Mektup #14: How often do you go out of your comfort zone?

Hey friend,

I hope you are doing great. My last two weeks were hectic in my new role. There are many learnings and new and updated relationships, and I'm creating a different perspective in my life. After a long time, I finally don't feel tired, although my calendar is full.

Becoming a team lead was officially a promotion, but I didn't think that way; I saw it as a career change. Although I'm leading software engineers, it's a new field with different responsibilities than software engineering and requires another skill set.

Throughout my career, I changed roles a lot. After graduation, I started as an iOS engineer, although I was studying with Android. Later on, I moved to Germany and became a backend engineer. That didn't work out, and I went back to iOS engineering and changed the company. In my current company, Jimdo, I worked on iOS and then developed a backend application in the team. At the same time, I was contributing to Android in a more high-level way. Then, I took responsibility to lead the mobile engineering for Android and iOS while I moved to another team as a backend engineer. I worked for a year as a backend engineer before I became a team lead.

As you see, I switched roles back and forth, worked on many different projects, and collaborated with various people. I learned a lot, which I wanted to share some of them with you.

Being in various roles helped me to wear different lenses. Each position has a different perspective. While a backend engineer cares more about the API design, an iOS application developer cares more about the user interface design. Both are design topics but from very different angles. While a backend engineer usually communicates with other engineers, iOS engineers talk more with designers and (sometimes) app users. While data migration is an essential topic for backend engineers, it rarely forms a discussion in the mobile team.

Different disciplines' concerns vary from each other. When a person works only in an iOS role, they cannot perceive the sacrifice when a backend engineer changes the API. On the other hand, a backend engineer cannot comprehend how mobile engineers keep the app working without issues in older devices and operating systems.

Learning these differences and how to talk in each side's language gave me a lot of strength. Thanks to these different lenses, I better understand various systems and can lead two different teams. But all of this comes with a drawback.

Changes in roles and projects prevented me from becoming an expert in one discipline. iOS is still my strongest suit as I worked on it for years, but my skills are already rusty. I haven't worked hands-on on an iOS project for more than a year, and everything changes so fast (thank you, Apple!). At the same time, I cannot call myself a good backend engineer because I didn't have the entire experience.

Although not being an expert in one discipline might not be your choice, it is okay for me. We talked about being a specialist vs. generalist with Ricardo in one of my live streams. You can watch or listen to it if you are curious about my complete perspective.

Many people get afraid when they are out of their comfort zone, which is fair. They either want to stay in their comfort zone or hone their expertise. While the latter is perfectly natural (and required for society), I couldn't accept the former one. Over the years, I always pushed myself from any comfort zone. I switched roles to learn, and I took stretch projects to enhance my skills.

It might not be the perfect timing for you. However, even if you are moving towards expertise, I recommend having some experience in another area. If you don't know which field to explore, take a look around you. Who are you working closely with? Is it a backend engineer, an iOS engineer, a designer, or maybe a product manager? Talk with your manager and ask for recommendations.

Determine which role has a less steep learning curve and has the person who can and willing to help you. Invite them for an informal coffee session and discuss your intention: exploring another discipline.

Plan a pairing session and let them explain the basics and show you how they work every day and where to start. Watch them during the day and follow how they work, what they talk about in meetings. You don't have to become an expert in a new field, but grasping their perspective improves empathy and enables stronger collaborations with better communication.

Don't think that you're asking for a big favor. Your pairing sessions will help the other person too. They need to learn and become better at mentoring to grow in their careers. Also, over the years, I realized that many people love to reveal how they work, and they feel flattered when you approach them with a genuine interest.

Having different roles helped me grow and become better at my job and prepared me to become a team lead. I hope you will give it a try. If you do, please write me about how your first experience was. I would love to hear it.

Until next time,

Have a happy stretch in your role.

@candosten

P.S. You need to get better at prioritization before jumping into another field.

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Sep 21, 2021
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