Sponsorship is also about building your future team

It’s important that you think ahead, to the team you need in 6+ months — to handle the increasing complexity of initiatives in a fast growing business. I think sponsoring others (i.e., encouraging them to take on certain projects, coaching and supporting them through their fear) is an important tool in that regard to give engineers time to adapt to the increased demands and skill requirements for larger initiatives. As a technical leader, you don’t want to be alone in that future scale, struggling to ensure the success of numerous efforts with no one in line to support you.

Ensuring the success and correctness of efforts is harder at scale: there are more teams involved which makes alignment and communication hard, perhaps more naturally complex domains, or more business risk in failure. Increasing the likelihood of success requires someone who can rise up to the demands (mental and physical) and skillset needed for the problem. Adapting to those needs (if you haven’t seen that complexity before) likely requires that the problem is just out of your comfort zone, but not too far. If you don’t actively build your future team, the problems at scale will be too large a leap for many engineers. If you’ve done any coaching/mentoring, then you’ll know that challenging (even an incremental increase in difficulty) efforts take their toll on individuals: they experience self-doubt and imposter syndrome, they’re afraid of failing or embarrassing themselves, they don’t want to let down their boss/peers, and/or they break down emotionally. Too large an increase in difficulty and they either won’t step up, or the emotional toll will be too great, or they’ll be way out of their league and the effort will tank or you’ll have to handhold.

My previous take was that if you wouldn’t learn something new from a project, it’s a good heuristic for delegation. Now though, I feel that even if you’d benefit/learn from a complex initiative, ask yourself if it would be a good project to level up someone for your future team. You’ll miss that opportunity now, but in 6 months to a year, there will be even greater complexity to go around.



My opinions around all aspects of being a Staff+ engineer.

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