This post originally appeared as Speaking modern code to your dev team on our COO, Carlos Meléndez, Under Development blog at InfoWorld and is reprinted with permission from IDG.
Being a senior-level IT executive has never been harder. Software technology is moving so fast, it’s nearly impossible to keep up: even a water-cooler conversation with a young dev can feel like trying to ask for directions in French on a street corner in Malaysia. The language has changed, the guideposts are different, and senior executives can feel completely left behind.
So how do you get back in control? How do you talk to your developers so that they will listen, and listen so that they will talk? Go back to basics. You need to learn what you don’t know.
Here are three steps for keeping up with your team:
First, establish the technology vision. Understand what technologies make sense for your team — whether those are mobile apps, web apps, or desktop apps. The gap between front-end and back-end technologies is growing exponentially as are is the number of technologies available for each. So figure out your priority: mobile back-end? Web front-end?
Once you know your priority, talk to your team and give them the tools they need. Find some online training for them, and join them in the process of learning. You’ll be surprised how much you can learn from a beginners Udemy course, and at how much your team appreciates you both providing leadership and participating in the process. Bonus: You don’t need to become an expert in a new technology to know when someone is stalling our spending too much time in a particular task — and your team will know that, too.
Second, when you learn why something takes x amount of time (something your software developer told you, didn’t explain well, and you didn’t believe,) go back and let them know you now understand they were right. Also, let them know how they could have communicated it better in order for you to have understood before.
Not only does this approach help to shift “us vs. them” perception among the ranks, it also positions you as a thoughtful leader: you now know the difference between obfuscation and ignorance, and you’re helping your team overcome the latter without relying on the former.
Third, once you have a baseline understanding of the new technologies, encourage the team to create new standards and good practice documents. Be part of these efforts and certainly read the documents. The team will value your involvement and begin to accept you back into the group.
Even as you go through the process of learning new languages, you should still challenge team decisions, not to create conflict or mistrust, but for the team to know you want to understand and are taking notice. Practice giving them enough lead to explore solutions, but not so much that they get lost. When you balance technical freedom with critical thinking and smart parameters, you earn trust and foster better outputs both for your team and for the business.