Your resume is a simple enumeration of your experience and the first sample of work you are presenting to a potential employer. Many developers neglect the quality of their resume because they aren’t comfortable with writing, not comfortable talking about themselves, or simply because they don’t think it is important.
Photo by Vanessa Garcia
Every hiring manager has things that will influence them positively or negatively about a person when reading their resume or CV. Given how critical attention to detail is for developers and technical leaders, lacking attention to detail is a warning flag for me and many other leaders I speak to.
Your resume is a simple enumeration of your experience and the first sample of work you present to a potential employer. Many developers neglect the quality of their resume because they aren’t comfortable with writing, not comfortable talking about themselves, or simply because they don’t think it is important. When there are shortages of skilled developers, hiring managers will often overlook formatting, spelling, or grammar mistakes in a resume. When the hiring manager has multiple good choices for a role, seemingly small things can make a big difference in the perception of you as a candidate.
Weaving in the Details
Remember that your resume is more than a list; it’s a story of your professional journey, skills, and aptitudes. The quality of this narrative directly impacts a hiring manager’s perception of you. So, while it’s crucial to include your significant accomplishments and skills, attention to detail helps to fill in the gaps and provide a comprehensive picture.
For example, including specific project details, like what technologies you used, your role in the project, and the quantifiable results, can set you apart from the competition. These details reveal the true extent of your abilities and demonstrate your authentic experience as a technologist and your focus on the outcome, not just the output of your work.
Evidence of Care and Dedication
Meticulous attention to detail on a resume is a positive signal to employers. It’s a testament to your dedication and commitment to excellence. On the other hand, errors, inconsistencies, or vague descriptions can give the impression of carelessness or lack of effort. Spelling and grammar mistakes, easily caught by a spelling or grammar checker in a document editor, are red flags. If you have front-end or user-facing application development experience, inconsistent or poor formatting questions your skills.
Detailing Technical Proficiencies
Specificity in listing your technical skills is another area where detail matters immensely. A generic mention of “programming languages” won’t do the job. Instead, list each language and technology you are proficient in, ideally linking them to your professional experience or projects.
Compatibility with Job Descriptions
Lastly, close attention to the job description can make all the difference. Customizing your resume to fit the specifics of the role shows a proactive and thorough approach.
How to debug your resume
Use a spelling and grammar checker.
Have a friend (preferably someone experienced in reviewing resumes) proofread it.
If you are putting your resume into a language where you are not a native speaker, have a couple of people who are native speakers read it over for tone and phrasing.
If you are unsure how to phrase something, find other resumes (or LinkedIn profiles) from folks with similar experiences to see how they express it.
If you are updating your resume with new experience, read it thoroughly to ensure that the new and old sections have the same tone of voice and style.
Once you have made your changes, put your resume aside for a day or two and then reread it with fresh eyes to catch anything you may have missed.
These things seem obvious, but I can’t count the times I’ve found glaring errors in resumes where the candidate did not follow those steps.
Don’t disqualify yourself for silly reasons!
Attention to detail in a resume could be the difference between getting your foot in the door or having it firmly shut. As a technical professional, your attention to detail should reflect in your work, and there’s no better place to start demonstrating it than your resume.
A well-crafted, detailed resume is your representative in your absence, showcasing your abilities and a testament to your commitment to precision. So, the next time you revise your resume, remember to keep the details in focus. It might just be your key to the next big opportunity.
Your resume is an opportunity to illustrate who you are as a professional and how you approach your work. Attention to detail not only elevates your resume above the rest but also demonstrates the values essential to success in technology: meticulousness, precision, and a deep understanding of your craft. The details aren’t just details; they’re differentiators.
There are three things when considering a new role assuming the basics (i.e., pay, benefits, location) make sense.
Can you be successful at the company?
Does the role move you toward your career objectives?
Are you excited about what you will work on?
Suppose you can get all three. Wow! Take that job! Two of the three is pretty good, but it likely means that you should not expect the role to be long-term unless you misjudge the situation or something changes. One of three? Take it if you must but have an exit plan.
If you are in a decent role today, you can always choose to keep looking rather than take something that doesn’t meet enough of your criteria. While the lure of something new might be tempting, it can be hard to understand a role before you are established in it. If your initial investigation raises questions, it may be better to keep your search going.
The critical element is knowing yourself and the perspective role well enough to make the determination (the technique I describe in the blog post referenced above is helpful for this). If you don’t know what you want, keep exploring. Look to new roles to increase your skills or experience with industries, company size, or company culture.
Once you know the conditions where you do your best work, where you want to go with your career, and what excites you to work every day, you can put together questions to ask when talking to the recruiter or as part of the interview process.
Try to avoid asking direct, obvious questions. If the interviews are going well, people may tell you what you want to hear. For example, asking, “How is the work/life balance at your company?” is less likely to be helpful than asking, “What times do meetings usually start or end during your day?” If several employees tell you that their day starts early or ends late, you will see some work/life balance patterns.
Another problem with direct questions is that they reveal more about you than you might want in an interview. For example, when a candidate asks me a direct question about something specific, such as raises, review processes, or work/life balance, it tells me not just that they are interested but that they may have had bad experiences with this in the past. If I get a sense of a bad experience, it will usually prompt me to better understand the nature of their concerns. If you are concerned about review processes, for example, I wonder if you have received negative reviews in the past and what was the story behind them. So, asking more generally about how often the company performs appraisals and the process will elicit less concern than asking how employees can appeal negative reviews.
Ask indirect questions about how the work is done, the day-to-day responsibilities of the role, and what conflicts arise. Look for clues in the answers that speak to reality. You may find some of your interviewers are more forthcoming and open. Leverage that transparency. Find friends or friends-of-friends that know people who work there to get the unvarnished truth.
But also realize that companies evolve just as people do, just as you will. So even if things are good for you initially, they may not stay that way.
So, when your three-of-three company becomes your two-of-three company, you may wait things out to see if things will change, but you also might want to start looking for your next three-of-three company. Although every company will have good/bad periods, once you have been at a company for a while, you’ll understand if the current situation is temporary or part of a more permanent shift.
Of course, in today’s job climate, you might need to take that one-of-three job or even zero-of-three position. If that is the case, don’t despair. Instead, focus on taking care of things until you can find a role that fits you better. Tech is cyclical, just like the broader economy. If you can wait it out, things will get better.
In this Shane Hastie, Lead Editor for Culture & Methods, spoke to Phil Abernathy about his work helping organizations focus on employee happiness to drive customer happiness and shareholder return and the Bureaucracy Mass Index as a tool to identify where companies are bloated and ineffective. He also spoke about what’s needed for real transformation.
Great practical advice on building happier teams and a tool to measure bureaucracy in an organization.
A Brief History of the Metaverse: DIY Metaverse
Tony and Mark – supported by a global community of technologists, enthusiasts, and dreamers – brought 3D to the brand-new Web with VRML. This episode features Owen Rowley, Neil Redding, Linda Jacobson, Brian Behlendorf, John McCrea, Coco Conn — and Neal Stephenson.
With all the talk (and investment) in the metaverse, it is frustrating sometimes that people forget that the technology industry has been thinking and working on this for decades. Tony and Mark were instrumental in creating VRML, and I appreciate them documenting some of the history, but I was a bit disappointed that they omitted some of the other folks that were involved in the beginning.
CALLING BULLSHIT – Spotify: Starving Artists?
Stated purpose: to unlock the potential of human creativity—by giving a million creative artists the opportunity to live off their art and billions of fans the opportunity to enjoy and be inspired by it.
Spotify is the most popular streaming service in the world, with 188 million people paying for premium subscriptions and hundreds of millions more listening for free on the ad supported tier. Which is why it has been called the world’s best place to get noticed as a musician. But getting noticed and making a living are two different things. In this episode we decide if Spotify is more about “Honesty” or “Little Lies?”. Listen in to find out.
One of our board members at Anaconda turned me onto this podcast. It’s about purpose-driven companies that don’t live up to their professed goals. This episode focuses on Spotify but also talks about the broader streaming music economy.
A16z Podcast – Creators, Creativity, and Technology with Bob Iger
A wide-ranging conversation with Bob Iger on the interplay between technology, content, and distribution; as well as Bob’s journey — and that of various creators! — especially as the industry evolved from TV and cable to the advent of the internet/ web 1.0 to 2.0 to briefly touching on web3 and other emerging technologies. As well as topics top of mind for all company and community builders: from build vs. buy and the innovator’s dilemma, to managing creativity, decentralization, remote work, and much more.
I didn’t expect to like this podcast as much as I did. I appreciated it not only for his takes on leading teams of creative people but also for his business acumen and for getting more details about creative people I admire and their work.
20VC – 20 Product: Marty Cagan on The Four Questions of Great Product Management, Product Lessons from Marc Andreessen, Ben Horowitz and eBay’s Pierre Omidyar & The Difference Between Truly Great Product Teams and the Rest
Marty Cagan is one of the OGs of Product and Product Management as the Founder of Silicon Valley Product Group. Before founding SVPG, Marty served as an executive responsible for defining and building products for some of the most successful companies in the world, including Hewlett-Packard, Netscape Communications, and eBay. He worked directly alongside Marc Andreesen and Ben Horowitz at Netscape and Pierre Omidyar at eBay.
I was not a fan of Cagan’s book Inspired. I called it “Ayn Rand for Product Managers.” I worked with some product managers who were all huge fans of it, and the result was not great for working with engineering.
In the time since, I have appreciated what Cagan said in his blog, which was a lot more focused on Lean-style product development and cross-functional collaborative teams. This podcast was further evidence for me that I need to re-evaluate how I see Cagan. I appreciated his perspective.
Planet Money – Episode 576: When Women Stopped Coding
Mark Zuckerberg. Bill Gates. Steve Jobs. Most of the big names in technology are men.
But a lot of computing pioneers, the ones who programmed the first digital computers, were women. And for decades, the number of women in computer science was growing.
But in 1984, something changed. The number of women in computer science flattened, and then plunged.
Today on the show, what was going on in 1984 that made so many women give up on computer science? We unravel a modern mystery in the U.S. labor force.
This podcast was oddly personal for me. It talks about how advertising and culture perpetuated a vision of computers as being for boys, discouraging women from entering the computing field. This was the time that I became fascinated by computers. I remember the ads, tv shows, and movies they discuss, and when I entered college for Computer Science my class was 70 men and 2 women. They also talk about my alma mater Carnegie Mellon and the steps that they have taken to address this imbalance.
It is amazing how quickly culture changed computing from being a female-dominated field to being a male one and then how long it has taken us to try and bring it back into some sort of equilibrium.
In the last post, I shared the books that I found worth recommending that I read in 2022. The next post shares podcasts that I found valuable. In this (longer) post, I will share links to the blog posts from 2022 that I think are recommendation worthy. I’ve broken it into sections based on content.
Learn about the How HashiCorp Works project and why there are links to internal HashiCorp materials in this article. Our…
I like the movement in making how companies work transparent. It is useful to read as a leader and a great recruiting tool for those companies. I always wonder how much reality matches the shared documents. If you know you will share with the public, you are likely to be a bit more aspirational than actual, but it is still useful to read.
Medium sees more employee exits after CEO publishes ‘culture memo’ – TechCrunch
The sign that Netflix’s culture had irreversibly started to…
The genius of Netflix as an employer was that it has always been very upfront about who it is and how it works, with the understanding that anyone taking a job there knows what they are getting into. This works great until the culture starts to change, so this isn’t about an individual employee being unhappy. It will be interesting to see how Netflix navigates this (or doesn’t).
Culture as a Product: How HubSpot Built its Famed Startup Culture
Around Boston and beyond, HubSpot is known for its strong entrepreneurial culture . The company has received many awards over the years and was recently named…
Hubspot is an interesting company. Having read Disrupted (https://www.amazon.com/Disrupted-Dan-Lyons/dp/0316306096) I am a bit skeptical of how they talk about themselves, but of course, one always should be. That said, even if the public face of companies’ cultures is more aspirational than real, there is still something to be learned. I didn’t decide that the 37 Signals books were worthless because when under stress, the company didn’t live the values they proclaimed.
Bolt Loaned Employees Thousands to Buy Stock—Then Laid Them Off
The challenge of startup options is that employees rarely are allowed to sell them. When a startup has been around a long time, and startup options are starting to expire, but employees have had the liquidity event necessary to have ready cash to exercise their options, what are they to do? A company I was in also considered a loan program for employees but decided it was potentially problematic. Bolt learned that lesson the hard way, and their former employees are worse off for it.
A big 32-hour workweek test is underway. Supporters think it could help productivity
This article was originally written for LeadDev . In tech, we talk a lot about failing fast: implementing small, incremental…
I talk a lot about failure, failing fast, etc… This article is an actual case study in how to recover when your team has a big failure. I always like real-life stories instead of vague opinion pieces.
Career Development: What It Really Means to be a Manager, Director, or VP
It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of big-company HR practices. I’m more of the First Break all the Rules type. Despite my general skepticism of many standard…
There are tons of posts and books about being a line manager. There are substantially less about levels beyond that. I’m always looking for informative articles or books about more senior leadership levels. This was a decent one.
Tech’s Talent Wars Have Come Back to Bite It
by Erin Griffith
What Tech People Should Learn From This Era of Excess
There is a euphemism in rocketry often heard at SpaceX – Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly. A catastrophic explosion, in other words. Until now, it was not…
The speed of Elon’s decline from “genius who can see a better future and bring it about” to “asshole snake oil salesman with a narcissistic personality disorder” was sudden by any measure. How do we keep people like this from ruining our favorite apps/sites? By keeping ownership and infrastructure distributed…
Remote Work/Return to the office
For the last couple of years, the push and pull of remote vs hybrid vs back-in-the-office has been a major story in the work press. I’ve already made my decision that I’m going to keep working remote and will choose companies that allow me to do that, but in all of this discussion I’m also looking to understand how other companies are approaching things.
Why workers are calling BS on leaders about returning to the office
This may be losing some of its value as it ages, but speaking as an all-remote company CTO, if you don’t listen to your employees about how they want to work, I’ll be happy to take them off your hands.
The Future of Work Isn’t Fancy Tech. It’s Remote Work and Smarter Management
The remote/office debate is dying down any time soon. There is more pressure on returning to offices now, but there is also more resistance. Given the layoffs, employees may not feel empowered to resist the call to return to the office, so maybe that will gain ground.
The Worst Part of Working From Home Is Now Haunting Reopened Offices
How to get started with async GitLab believes that…
The secret to successful remote work (especially if the team is spread across time zones) is moving to be asynchronous first. The companies that have been distributed for long periods and have scaled have embraced this, but it is harder than it seems, and many companies struggle. Even those that have always been distributed. This GitLab guide is very helpful.
I spent much of 2022 learning more about WebAssembly as we launched PyScript at Anaconda. I think that it has some amazing potential and is one of the most important technologies of the last few years.
This article explains the concepts behind how WebAssembly works including its goals, the problems it solves, and how it runs inside the web…
If you are in technology, you need to understand WebAssembly and how it can be used. It can potentially be more transformative than many of the technologies we depend on for software development today.
A short history of Flash & the forgotten Flash Website movement (when websites were “the new emerging artform”)
This post is a transcript of a talk I gave at UCSC. Thank you for inviting me! I’m sharing it here because It’s a GOOD summary of the history of a technology…
If you were active on the web in the 90s and early 2000s, you will remember the explosion of massively creative web experiences propelled by the Macromedia/Adobe technology Flash. While you can still create those kinds of experiences using modern web technologies, it now requires a level of coding expertise that puts the programmers in the driver’s seat instead of the artist/designer and requires a team instead of a single creative person.
The genius of Flash was that it made complex interactivity and visuals easy for many artists to create, and the result was beautiful chaos. The web is just a bit more boring for the death of Flash.
Spotify’s grand plan to monetize its open source Backstage project via premium plugins
Backstage was created when I was at Spotify. Even in its earliest days, it solved many problems for us in a massively micro-service architecture. It’s cool to see how it has developed over the years, and it was also cool to see that Spotify had open-sourced it. I think it is interesting that Spotify is doing this experiment, but also disappointed because I know of at least one company formed by ex-Spotifiers that were trying to build companies on top of Backstage.
Google: The Model Your Site Was Built On Is No Longer Feasible
Hours before Elon Musk closed his deal to buy Twitter, he published an open letter to advertisers. Musk knew that big companies, in particular, were anxious about…
“Free speech” and an advertising-based revenue model are incompatible.
When blockchain emerged, I spent some effort to really understand it. Then I realized that it was a technology searching for a use case fueling a tulip-like baseless speculative market. When Web3 started to emerge, I delayed judgment until I could understand it better. While I believe that there are people who believe that it can fuel a world where creators have more ways to be paid for their work and other such lofty goals, the practicality of it is that very little of those schemes require the blockchain, and most of the people in the space are just trying to make a quick buck before the tulip market collapses.
Many good takes: eating popcorn, and watching the crypto bros burn down their empire.
5 key lessons after a week on Mastodon
by Sandra Gutierrez G.
I’ve been on Mastodon since 2017, but my usage really increased since the acquisition of Twitter. There have been a lot of stories talking about how people are abandoning Mastodon, but even if it doesn’t become what Twitter was, it is still a vibrant community.
There’s No Fixing Meta’s Metaverse, Scrap It, Start Over
I spent 6 years working on the metaverse at Microsoft during the 90s. While the technology has drastically improved, the reason we didn’t get the metaverse back then is that no one could figure out something to do in the metaverse except shoot each other or have sex with each other. All the folks working on metaverse now have learned nothing from the multiple generations of attempts that preceded them. There is still a smug belief that “if you build it, they will come.” The problem is that there is still nothing to do once they show up.
If these problems are intrinsically linked to consolidated tech giants like Meta, Google, and Amazon, why not embrace technologies that decentralize power? This has become a key issue for Brewster Kahle, the 61-year-old founder of the Internet Archive…
Having participated in various forums and working groups for decentralized web stuff over the last few decades, I’m consistently excited by the possibilities and enthusiasm of the folks who work towards those goals and disappointed by their naivete about what people are willing to put up with and how commercial entities are incentivized to coopt and pollute the technologies that do gain some momentum.
Your organization should run its own Mastodon server
All the agility has been sucked out of agile projects Doing agile is not the same as being agile Agile projects have become bloated, lazy waterfall projects…
One of my biggest pet peeves is people deciding that a bad experience they had with a poorly implemented framework or process must mean that that framework or process is clearly bad and that anyone who had a good experience is lying. So many of the “I was involved in a poorly run agile project and so agile must all be a lie” or “my company tried to do the Spotify model, and it didn’t work; therefore, it must not work at Spotify either” type posts just show the ignorance of their authors and nothing else. While I was worried this article was just another one of those, the author is concerned more about poor agile processes and not agile itself. He even gives some good advice. So worth a read.
Mozrt, a Deep Learning Recommendation System Empowering Walmart Store Associates with a Personalized Learning Experience
It needs to be said again, perhaps this time more strongly. Your Blog is The Engine of Community . Dammit. Blog More You are not blogging enough.…
Scott Hanselman thinks developers should be blogging more, and when they do blog, it should be on their own platforms. And he’s right.
I’ve been involved in music as a musician, radio DJ, label owner, and streaming software creator since I was 15. I was delighted to rejoin the music industry in December when I took on the role of CTO at DistroKid.
With 100K tracks uploaded a day, a longtail music cull is coming – Hypebot
by Music Business
Lucian Grainge doesn’t like that people aren’t listening to Universal Artists as much, so he’s putting pressure on the streaming services to remove content he doesn’t think is good. The problem is deciding what content is good and what content is bad. Streamers already remove fraudulent content. So, who decides if your band shouldn’t be on Spotify because you might take a stream away from Justin Bieber (who himself was discovered because he uploaded his songs to YouTube). Gatekeepers are all about protecting their interests at the cost of innovation and getting others a shot.
Why Amazon VP Steve Boom just made the entire music catalog free with Prime
It’s never been clear how much Amazon cares about music streaming as a business. It’s always been an also-ran in the streaming wars that only has listeners because it is an add-on to Prime and is the default service with Alexa. Amazon hasn’t invested much in the service, but maybe that is changing now…
I’d like to share some of the things related to technology, leadership, or management that I found particularly instructive. There was plenty of other good stuff, but these were the ones that stood out.
After making a concerted effort to write more in 2021, my blogging in 2022 fell off a cliff. I hope to be better this year, but while I wasn’t writing as much, I was still reading, watching, and listening. I’d like to share some of the things related to technology, leadership, or management that I found particularly instructive. There was plenty of other good stuff, but these were the ones that stood out. These are not affiliate links. I don’t get any kickback for recommending them.
You probably didn’t need me to recommend this book to you, because it is one of the classics of technology leadership. In fact, this isn’t the first time I’ve read it. I hadn’t read it for many years, and picking it up again, I was surprised at how relevant and valuable it still is. If you haven’t read it, it is a very easy read.
The Art of Community: Seven Principles for Belonging
This book isn’t specific to technology; it is about building inclusive communities of any type. It is valuable for people leaders in that it talks about the necessary parts of belonging to any group. It is focused more on communities of choice instead of work communities, but the insights are the same. As someone who has also spent a lot of time building online communities, it is extremely relevant for that as well.
This isn’t a leadership or management book, but it is a book about living intentionally, and I found it valuable on multiple levels. As it was a New York Times bestseller, you didn’t need me to recommend it to you either, but I will say that I personally appreciate the author and his message.
The Business of Belonging: How to Make Community your Competitive Advantage
This book is about building online communities for companies. It has overlap with the Art of Community book, but it is much more practical and meant for people who do this for a living. I found it a bit introductory, but it had some good ways of articulating specific points that I will reuse. If you are new to this space, it is a great introduction.
The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter
Another classic of management that I had read before but reread as I prepared for my new role at DistroKid. Once again, it had been a long time since I had read it, and I was struck by how practical and true its advice was. I realized that when onboarding to previous roles, the companies where I started off the best were when I followed its advice deliberately or intuitively.
Lead Together: The Bold, Brave, Intentional Path to Scaling Your Business
This is either a book you will read and find yourself nodding along with, or a book that you will read and throw down in disgust after the first couple of chapters. It is a semi-practical guide about how to be more inclusive in your leadership. For those who have read Fredrick Laloux’s Reinventing Organizations and are trying to figure out how to move their company towards Teal, this book will be useful. For those who are tired of being in a top-down organization or are constantly accused of being a micro-manager, this book is worth toughing out even if you don’t agree with all of their suggestions because it will give you choices and ideas that will help you grow as a leader.
I came across this Twitter thread from Rein Henrichs, and I thought it had many good points about systems thinking and management.
A lot of managers, especially those from an engineering background, think that management is about doing stuff: defining rules, policies, and procedures; assigning tasks; creating external incentives; fixing problems.
It caused me to reflect a bit on my approach to systems thinking in the context of technical leadership.
One of the things that helped me the most as an engineering leader was developing a better understanding of systems thinking. When I (or others) use the analogy of “planting a garden” when setting up teams for success, this is what we mean. We are creating the system to enable groups and individuals to do their best work and then allow good behaviors (and results) to emerge. Of course, creating a system takes longer than pushing things down into the organization. Still, it produces more creativity and autonomy in the organization and makes it more resilient to change or challenges.
Managers who do not work with this understanding of systems think that management is purely about doing stuff: defining rules, policies, and procedures, assigning tasks, creating external incentives, and fixing problems. This “doing stuff” approach can produce good results in small teams or for a constrained about of time.
As Rein Henrichs also correctly points out, the act of building a system can be incomprehensible for others in the organization who are not directly involved (especially in other disciplines that are more transactional). This lack of understanding has often been my biggest challenge as a company’s senior engineering leader.
Building a system takes time. If you can get things to a good place where the system is starting to be self-perpetuating, the rest of the organization will see the improvements and become supporters.
Suppose the leadership team is impatient and doesn’t understand what you are trying to do. In that case, they will lean into the quick fixes listed above, namely re-organization or replacing individuals or trying to “drive accountability” through reductive top-down control mechanisms.
If that happens, you are stuck trying to mitigate the damage and build a longer-term plan to return to your original goals, but it is often a losing battle. The primary culture of the organization has re-asserted itself, and your chance to evolve it has mostly gone.
How do you avoid that fate?
Communicate! Make your plans clear in the hiring process, your initial days in the organization, and all along the process. Set realistic timelines for improvement and celebrate the successes along the way. When your peers are impatient, refocus them on the plan and the long-term gains you are working towards. Point to the achievements thus far and try to keep their “eyes on the prize.”
Will this always work?
No. It depends on the company’s situation and how much pressure there is on the leadership team. If the company is under stress, it might be better to refocus on shorter-term solutions that don’t actively detract from what you are trying to build.
My biggest successes in companies were getting the entire organization on board with the system I was working to build. Gaining support for a new systemic working is a culture change, and getting backing is contingent on the company wanting to change. If the company is on a “burning platform,” a situation where change is required for the company to grow or survive, you will find less resistance. A burning platform also provides the inspiration to persevere if the change is difficult.
My biggest failures trying to build systems were when I did not communicate my intentions clearly or did not get buy-in from the rest of the leadership team, or when I was not effective at communicating the improvements along the way.
Another challenge can be a change (losing a customer or a tough quarter) that puts pressure on the leadership team. In this case, you need to adapt quickly. Hopefully, the system you are putting in place encourages being nimble. You may need to pause the change to the system to focus on shorter-term tactical solutions. To minimize the disruption in the organization, be transparent about the need for the change, and set an expectation on how you will get reoriented towards your original vision afterward.
While there are many good books on systems thinking, the one I consistently recommend for engineering leaders is Management 3.0 by Jurgen Appelo. It isn’t just about systems thinking but weaves it into a broader book about management.
<meta http-equiv="content-type" content="text/html; charset=utf-8">
<script defer src="https://pyscript.net/alpha/pyscript.js"></script>
<h1>Hello! My name is <span id="name-goes-here">Kevin Goldsmith</span></h1>
names = ["Kevin Goldsmith", "????? ????????", "???????????", "?? ?????", "????????"]
el = Element("name-goes-here")
name = random.choice(names)
for n in range(0, len(name)+1):
for n in range(1, len(name)+1):
A few notes:
I originally was going to use time.sleep(x). That didn’t work, I’m sure I can figure out why, but it was just easier to see that this method worked fine.
The UTF-8 encoding hints on the page are critical. I should have known this obviously, but it worked fine locally without them (of course).
The default PyScript unstyled my <h1>, I just got rid of it. Probably best to look at it and decide if you want those styles.
PyScript is fun! There are a lot of other small interactive things I want to do on my pages. As it reaches maturity, I will get them going with PyScript.
There is an issue sometimes where your PyScript code is visible before the code loads (I’m guessing that the default CSS fixes this). If you just want to handle that, you use the <style> code listed above.
This article is the final in my series on valuable performance reviews. This article discusses how to deliver the review and salary news to your report.
This article is the final in my series on valuable performance reviews. The first part addressed preparing for the evaluation. The second part covered writing the assessment. The third part explained how to make a salary recommendation. Finally, this article discusses how to deliver the review and salary news to your report.
Each review discussion is one of the most important meetings in a person’s professional life. The primary goal of the meeting is as a milestone in a career journey. You will give the person an understanding of the progress they have made and insight into how they can get to the next stage of their career.
All the work preparing and writing the performance appraisal can go to waste by delivering the review poorly. I have always found the review conversation the most nerve-racking for me as a manager because that is where you see the effect of your (hopefully) well-considered analysis on the person. And people are… people. The conversation is always a bit awkward, given the stakes for the person receiving the review—but from there, it can go in many unexpected directions. I’ve had tense, combative conversations with people receiving a very positive review. Conversely, I’ve had a very unexpectedly genial and optimistic conversation with someone accepting a poor review. Even if you know the person well, the review conversation can be challenging.
Common advice is to give precise feedback to the people who report to you frequently during the year. If you do this, the review itself should not surprise them, as it would be consistent with what you have already said. However, while someone may have heard the feedback, it is another thing to see it written on a piece of paper with a review “score” (if your organization does that) and a salary adjustment connected to that feedback. Even if you are confident that nothing written in the review is new information, the person receiving it may not feel that way.
The best method I’ve found for having these discussions go smoothly is to come to the meeting prepared, give the person time to digest their review before the dialogue, and structure the conversation itself.
Preparing for the discussion
If you have followed the spirit of the process in the previous articles, you have assembled, organized, and interpreted a lot of data to write the review. This data is also helpful for your preparation and during the conversation itself. Having the information to explain things further if there are questions or disagreements is valuable. Their memory or interpretation of events is sometimes very different than yours or that of their peers.
Read over their review again. Make sure you have the data at hand to support the evaluation you wrote in case there are questions.
If you think the discussion might be tense, you may even want to rehearse the conversation in advance with another dev manager or someone from your company’s HR team. I sometimes rehearse challenging messages in the shower, looking for the right way to say something. You may also prepare positive messages to find the best way to say something without ambiguity.
Have empathy for the person receiving the review.
Think of the performance reviews you have received during your career. Both the good and bad. What made them stand out to you? Was it the review itself or the discussion (or lack thereof)? While the anticipation and the initial excitement of the evaluation are finding out about a promotion, raise, or bonus, and knowing that your hard work was recognized, the thing you will remember long after was the delivery of the information and the discussion that followed.
I’ve received at least fifty reviews since I started working. I don’t remember the numbers or most of the review scores. Still, I remember the manager who hadn’t put any thought into the process, the one who made promises review after review that they never kept, and the assessment where a manager made statements that were demonstrably false and, when shown evidence to the contrary, threw up their hands. I also remember the great conversations I had with the best managers I worked for that made me proud of what I had accomplished and excited about what more I could do (and how they would help me).
While you may be nervous about the conversation, the person you speak to is even more so. For you, it is the conversation that is scary. For them, it is the implications of the discussion on their livelihood. So come to the dialogue with that understanding and empathy for their position.
Give the person their review to read beforehand.
There is always the question of when to let the person read the actual document. Over the years, I have tried it three different ways:
Handing the person the review after sitting down to the discussion and letting them read it before speaking;
At the end of the review conversation, to read afterward; and
Giving the assessment to them the day before or the morning of the conversation.
The method that seems to work best is to give the person the assessment to review several hours before the review discussion, saving the actual numbers for the conversation.
When you give the person time to read and process the review document before the meeting, it allows them to prepare for the meeting. It takes some of the person’s concerns away because they know what to expect in the conversation itself, which makes the conversation less stressful for them. If they disagree with the assessment, it gives them time to prepare any argument/evidence they wish to present, making it feel less like an ambush. By sharing the review in advance, I have found that the conversation itself is often more substantive and valuable.
The review discussion
Start with a brief introduction.
While you both know why you are there, it is good to start the discussion with some of the broader contexts around the review process and anything around the company’s performance that will be relevant to the meeting (like a limited raise budget in a tough economic year). But, unfortunately, that broader context often gets lost in the review conversation itself, which can lead to confusion or misunderstandings.
If you’ve given the document to the person in advance, they will join the meeting with an idea of what to expect in the conversation. However, they will still be wondering about the salary numbers. While you may be talking about other things, until the person knows what their salary change is, they will wonder about it. To make the conversation more valuable, I like to share the salary change information or promotion early in the conversation. Once the person knows the most critical information they will receive, they can focus on the more extensive discussion about career development.
Discuss the document.
Discuss each section in the assessment together to make sure that there is a common understanding and agreement. Now is when you might share more details or data around your statements if needed. Do not just ask, “Do you agree with this section?” Instead, make sure they understand your comments, that you have answered any questions they have, and that they either concur with your assessment or at least appreciate your perspective and the data behind your conclusions.
Where to go from here?
If the review conversation is a checkpoint along a career, it is essential to help the person understand where the next checkpoint could be. It is vital in the review conversation to talk to the future and reflect on the past. Now is an excellent opportunity to give hope and support to someone who had a problematic review cycle or inspire someone who has been doing well to achieve even bigger goals.
Hopefully, you have been having regular discussions about the person’s career aspirations. The review discussion is the right time to confirm their goals and discuss how you can help them achieve them. What opportunities can you present to them that will help them grow professionally between this discussion and the next review discussion?
Be very careful about making promises that you can’t keep. There are many things beyond your control in the review process, like the raise budget, the stock pool, company performance, global economic situations, or a final promotions approval. Even if you had all those things within your control now, you might move on to a new role or new company by the time of the following review. If you make a promise and cannot keep it, you will demoralize the person and lose their trust. So choose your words carefully when talking about the future.
After the discussion
Within a few days of the discussion, write the person a note confirming any statements from the conversation, the answers to any questions you didn’t have during the dialogue, and the agreed-upon growth plan. If you have a shared agenda for your 1:1s or a list of topics to discuss, make sure that you regularly review any growth plans by adding them as a discussion topic.
What if the person disagrees with my assessment?
From time to time, someone will decide that your interpretation of the data is incorrect and, therefore, your review is wrong. When this happens, go over the person’s data you collected for the appraisal. If they have some information you didn’t receive in the process that causes you to reconsider, don’t promise them that you will change the review. Investigate the new information and if you want to change things, discuss it with your manager. This kind of late change rarely happens, however.
If they continue to refuse to accept your assessment, invite them to sit down with you, your manager, and a person from the people team to discuss it. You want the person’s concerns heard, but if they don’t have any new data, you also want someone in the conversation who will support you.
What if they want to negotiate a different raise?
People will occasionally believe that the salary discussion is a negotiation. I have heard that this is common in a few cultures, but it is not generally done that way. As I discussed in the previous article, the person’s new salary is arrived at as part of a long process, and there isn’t much—if any—flexibility by the time you are delivering the review to the person.
You generally can’t change their salary autonomously, so if you agree to reconsider and then you can’t change the number, you look ineffectual as their manager. Also, changing their salary will encourage others to try to negotiate in the salary review discussion (the word always gets around when something like this happens).
If someone is unhappy with their raise, discuss what they could do during the next review period to justify making a more significant raise recommendation. But, once again, don’t promise anything!
If someone was expecting an entirely unrealistic raise, you might want to share with them a bit about how the salary review process works and help them understand what normal looks like.
What if their friends at other companies got much larger raises?
Occasionally, in the salary review discussion, someone will tell you about their friend who got a 50% raise. They will also tell you about an article they read that says many companies are giving considerable raises to retain employees. Given how charged salaries are as a subject and how competitive the technology industry is for good talent, much disinformation about salaries is constantly circulating.
When faced with these stories, it is worth discussing your company’s salary benchmarking process. Help the person understand that there will always be outliers and unusual situations, but express that those are the exception and not the norm. It is also worth discussing the non-salary aspects of your company that make it an exciting place to work. Companies often look to salary as their only employee retention tool when it is hard to retain employees because of their culture, lack of growth opportunities, or uninteresting projects.
If you’ve been regularly giving feedback, you’ve prepared for writing the review, and you’ve prepared for the review conversation, it will almost always go well.
In this article, I talk about the many ways the review discussion can go wrong because that can make the whole process scary for many people. It is good to be prepared for the conversation to go in a challenging direction. However, if you have been open with people about their performance and regularly given them feedback, and you talk to them about how you will help them improve their performance, the tough conversations are few and far between.
I usually end the performance review process proud of what each person has achieved and excited about helping them reach their potential. That is my hope for you as well.