Becoming a lead, part 2: trials and tribulations
Dec 1, 2020
7 minutes read

This is part two of a series. Go read part one if you haven’t already…

Over the next few months we would finish a project which was one of the best projects I was involved in. This was lead by my predecessor. I’ve very much been mentored my Leigh the past four years and he has taught me a lot around aspects of my role as an engineer. During this project I pushed for various things within our team; detailed mocks, accessibility as well as other things. This put us in a good state but looking back it wasn’t implemented correctly, however we were lean and very much a team that embraced continuous improvements…

This was an MVP (Minimal Viable Product) that we delivered. We were then to learn from the delivery and iterate over it. There were a few iterations but was pretty much dropped shortly after and we moved on to the next project. The next project was a major key into the future of the success and underpinned a major part of our system, this was much bigger than our rebrand project. During this project we touched multiple micro front apps and our legacy monolith. This was a good few months in development and come April we delivered the project with a great deal of success. During the next month or so we would then support the various parts of the business around these changes and parts of the department made further improvements.

Whilst the team were helping support this, I was starting to help form what would shape a new chapter for our department. Building a customer and agent based experience that’s built with the user in mind. Exciting stuff! We had a vision and an idea to get there… There were things to be ironed out, but there was direction of what we wanted to get to. Within these changes we started to loose some key people. This was a blow to the department - and important on this timeline. First we lost a person who was our connection to the rest of the business. She knew everyone and had a way of getting information, data and result’s in a professional and efficient manor. Shortly after we lost a principle. He was a key person in parts of the department and was another big blow. Shortly after that, another principle left who was a key part in another part of the department as well as 4 more blows over the course of a short few months where we lost 3 leads and then the head of the department.

As a someone who was new to being a lead, I was excited to have this chance as I could improve on my skill set personally but I could also work closer to people I’ve already enjoyed working with as well as some of the people we’d lost were very much people I looked up to. Now my principle was having to cover other areas of the department as well as look after their own.

During these events, COVID stormed the earth and we were very lucky as we still had a job and an income but we were working 100% remote. This came with it’s own challenges. Full remote meetings, trying to adjust and trying to keep some sort of routine at home whilst not getting stuck on the computer until 5, 6, 7 in the evening was challenging.

Throughout all this I was having to deal with some personal stuff and also realised my resiliance on 3 key people in our department; 1 was our Lead QA and 2 principles. Our legacy system was problematic in that it was a stack that was server side with react widgets on the front end. It’s littered with business logic and hits legacy areas. We had issues with our testing platform and sometimes in production and I’m starting to scramble together some basic notes whilst leaning on the key people I have available to me and failing the simplist of tasks at times as well as starting to take on too much trying to fix things I see as a potential issue.

Whilst some of these events are happening, a new project is starting to get underway after a good few months of waiting on direction. It’s something we’ve spoken about as a team for a good few years now and there were plenty of ideas and thoughts on what this could give us, but more importantly give the customers and agents - really exciting stuff.

We were fed what the plan was and started to work on it. It started with the User Research where data was collated from various places across the business to help create what was thought to be the best way to help the customer, the agent and the business. With it presented to various parts of the business and then the team. Remember, during all this we’ve lost a lot of people - in a short period of time and gone 100% remote working…

There were many frustrations over this period and things I can’t really say within the article. As transparent as I want to be, I need to protect myself and others.

Being new to being a lead, I was being pulled into a fair amount of meetings (which were nothing compared to others) so I was starting to loose touch with coding (which I’ve never been able to get into the same place with JavaScript in the same way I had with PHP) as well as starting to have tasks which I wasn’t recording anywhere, actions from meetings I was forgetting and getting frustrated by changes within the department as well as trying to support my team and the department when certain aspects of our testing area fell over. With all this I was also far away from certain projects. With the project we delivered in April/May, I was so far away from it that my knowledge is very much lacking which caused further frustrations. On top of that, how the project was being managed was starting to … confuse our direction.

I’m generally a positive person, but asking if dates were set in stone and being told they were arbitary but then talk around the project deadline was raising alarm bells with me. Failing at things is difficult for me, I do take it personally and feel I’ve failed my direct report. I was noticing that I was dropping the ball on a lot of things, this in turn made me think about the last few years of my marriage where I thought I had a handle on it all but come to the realisation at this point that I didn’t. Calling out my failures allowed me to make people aware these failures and in turn make me aware.

As the months went by I started to notice a few things. One thing that stood out in a big way - other people were dropping the ball with stuff and I started to realise it more as time went by. I started to understand that no-one is infallible and started to get a handle on my own shit within work. This included prioritising my tasks built up from actions and things I’ve noticed that need doing.

During this realisation period I found I was damaging the team flow. I was picking up tickets and working on them in between meetings and in the time I should have been able to use to code and help get tickets across the board - that didn’t happen and after some battling personally around this I spoke to the engineers in the team and explained I wouldn’t be able to pick up tickets as often as I could or I would be able to start and then get someone to finish it off which is something that doesn’t sit with me fully, but that’s a personal hangup.

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