to be involved in that stage of a project before, I was still learning lots and it felt more like a move sideways rather than up. Last week, however, (drum roll please) we started development.

I was really looking forward to this. This was the part of the project where I felt I best understood the team lead role and what I would be expected to do. This is the bit I love - looking at a blank screen and starting to throw stuff onto it, then watching things take shape. And, this time, I'd be running it. I'd get to play with the hard/funky bits, pass on to someone else what I hope I've learnt of how to code well and support them so they could code freely without being caught up with frustrations...

Summary of how it's gone: I'm exhausted.

Admittedly this is partly because there's been other stuff going on this past week which has resulted in some late nights... But I'm still surprised at just how tiring it's been, and how little I've actually got done. Somehow, I'm sure I'm busy all day but I get to the end and my to-do list is longer than when I started! Plus, I only spend about one hour per day working on a use case - if I'm lucky. It's a big shift in thinking and ways of looking at things - I'm finding it hard to plan or estimate anything with the constant interruptions / context shifts (emails, questions, meetings, phone calls...) proving a bit of a challenge. I miss being able to sit down for a couple of hours, fully focus on something and see it done.

Sorry, I didn't mean to complain. It's been fun too - I have got to do some of the background helper-type code I was looking forward to and it's been nice discovering I have some useful knowledge to pass on. I am hoping things will settle down a bit as the project settles in a bit more and there's not so much running around to do. I'm also understanding more and more why the team lead on my previous project starts work really early in the morning!

Anyway, what I've been musing about today is whether there's a better way I could be doing this so I look a little less like a headless chicken. I seem to spend a lot of time trying to figure out what I should currently be doing, or what I was doing before I was interrupted, or what someone else needs to do. I have to-do lists (usually more than one, perhaps that's the issue) and post-it notes and a project plan but things still keep slipping through. Then I end up merely reacting to things rather than being in control and that doesn't work. So... ideas anyone?

A manager mentioned last week that it's far more efficient to only check your email a few times a day rather than jumping on messages the moment they arrive. I'd heard the theory before, and it does make sense since you context-switch less often, but so many people send emails expecting instant answers that it's difficult to put into practice. Worth a try? Not sure. I'm certainly considering it as an option - would make for one less type of interruption at least.

I'm also wondering whether I'm trying to cover too much. Letting go of things a bit and delegating more is definitely on the cards for the weeks to come. I don't have a particularly good track record of letting go of anything but we'll see how we go. Just another needful skill to learn. I find it ironic that not so long ago I was bugging my team lead that he needed to learn to delegate...

Beyond that, I'm banking on my brain adjusting to keeping track of many more things at once!

Friday, 1 June 2007

Big Girl

Well, it's amazing how many things can come out of one little trip...

An item about my trip to Girls' High appeared on our company intranet earlier this week with a link to my blog post about it. This resulted in the page views on my blog quadrupling for a couple of days and a variety of senior staff members pulling me aside to tell me they thought my blog was great and comment on a variety of things. The positive feedback has been really encouraging and people have been very supportive of some of the ideas I've been writing about and providing more ideas and resources to help me achieve what I want to. Good times!

I also had a female colleague get really enthusiastic about doing more school visits with me to keep promoting IT to the next generation of girls. There's a few people who've expressed interest now and we're all meeting up next week to "come up with girl power strategies". It's a really neat feeling when other people start jumping on your bandwagon. :) So we're now looking at publishing an article, offering to speak at some Wellington High Schools, perhaps visiting the Universities too, hosting a work visit for keen students and a Bring Your Daughter To Work Day! Exciting times, especially when some company directors are included in the group of interested supportive people.

This morning I received a really sweet card signed by the girls I spoke to last week and a letter from their teacher as well to say thanks. It was a very warm fuzzy moment reading all their comments - I was amazed at how many of them said they were considering IT as a career now! It turns out the class teacher also sent a thank you letter to my boss... which resulted in him nominating me (at some length) for our weekly award this week.

Overall, it's been a very warm fuzzy day/week on all counts!

Some of the warm fuzzies have been pretty scary too. Mostly as a result of me taking on a Team Lead role now but partly, I think, from the sheer amount of publicity I've gotten lately I'm doing / being asked to do lots of things I would never have imagined doing at this point in time. Notably:

  • Needing to get a 'Sales' code for my time sheet
  • Organising and running meetings with clients
  • Not having enough time to do what I had planned because of meetings, things to follow up, queries from people etc
  • Doing time and cost estimates for whole pieces of work
  • Spending an evening mingling with and amusing clients for a client function
  • Being asked to help interview someone (next week)
I was complaining to my project manager about this this afternoon - "Lots of scary things are happening this week!" - her response was: "Yes, you're a big girl now!". Don't get me wrong, it's great, exciting and a privilege; I just can't help but find it all a little scary sometimes when I start to wonder if I'm really worthy of the confidence people are placing in me. All I can do is try to be as worthy as I can I guess! And cover my monitors with post-it notes to avoid forgetting things.

I've been musing that this is something else to talk to any future groups of high school students about - as being somewhat unique to the IT industry I think. This is an industry where companies are growing fast and people have an opportunity to grow incredibly fast if they want to. It's not that long ago that I was a lowly new graduate who had to ask her mentor what a stored procedure was...