Interview with Meri Williams, Chair of The Lead Developer
The Lead Developer conference chair, Meri Williams, is a geek, a manager, and a manager of geeks. She’s a CTO and consults through ChromeRose, helping digital and technical teams be brilliant. An alumna of Procter & Gamble and the Government Digital Service, she has had a career spanning development, project, programme & product management, and more recently engineering and operations leadership. Meri has led global teams ranging in size from 30 to 300. She’s also an experienced speaker, and we’re thrilled to welcome her as chair of The Lead Developer.
Read on to find out why Meri was keen to get involved in The Lead Developer and what she hopes it will help technical leads to achieve.
We were delighted when you agreed to chair the conference and help curate the programme. What was it about the premise of The Lead Developer that made you want to be part of it?
Arguably one of the biggest steps up for a developer is when they start to coach and lead others, and yet we so seldom help folks to gain & hone the skills needed to do this well. There seems to be an irrational and incorrect belief that with softer skills “you either have it or you don’t”. I find this so frustrating, because we don’t assume that technical skills can’t be learned — so why make that assumption about people-related skills?
As an industry, we have gotten used to the idea that you have to keep learning, stay on top of tech as it changes, new approaches and processes … but somehow we expect people to magically appear with all the leadership, management, coaching & mentoring techniques fully formed? That’s just daft.
So I was delighted to see a conference coming together to help with all aspects of what being a great tech lead, lead dev, engineering manager, architect or similar is about. Whatever your title, if your success in your role needs you to help people come together, enable them to do more than you could possibly do single-handed, then you need breadth in these skills around working with others as much as you need hands-on technical expertise.
It’s an increasingly complex role – what do you think are the top 3 issues that modern Lead Developers face in their roles?
Oh, so many to choose from! But the top three? I’d say:
- Finding balance — knowing how best to invest your time; especially how to balance spending time on people and process stuff with getting into the tech
- Keeping current — soon as you’re not 100% hands on, it’s easy to fall behind, especially with our industry moving so fast
- Enabling others — learning and improving your skills in terms of coaching and developing others; realising that part of what you “produce” in a technical leadership role is actually better technical capacity in others
You’ve been very involved in the programming of the conference. Was it important for you to see a balance between the technical sessions and sessions addressing the people and management skills required by a Technical Lead?
Yes absolutely. There are loads of very technical conferences, and very few focused on the people & process side of things, but having a conference focused purely on the latter didn’t feel right for this audience.
Tech leads are often under a lot of time pressure, and it felt like we should make sure we provided some help on keeping current with the tech side of things as well.
What piece of advice do you always give to the technical leads you work with?
This stuff is hard! Learning how to lead, manage & develop others is a whole new set of skills, which takes time & effort. Don’t beat yourself up for not magically knowing how to do it brilliantly. Invest your time & attention, and it will pay off.