Coaching Moment – Why Won’t They Give Me Permission?

I had an impromptu conversation this afternoon with a system engineer. He wasn’t looking for ‘coaching’, in the same vein that my developers are inclined to do, but a conversation about how to integrate a new technology into the credit union’s mechanisms. I am a poor network engineer. My understanding of network sophistication is pretty slim, and my ignorance was exposed, repeatedly, throughout this conversation.

However, as we discussed the problem, and came to a series of potential solutions, a common thread came up in my colleague’s responses to a solution.

“Yeah, that probably could work, but it will be nearly impossible to get this through…”

“This would work, and would be kinda fun. But moving the CU toward this is like turning a ship around…”

I checked in here. There wasn’t a technical reason these solutions weren’t reasonable. They were just too ‘new’. I queried further, and it became very clear a lot these ideas were things my peer had thought of. He just never got permission to move forward.

And just like that, it became a coaching moment.


Aside: One of my old managers used to hate complaints. Hated them. His personal stake in what we had built attached a personal note to anything technical complained about. If you came to him with a complaint, and an expectation that he would ‘fix it’ for you, you came away rebuffed, and in no unclear terms. But if you came to him with a complaint, and a well-thought out fix for it?

That nearly always ended up differently.


I coached this particular engineer about feeling welcome to take that next step, and propose a ‘fix.’ This is common to the Pull-Request model of open source software. An lone issue and complaint is reasonably ignored, but an issue with a well-thought-out pull request, correcting the flaw? That is something worth paying attention to. Even if the correction is inaccurate, it is worth paying more attention to someone willing to put in the work to correct it. In your own life and work, put some skin in the game.

Avoid being a complainer that is not willing to own the problem or the solution. Get in there, find out what’s hard about the problem, and take the chance to own the solution. Will it always work? Of course not, but the effort you take learning about the problem will likely lead to a better solution down the line.

Coaching Session – Is Everything Broken, or Is It Just Me?

Today’s coaching session revolved around a young developer recently moved into an established team. The developer had experience in Agile teams with specific practices, and this team’s practices were VERY different, and almost non-existent. As opposed to a product team with a defined backlog process, this new team is catch-as-catch can, and largely individualized. This developer was concerned, greatly.

“Where is the product owner? Why isn’t she engaged here? Where are the stories? Where is task breakdown?” And on and on, indicating worries great and small. He was half-convinced the entire structure was broken, and needed to be rebuilt from the ground up.

Man oh man, could I empathize with that.


There were a lot of complexities to unpack in this developers complaint, but I called out his newness to the team. He was joining an extremely stable team, with established norms and structures. It is entirely possible that the Agile mindset and culture of the team needs to change, but for an engineer, the first thing to do is get competent on the platform.

This team is a bunch of individuals working. That is a problem. Fixing the process needs to happen, for sure. That isn’t the purview of a brand-new-to-the-team engineer. Nobody is going to listen to someone who comes into an organization and immediately vents about how everything is broken.

Process absolutely matters, but for this engineer, engineering has to count first. That’s what I coached him to do. I recommended he get good at the tech FIRST, and then talk about process improvements.

After that conversation ended, I setup a meeting with the product owner. I wanted to see what sort of issues she was seeing, and if there was anything this principal software dev could help with.

Coaching Session – Panic at the Deadline

I had a conversation with a new dev lead today. This lead was recently installed into a project with an upcoming deadline that he was genuinely worried about. As we started the conversation, the worry sort of came out of him in piles. When he was finally able to take a breath, I collected from him that 1) he believes that the code-base is largely un-salvageable (he only recently joined the team) and 2) the deadline is completely rushing at him (about a week and a half before the first delivery.) I had spent a few minutes looking through his project and coached him toward doing the following.

1. Get a CI / CD Pipeline Setup

The first thing to do here is to get a Continuous Integration and Delivery pipeline setup, so you can quickly and reliably deploy in an automated fashion. The fact is, no software comes out as a 100% bug-free product the first time and this software will be no exception. By building up the CI pipeline you’ll be able to fix things quickly and consistently. Every commit should create an artifact, and assuming success that artifact is something can release. If the software isn’t good right now, the product can get good over time.

This was the bulk of the conversation, as it felt like to him that I was recommending that he throw sh*t at a wall and hope that it sticks. The big value comes from the ability to iterate.

2. Code Doesn’t Have to be Perfect.

The fact is, when you have a deadline you have already agreed to, you have to get over the fact that the code is crap, and likely will need a rewrite. Code is a tool used to create a product, nothing more, so worrying that it’s “not good enough” is contra-indicated.

The dirty truth about software is that no code is good enough. Ever. There is always something to do better and cleaner. That is not to disparage the craftsmen out there, but a craftsman does not back out of a commitment. When you make a commitment, you keep it.

3. Keep Your Campground Clean

This one was fairly specific to the project, but in development projects un-merged branches and directories all over the place that are largely empty do not help anyone, and make the project look bigger than it is. If you have a REST API and a daemon, you don’t need a ‘Tests\Python’ folder that has nothing in it. Things that look small, will feel small.


I will check in with him again after a few days to see what progress he has made on those items. If he can get the CI/CD pipeline down, and know HOW to get the code into production boxes quickly, we can move into things like refactoring into patterns that might smooth some sailing here.

Coaching Engineers – A Review

One of my regular responsibilities at my new job at the Credit Union is coaching developers, engineers, sdets and QA folks. Today, I got to be involved in three different coaching sessions that all had unique subjects and discussion points.

Session 1: How to get to Senior – Developing Expertise

This is a fairly common situation. A developer wants to go from Software Developer to Senior Software Developer.

The process of making Senior Software Developer generally comes down to adding more responsibility and influence to your day-to-day job. To get to a senior role, you can do one of the following:

  1. Take on a team lead role. In this case, you are the point person and responsible for more of the project work itself. You T-shape your skill set, but become the primary point person for the whole project.
  2. Take on a manager role. In this case, you’re trying to mentor and grow the skills of the folks around you. You may not be directly responsible to all the functions in the project, but you help and mentor those folks around you.
  3. Take on an expert role. In this case, you target getting deeply technical and specialized. Your plan is to become a known leader and expert on a particular technology.

The developer in question was interested in learning more about this third pattern of developing her expertise, and what it would take to continue that progression. She expressed interest in web user interfaces with Angular, and spent the session showing me what she had learned and worked on, and where she was going next.

To coach, sometimes you just need to be the accountability buddy.

Session 2 : Whose Design is Right?

In this session, a team of software developers had some questions about the nature of their solutions. They did not agree about the approach to a problem, and this particular session was with one side of that argument.

Side note: I love these sorts of discussions. Folks getting passionate about the way they choose to solve a problem is WONDERFUL.

The best part is that there was not a clear winner in the design of the application itself. They were different designs, to be sure, but they each had technical merits that could very easily be seen.

At the core, this one came down to coaching back to the engineering. The crux of the problem was that there was no data proving one solution better than another. The quantitative features of the respected solutions had not yet been tested, and that was the end state I coached towards here.

If your design is better, prove it with data. Otherwise, GTFO of the way.

Session 3 : SDETs in the Credit Union

Initially, this one was setup to be a discussion about how to write code to use a Windows Application automation tool (Selenium with WinAppDriver), but after the first session, it was apparent many of the SDETs present already had a lot of experience with those libraries. There were four SDETs and one analyst in this session, so it became a larger discussion about the nature of testing. We started collaborating on ideas about the about the best ways we could automate some of the harder tests to deal with.

Finally, it came down to discussions about the AAA pattern of testing, the kind of test code we wanted across the org, and even some of the difficulties in teams where SDEs and SDETs have a combative relationship.


Coaching engineers is exhausting and inspiring all at once. It was a great day, and I feel blessed to be able to do it!