Be a Public Speaker More Often, but not in the Places You Expect

You know you need to do more public speaking and you don’t need me to nag you about it. Of course speaking at conferences, company events, and Meetups is awesome for taking you out of your comfort zone, test your ideas, and it helps build your personal brand.

I’m not talking about that kind of public speaking. Those opportunities are both rare and time consuming.

Instead, look for more opportunities to do extemporaneous style speaking. (In case it’s been a while since your high school speech class, extemporaneous means speaking without preparing.)

So by this I mean, look for any meeting of more than a handful of people, stand up, and represent a point of view or advocate a vision. It could be in a meeting room. It could be post scrum. It could be at lunch. These opportunities come up a lot more often so you’ll get a lot more practice and you’ll definitely build a brand quickly in whatever organization or community that is.

But here’s the challenge: in a formal, prepared talk you have a lot more control over the message and the context whereas extemporaneous opportunities are fleeting and the contexts varied. Put simply, you’ll have to think and speak on your feet.

Here’s a hack: use the rule of three. That is, have three topics that you’re able to talk about at work (or whever), and have three things you can say about all three. If you have those nine data points easily accessible you can easily adapt them to almost any extemporaneous context.

If you do it often enough, people will see you as a leader. And you’ll see yourself that way too.

Go forth and be great!

What choice will you make when you end up on the double black diamond?

In our lives and careers as tech leads, most of us ski blue runs. We’re beyond the greens. Yet as much as we dream of the blacks or even diamond runs, we generally stick with the blues.

In skiing, like life, we try to navigate between fear and excitement. The blues usually give us a landscape letting us accomplish both, even if we know the real rewards lie elsewhere on the trail map.

So what would happen if you got off the gondola and, oh crap, you took the wrong lift and now you’re staring down the near vertical drop off of a double black diamond? It’s a run where there are very real consequences if you make mistakes.

You could choose to focus on safety or you could choose to focus on carving the mountain. I’m not suggesting you’re necessarily going to be succesful if you take the latter choice, but I think you understand the point.

In our day to day careers as tech leads, we face these moments from time to time. The choices we make shape not only our career but also our lives.

Where our focus goes, energy flows.

By the way, I got this from a recent Tony Robbins podcast. I thought it was an awesome analogy that most of us could related to.

Photo by asoggetti on Unsplash

We had our first Tech Lead Workshops – Silicon Valley session today. This is what we talked about.

Didn’t mention it here (yet), but a few weeks ago we launched another Tech Lead Workshops Meetup in Silicon Valley. Today we had a brief noon conference call to introduce the workshops to a few of the earliest adopters.

This was the invite, in case you’re considering launching your own meetup somewhere, which I hope you are:

Traffic sucks. Before investing your time away from your family, your work, and braving traffic (or the train) to this new Meetup group, first dial into an easy lunch time conference call from wherever you are to discover what Tech Lead Workshops are, why it might be useful to you, and how to participate.

Conference bridge will be provided to RSVPs the morning of the event.

Tech Lead Workshops are unique, intimate discussions centered around open sourced case studies intended for those who want to increase their tech leadership skills. But there’s a lot more to know!

So, talk to you soon….

The following is what I presented, reproduced from my speaking notes (not necessarily what I actually said!).

What are the Tech Lead Workshops?

The idea behind the tech lead workshops is that most tech leads, at least in my experience, get thrown into the role without any training and without many good role models. While we could help alleviate the problem by writing books, blog posts (like on Tech Lead Daily!), the only way to really get good at something like leadership is to practice it.

So the Tech Lead Workshops are sessions — maybe large, maybe small — where people who want to improve tech leadership skills can do so in a safe place.

What’s the format of the workshop?

It’s a conversation, not a presentation.

The conversation is guided (but not bounded) by two things:

  1. The open source case studies, which we’ll explore a bit more later.
  2. A three-point framework for tech leadership.

The three point framework is something I’ve been working on over the past two weeks and hope to publish here soon, but it’s basically a three step process.

  1. Seek out leadership moments and help define the vision for those moments
  2. Evangelize that vision to the team
  3. Coach the team as they execute the vision

There are two ways we might run the workshops. First, if there’s a big enough attendance, you could do it the way I attempted to run our first Santa Monica session — a panel to serve as the discussion leads and (hopefully) audience participation. In retrospect, this should probably be something to strive toward — not the first step.

The second way, which is probably how I’ll run the workshops in LA and Silicon Valley in the near future, is to host intimate sessions of not more than ten people in a comfortable setting like a coffee shop, secluded space of a restaurant, or maybe a quiet bar.

The case studies and the open source tech lead workshop site

The workshop should be focused on a specific case study to neutralize the conversation and drive connections to participants’ real lives.

Ideally, workshop participants will read the case studies beforehand and come prepared (you know, like you were always prepared in school). The case studies are open sourced on and at I hope we can get a lot of participation on this eventually.

I took the initial stab at putting up some case studies and hope to do more. However, my case studies are written from my experiences — largely with big enterprise development shops where, shall we say, the culture is rarely ideal.

So I could use your help to increase the quantity and diversity of case study options.

  1. Contribute new case studies!
  2. Improve the ones we have.
  3. Submit your ideas as issues.
  4. Improve the UI of the website.

When and where to have the Meetups

I’m thinking, as I wrote up after our Los Angeles event, that evening events might not be the right way to do this. A morning coffee conversation or lunch get together might be better, especially for the smaller, more intimate format I’m planning for the near future.

I can imagine (e.g., dream) that someday we’ll be big enough that we’ll have someone like Patrick Kua or Michael Lopp come give a presentation, in which case we’ll do a more traditional Meetup-like, one-to-many lecture format. Until then, I think we might want to focus on the small, intimate sessions.

Also, if you are reading this and want to run an event at your employer, let me know. I have a sense that this could be a great way to spread the tech lead case study method forward dramatically. Ping me at

We closed the call with some great questions and comments.

I’m looking forward to seeing you at a Tech Lead Workshop in Silicon Valley or Los Angeles soon (well maybe after the holidays)!!!

You Don’t Have to be an “Alpha” to be the Tech Lead

If you’ve never worked closely with me, I bet you’d be surprised to learn that I write and think a lot about leadership, especially in the (unfortunately) testosterone-rich tech business.

I’m never the “alpha” in the room. I’m usually the last to speak. I’m not overflowing with my own opinions on things, and when I do I’m usually the last to offer them. I’m succint.

A few weeks ago I was at a meeting of managers where, for the most part, competition for The Alpha designation felt palpable, if unspoken, which is fairly common in Corporate America. There were about seventy of us arranged around round tables of seven to ten each.  At one point we were in the middle of a break out session after having just gone through a lecture on the value of being the last to speak.

The break out question was something like “what do you think the value of being the last to speak is?”

My table launched into their point of view immediately, with the most senior manager taking first. After everyone had their say, they looked at me and said, “you haven’t said anything about this.”

“I’m being the last to speak,” I said with a smile.

It was only then that the irony appeared. I deeply enjoyed the moment (maybe a bit too passive aggressively).

I think of myself as every much a leader as I assume they do. I’m not arguing here that I’m more effective just because I’m the last to speak, but I am arguing I don’t have to have an alpha style to be a leader. Neither do you. I have a different style, and I’m ok with that; if you’re not an alpha, you should be too.

I suspect (without evidence) that alphas are drawn to leadership because they see many models of “alpha style” leadership. You proably see a lot more of the alpha style than any other as well. Unfortunately, I suspect further that this discourages people who don’t have an alpha style or alpha instincts from stepping up to lead roles.

Don’t let it discourage you if you have a different style. You don’t have to be an alpha to lead. If you’re reading this blog, you have the most important prerequisite: a desire to lead.

Indeed, it would be great if we added a lot more diversity to leadership styles in your company and our society overall. If you’re unsure of yourself, reach out to me! I’ll try to help!!

Photo by Frida Bredesen on Unsplash

You have five days left to submit a talk to Lead Dev Austin 2018

Hey American Tech Leads,

Screen Shot 2017-11-09 at 3.18.00 PMThe Lead Dev conference is coming to America in 2018 — Austin (and New York). And the call for speakers is still open until November 14 at 9:00 a.m. Pacific time.

If selected they pay travel, hotel, and even give you $450 in fees and expenses.

If you pitch something, let me know and we’ll track it here. Obviously I’m putting together a few talks myself. Hope we can present together!!

Here’s the link to submit your talk.

Photo by Glen Carrie on Unsplash

Tech leads today (Nov. 8, 2017)

Hey Tech Leads,

Thought I’d share some of the tech lead happenings out there on the web today. This morning, Kent Beck started with an interesting question:

What companies are doing the most interesting, innovative, visionary experiments in software engineering at scale—tools, process, organization, culture, growth?

It was an awfully broad question, so he didn’t really get much directly on point. In case you’re curious, some of the top responses include Google’s CRE role, any place that does Haskell, Menlo Innovations (the consultancy behind Joy, Inc.), the Medium engineering team, and Cognitect.

Another awesome tidbit crossing my radar was Eryn O’reilly’s intro talk on the tech lead role from last week. Good timing because I’m working on my own point of view on succeeding in the tech lead role. Her advice is pretty different from mine in its approach, but it’s definitely valuable.

Kind of directly on point to Eryn’s talk, if you listen to it, is a question that drew attention on the Stackexchange today. The poster is a tech lead and he’s concerned about an overbearing project manager….

In theory I think we should collaborate to get the best possible results by conversing our (potentially different) points of view. In practice he adopted a hard stance and wants to see some changes made without taking any input from me.

It’s a super interesting thread so I hope you’ll read it.

Finally, there was a thread I came across on Twitter:

Our Twitterer’s profound point was born out of something really mundane. There was something about an architectural choice in a Python project and she was arguing for human clarity over technical cleverness. I don’t really know the technical merits of the discussion, but the essence of her tweet is indisputable.

If more tech leads adopted @erstejahre’s point of view, we’d have happier programming environments to be sure. Debate me on this if you want, but I’m going to win 🙂

“Sorry, but the post is awful.”

I’m in my early 40s, but this morning I got momentarily pulled kicking and screaming back into a shy little kid. And it sucked. Let me explain.

I have an old blog where I used to focus on technical topics. In one of my most popular posts I try to explain how OSGi works without relying on the extra tooling that OSGi usually needs, just as a teaching exercise. I’ve gotten some great feedback on it.

This morning while I’m making coffee, a WordPress alert popped up from “vasya” saying, “Sorry, but the post is awful,” along with some technical arguments.

Discussion’s great, but this kind is not.

For some reason, as an industry, too many of us (still) freely intermix technical opinions with subjective judgments on people’s work products (as happened in my case) and sometimes on people themselves (Vasya didn’t go that far here). This is industry where there no absolute standards; mostly we’re just advocating our opinions on what’s technically good and what’s not. Too many of us take that subjectiveness far beyond technical facts, however, which means many of us will be reluctant to be our most creative selves and put ourselves out there to try to solve problems.

It’s not just blogs, I bet it’s happening in your company right now. How are your code reviews, for example?

This lack of professionalism and collegiality deeply damages our effectivness as individuals, as teams, and as an industry. You can write it off as Vasya’s immaturity or lack of professionalism, but there’s a lot of these folks — not just out here in the wild but inside our corporate walls too. You probably know a few of a few personal examples.

When we talk about safety and empathy, this is an example of it. I’ve been involved in litigation, and it’s generally more professional, collegial, and curteous than this industry is. It’s time to mature.

This was just a minor comment. I’ve been around long enough to have developed thick enough skin that Vasya’s comment gave me a good chuckle once I had a few sips of my coffee. But it reminded me how damaging this crap was to me personally and continues to be for our industry.

As a tech lead, I’m putting it on you and me to fix it.

As for Vasya’s comment, I approved it because he’s got interesting technical points but also to respond to him on this point (and to offer him some free tech lead coaching). (And yes, I know my subject line perpetuates the very thing…!!!!)

Photo by Michał Parzuchowski on Unsplash