This week I was lucky enough to get to Lead Developer London 2019, an amazing conference on technical leadership. I’ve been a few times before and every time I go I’m completely blown away: it’s an absolutely brain-melting single track conference jam packed with the most thought-provoking presentations. I believe that when you go to a good conference, you always hear exactly what you need to - what you learn is a personal thing. Here’s what I picked up on and the talks that really resonated with me.

Team Documentation

I work in startups, so I deal with a lot of ambiguity day to day. I’ve often struggled with how best to manage and communicate all of our changing priorities, but a few things really clicked on day one of the conference. Lara Hogan’s talk on team friction, José Caldeira’s talk on engaging teams, and Whitney O’Banner’s talk on OKRs all spoke to me about the virtues of writing down what your team agrees on - recording and publicising your plans, your common goals, and your accepted norms. I think that this would really help out in my current position.

There was also one piece of Julia Nyugen’s talk on front end architecture, a topic that’s normally way out of my field: when you’re making incremental changes to architecture, document them and document your progress. Explain what you’ve already converted and what’s left to be done. This would be hugely useful for my ops team.

On Call

Brian Scanlan from Intercom gave an incredible presentation about on call work, but I found just as much to think about in Jonathan Stott’s discussion of Business as Usual, Steve Williams’ talk about training lifeboat crews, and Franklin Hu’s talk on security culture. In all of these presentations, we heard about teams that work hard on something potentially quite disruptive, be it urgent, out of hours, or just boring. I took from these that this work needs to be made an explicit thing that you talk about and handle separately from everything else. It can be a force for good in the organisation to call out the people who work hard on it (as long as you avoid hero culture!) and you can bond over it through exercises and tabletop scenarios. For us, getting organised about our BAU and on call work, and being ruthless about cutting it down, is going to make our lives a lot easier over time.

Inclusion and Diversity

I’m not in a hiring phase at the moment so a lot of this knowledge is the kind of thing I hope to store away for later, but a few things stood out. Dora Militara’s talk was one of the most outspoken, bold pieces I’ve seen on the topic, and the various other talks on hiring were full of good small ideas on improving your process. Ola Sitarska talked about defining the job you have - not one you hope to have in the future - and defining what the right candidate for it looks like, and the importance of choosing the right person for your entire team rather than just the right person for the role itself.

One more thing: just because we’re not hiring right now, that doesn’t mean we can’t keep working towards a workplace that encourages and supports more diverse candidates.