Submitted by sgoldstein on
I had a question for the technical management community. What techniques do you use to stay technical? How do you keep up to date on new technologies? How do you avoid losing the knowledge you already have about current technologies?
Thanks for the input!
Keep doing it
The simplest way to stay technical is to stay technical -- keep doing some of the technical stuff. For instance, I still take the odd customer support ticket, as well as being rolling out some skunkworks infrastructure projects of my own, and when I was leading the software dev team I made sure I took a (smaller) share of the "write code" and "fix bug" kanban cards. I also read the same blogs and listen to the same podcasts as I did when I was in the trenches, so I'm still getting the same exposure to the information I was before.
Hi Scott - I agree with Matt above is you need to keep using technology. I also recommend you use your network. Whenever I am at a business meeting or conference or at a seminar I use the opportunity to find out what other companies are doing with their technology, processes, hiring, etc. It gives me a feel as to the business norms and if I hear of an outlier ahead of the business norms I explore what they are doing and see if I want our company to move in that direction.
However, if it is not your job to do some tasks you may have to accept you need to rely on others. For example, I don't know how to use our accounting system and reporting systems but I have experienced directs that take care of all the work. Sure, I would love to get into the trenches but that is not what I am paid to do. On the other hand when we are wanting to roll out new technologies, I use myself as the test subject.
Hope this helps.
Spend time in the field
I spend a fair amount of time at the power plants my teams service, mainly observing and asking question, but also picking up a wrench when necessary to help out. My teams all work remotely, so I talk with them at least once every day to go over the status of plants and the issues they're facing. It's done a lot to help me understand the issues they bring to me for resolution as well as maintaining their respect by being out there with them. They all know I have been where they are, and it makes them know I appreciated their efforts when I take the time to spend time with them on-site.
Depends on what you mean here ...
From what I can tell, after the second or third direct, there's no way you can stay as current as your directs in non-manager skills, and still handle management. You need to spend that time being a manager, and becoming a better manager. Doing the same work that your directs do makes it hard on you as manager, them as directs, and the organization which needs a manager in the manager's seat.
That said, perhaps "staying technical" for you might involve some side project, or asking a direct to report on something new to you both, or otherwise using the non-manager skills without taking "real work" off a direct. The others here have good ideas too.
All you can do is slow the decline
I like what Matt said (though Matt, don't let it go to your head, your answer on video-ing O3s was off). If you want to stay technical, spend some of your time doing technical things.
My guess, though, is that with all the people who complain about not having time to manage because they're "working managers" (as if they were the only one, when that's the only KIND of manager), you're probably wanting to stay as current as your people.
You can't, and I don't recommend you try, because if you're only spending 50% (or whatever) of your time not managing, there's no way to keep up...and your job is now making others good, not keeping yourself good.
Study management, keep a hand in, but recognize that your levers are changing. Work on different muscles.
I try to keep up-to-date with the three - five biggest items my support team encounters regularly by doing a few each quarter. It is just enough to keep my skills current so that I can pitch in during heavy ticket times, vacations, illnesses, etc. I also am involved in a lot of the new technology that my company is bringing to market, so that helps too.
Truthfully though, my management responsibilities far outweigh the contributions I can make on the technical side of the business. At my previous company, I tried to be the manager and the best tech too, as part of proving I deserved to be the manager. Once I let go of being all that technical, my management skills really increased.
Hope this helps.
Do you need to remain current?
I have not managed to remain technical and it is only 10 years since I was cutting code. My detailed knowledge has evaporated however the big concepts change slowly and are more ingrained. I see my job as ensuring we are heading in the right direction and that we are building on solid foundations and my technical background helps me with that. Fortunately I have folks working for me that are more technically gifted than I was and I have a network which includes people i respect for their technical knowledge who I can sanity check things with.
Do you need to remain technically current or do you need to know how to assess one approach against an other, or help the team solve thorny issues, or evaluate one technology against another?
The hardest part will be when you inevitably get frustrated but a team member who is not technically as strong as you has a problem and the expedient solution is to step in and fix the matter while the sustainable solution is to stand back and help them work through it. And possibly accept a less elegant solution than you know is possible.
D I S C
6 3 4 2
Tending more towards MikeTickle's thinking on this topic
My history: I was deeply technical through the end of 2004 and then got my first step up on the Management ladder. Since then I have made intentional and conscious choices what new tech to try to learn when my directs have had to and those which I don't to make time to manage. That balance has progressively swung in favour of being more the manager now 8 years later and being "happy" not having touched the newest instruments we have at all.
I can still apply logic and common sense to the technical blow-ups I get sucked into but play to people's strengths. Mine now are deemed to be in leading and managing and the technical folks at lower levels should be allowed to play to theirs which when trained properly is at the detail level in the science and applications we have
I have been teaching a course this week that incorporates some elements of Managing to Learn by John Shook, I think the general thrust of that excellent book talk to this discussion the right way
Managerial Economics 101 at its best!
I just spent a week in the field with my remote team and had this discussion thread in my head the whole time. Boy did I learn a lot! It turns out that no matter how badly part of me wants to stay current and be the go-to guy, it's just not effective. I found myself stumped at how to perform a task that I could do in my sleep five years ago. One of the guys came over and had it done in less than a minute. I thanked him for rescuing me and his response was along the lines of "you don't get paid for that anymore."
This thread and that event were enough to make me (finally) realize I need to focus on keeping things moving in the right direction and leave the execution to the people who can do it better.
This thread could not have been better timed for helping me learn that lesson. Thank you, Scott, for starting the discussion and to all who provided comments.
Great story Steve
Could not have shared a better one.