Life as a Lead

A few weeks ago when I accepted my position at GameDevHQ as a software developer I found myself in a position that I hadn’t been in for quite a while. A leadership role. Before working in Unity I worked in restaurants for the past 10 or so years, and had some management and leadership positions in that time, but this was a first for me in a development role. Between the two industries Ive found many similarities and differences.

To be honest, in the first few days, I wasn’t that confident that I had all the skills needed to succeed in the role. I started learning Unity about 2 years prior, and while I know the ins and outs of the engine, I only worked on projects by myself. The only experience I had as a team was in an Intensive course back about a year ago, and the lead on the project seemed to always have all the answers. Blockers I would be stuck on for days he could solve within minutes. It was a level I didn't see myself reaching for a long while. Day one started and it was sink or swim time. I did what I new best and winged it. We started off with a team meeting, and sent them on their way. Within the first hour I got my first call about blocker. I was a bit nervous but jumped right in and took a look. If theres one thing Ive learned about programming, it’s if you constantly make mistakes, you get good at debugging. Like really good. Ive seen people write hundreds of lines of code, hit play, and everything just works. Thats not me. My go to tactic for programing, is throw a bunch of stuff at the wall, hope something kind of works, and then debug until it’s working properly. I may not always know what does work, but I know what doesn’t work because Iv’e tried it all. I’ve broken my programs in just about every way you can imagine. We opened up visual studio and we walked through the code, and I was in my happy place. A few debug.logs to narrow down the problem, a quick fix and we were on our way. That when I realized what being a team lead is about. Its not knowing the answers, its being able to find the answers. You don’t get better by memorizing what works in a certain situation, its the experience of already having made the same mistakes.

Leadership isn't just about technical skills though, people skills are half of the battle. I started this month off with a team of two. By week two we were at four. Now at week three were at nine. Thats nine diffrent personalities, nine diffrent learning styles, and nine projects to keep tabs on. While I still feel like Im treading water trying to keep up with a team of nine, it’s really showed me that I need to be flexible and organized. I could spend an hour with an intern with each of the interns in week one and still have time to get my work done. After a week of spending all day in calls, one of the other leads found some ways to help free up some of our own time so we could work as well. We created a help channel on our slack, so that the interns could ask questions in there. It let any lead with a moment of free time jump in and help and more importantly, it let the other interns help each other. Now instead of fixing the same bug five times across five diffrent projects, we could solve it once, and that intern would show the others. Not only does that save us time, but helps them solidify their understanding of the problem. Having someone solve it for you is one thing, but then turning around and having to implement it somewhere else is what really locks in the learning.

It’s been a crazy few weeks in my time as a lead, but I really am enjoying my time and enjoying getting to know the team. Their questions keep me on my toes and it is really helping me realize that Ive grown as a programmer in the last couple years. I learn something new every day, and really do enjoy the teaching aspect of it. I can’t wait to see what other challenges are in store for me and to watch my team grow in skill over the next month.

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Austin Mackrell

Austin Mackrell

A Honolulu based software developer, that enjoys surfing, spearfishing, and making videogames