Aggressive Accessibility

I’ve been working in tech a long time (it’ll be 28 years in May), and I think some of things I think everyone already knows, or are obvious, maybe not everyone knows and aren’t all that obvious.

Updated to add a disclaimer: This is what’s worked for me. Coralie posted a really observant comment – and I think it’s worth mentioning that this might have worked for me because of my privilege. It’s very difficult for me to tell because I’m in it, but I’m not going to discount what’s a pretty high likelihood that privilege has had a lot to do with this.

So, since I’m at risk of missing my back to blogging goal of 3 posts this month, I figured I’d write up something real quick on my favorite topic.

I think developers focus too much on technical excellence and think that’s the only way to get ahead in their career. It’s definitely important – but it’s the bare minimum. To excel, I think you’ve got to be able to grow other people, and part of that is something I like to call being “aggressively accessible.”

It means:

  • Offering to help when you see an opportunity to offer it.
  • Looking for opportunities to provide help, even if it’s outside your normal duties.
  • Making things better because they need to be made better.
  • Volunteering for special projects.
  • Showing up places you think you might be useful.

By offering help instead of being asked, you put yourself in a place to be of more use than just waiting to be activated. You’ll meet more people, learn more stuff, and become more effective, and you’ll never be bored!

None of this needs to be super overt. Just showing up and being open to helping is enough. Just quietly offering help when it looks like someone is struggling is enough.

It has made such a big difference in my career and built so much social capital that I don’t know that I could actually quantify it.

It’s also part of moving from “senior” engineer to roles like staff, principal or into leadership roles like CTO. You have to go from being an executor to an enabler / multiplier.

That’s it.

A Quick Friday Thought on Soft Power

I was talking to someone today about soft power, and an hour of me giving advice and workshopping things came down to:

  1. Build trust by working in the open and asking people for feedback. Praise them for their contributions, often.
  2. Talk to people and ask their preferred work style, and respect it.
  3. You build trust by delivering on what you say you will – repeatedly.
  4. And finally, do everything with kindness.

That’s it. That’s how you build influence and get things done without having hard power.