Being a team lead at Automattic is not a promotion, but it is very challenging and after doing it for the last year, I understand why.
During 2020, just before an intense hiring spree, I got the opportunity to lead a small team of 3 software engineers. Our primary responsibility was WooCommerce Payments (alongside 3 other teams). With payments being a business focus, we needed more engineers. And in what felt like no time, a 6 month onboarding rollercoaster season led to the team growing to 8 people!
My vague team management ideas did not serve me well. I hoped to figure things out as I went along and expected work to remain as is, with a few leadership tasks added. No big changes. I was very wrong. Two major areas changed: my schedule and work type.
As an individual contributor I had two standard meetings per week. One with the team and one with my manager. As a manager, I now have eight check-in’s (1on1 with each member of the team), the team meeting and the meeting with my director. Along with these there are also other meetings that I have to fit in the gaps.
The type of work also changed. I was no longer writing code, but rather, spending a lot of time in google docs, messaging and P2 (our replacement for email). I could still help out with code reviews and do minor code changes, but I really struggled to find uninterrupted time to think deeply about the technical problems. Along with this I had to get used to the constant context switching.
Automattic truly supports team leads. We all get access to one on one coaching with a professional external coach. The company runs remote training cohorts specifically for team leads and on top of this you have access to any learning resource that could help you become a better leader and manager.
Besides work there were also so many changes in my life. The Covid-19 pandemic, loss of loved ones and 2 new arrivals in our family, Ariah and Avah. On top of it all I also undertook completing my academic qualification. I’m not complaining here, but just wanted to highlight how there really wasn’t any time for extra hours of reading and learning about the new path.
While figuring everything ways to handle the new path, I began to discover how valuable an impactful team lead can be. I began to see small things that came about as a result of my championing. I realised how my impact on other team leads can move the organisation forward.
As a new team lead you try and throw things together, a mix of what you’ve seen others do and you try to avoid the bad things that you’ve experienced. This mix doesn’t really help as you constantly doubt yourself. I think this past year helped me to discover the type of lead I’d like to be and what I can work towards.
My grandfather used to say: “Time changes many things”. I feel like this new path challenges me to change into a better version of myself. The great thing about the team lead path at Automattic is that because it’s not a promotion, you can always switch back. Maybe the pendulum will swing back and I will become a better individual contributor or perhaps I’ll stick it out and be the best manager I can be.