How I keep up with technology as an engineering leader
Sep 13 2022 · 4 min read · Comments
A few folks have asked me how I stay up-to-date with technology as an engineering leader, so I thought it'd be interesting to answer with a blog post.
Many new engineering leaders fear becoming irrelevant as they transition from maker to manager. They fear not being technical enough and losing the respect of the team. Besides respect not working that way, what does technical enough even mean for an engineering manager?
As a manager, your job is to provide context and guidance for your team, not make every technical decision. You don't need to memorise the API of every single library your team uses. Focusing on industry trends, trade-offs, and architecture is far more helpful. Then, you can pattern match issues more effectively in your org.
I could not possibly judge if you're anxious about becoming detached from technology because I have been there. It took me a few years to find a balance I am happy with.
Here are the guiding principles I follow to find this balance:
- 🔍 Pick your battles and focus. It is impossible to learn every new framework or research every new trend.
- 🌊 Adjust your expectations. Some periods may be busier than others, so the time you can dedicate to continuous learning technology needs to change too.
- 🧘 Listen to your body and know your limits to avoid burnout.
- 🔋 Choose the format that works for you: audio, video, text, side projects, conferences, etc.
Does your organisation support continuous learning?
Many organisations have initiatives in place to support continuous learning. If you're fortunate enough to work in one of them, try and take advantage. Common ones include:
- Learning budget to be spent at the team or individual discretion.
- Company time to learn. For example, at Aula, we encouraged folks to block 1h per week in their calendar for learning. In particular, we gave everyone access to Epic React.
- Internal tech talks you can join or deliver.
If you feel there's simply no time, bring this issue up with your manager.
Keeping up with technology is significantly more challenging if you must always do it on your own time, especially if you have dependents and other responsibilities.
My sources of learning
Obligatory disclaimer: this is a non-exhaustive list of what works for me. Please take it as a source of inspiration but not much else.
⚒️ Side projects
Learning by doing is powerful. I prioritise projects that have a clear scope and are practically valuable for me.
- This very blog.
- Team Findr and migrating it to a new stack.
- The occasional game jam.
I enjoy listening to radio news and podcasts while I drive, work out or cook. I subscribe to many but don't listen to every single episode. It depends on time and on whether the topic catches my eye. Some of my favourites are:
Lots of technology YouTube channels are excessively aggressive for the sake of getting views and subscribers. One that is pleasant and highly educational is Learn with Jason.
- The Software Lead Weekly newsletter
- Stack Overflow Survey
🙌 Thanks for reading. The main takeaway is to keep it focused, adjust expectations and watch out for burnout. I would love to hear what your principles for continuous technical learning are.