This is easily the most common question I hear from new technical leads.

The problem is that it’s the wrong question. And any advice trying to answer this question directly is misguided.

The implication is that you have two different hats and you’re juggling (and struggling with) two different jobs. You’re not.

You have one job: Solving problems. You have multiple tools. Maybe you use code as a tool to solve some problems. Maybe you use design for others. Maybe you use good communication and negotiation skills.

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What you need to be asking is “What are the most valuable problems…


Some tips that have worked for some people, some of the time, for some common problems. YMMV.

In arbitrary order:

1. Help! I’m constantly distracted by email, IM, random things.

Block no-email time in your calendar. It’s less complicated than it seems. Even just two hours a day could make a massive difference. Trust me, if it’s that urgent, someone will figure out how to find you.

2. Consistency is the key

Each morning write down one thing you can accomplish that day that would make the day worth it. Then just focus on that one thing until it’s done…


I am taking a course and was presented with a big pile of books to get familiar with before it began. This is a description of my process to doing that as quickly as possible:

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You’re presented with a big pile of reading material. Reading every book/article/talk from front to back isn’t going to get you what you need fast enough.

Summarize as quickly as possible.

  1. Use every tool at your disposal. Google for reviews, summaries, critiques.
  2. Only note new points you encounter from each source.
  3. Output: Notes on other people’s take-aways and where you found them.

Edit your summaries.


I’ve made a set of questions that help me to handle my initial reaction when I think something is ridiculous.

Am I assuming someone else is doing something out of ignorance or maliciousness or an irrational decision making process?

Ten questions to ask myself when faced with someone’s belief or action that I do not understand:

  1. What’s the most generous interpretation of their belief or action?
  2. If I was doing or believed this precise thing, why would I do it or believe it?
  3. What concrete benefits do they get from their belief or action?
  4. What is more important to them…


Not everyone is well suited to be an Engineering Lead, Director or CTO. Aside from demonstrating outstanding technical expertise, there are other real skills they must be effective with in order to make a significant positive impact on the products and the company. Here is a checklist that represents the minimum bar of what else you should expect from your Engineering Lead.

If your answer is “no” to any of these questions, you should reconsider whether or not they are in the role that’s right for them.

Do they consistently guide the team to solve problems that could not…


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You are a non-technical manager for a team of programmers or other highly skilled domain experts. You sometimes have some difficulties “speaking the same language” as your team and sometimes that means things don’t go well.

Here is an introductory checklist of some questions to get you started on getting the answers that will actually help you get the information you need to do your job well. …


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Inevitably, if I dig hard enough, the answer to the question “What specific change do I want?” will be to learn something. Or help someone else learn something. Usually both simultaneously.

I can have other good reasons to share something, like asking for help or even self-promotion. I can have other good reasons to give feedback, like improving overall efficiency or communications. I can have another reason to build something or write some code, like creating something that people can enjoy and use. But if ultimately it doesn’t come down to learning, it’s just pointless drivel. …


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Unless I’m just speaking to hear the sound of my own voice or to pass the time away, I am saying something for some purpose. That purpose can either be implied or explicit. I’ve found it’s a lot more effective to be honest with myself and others, and explicit about what that purpose is. Asking “What specific change do I want?” gives me a moment to reflect on that purpose.

Nearly always I am trying to solve some problem for myself or someone else. But the specific thing I am trying to achieve in the moment can take on a…

Mike Acton

Leadership. Video game development. Family. Programming. Engine Director @InsomniacGames (Spider-Man, Sunset Overdrive, Ratchet and Clank)

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