Product Manager to Programmer: Old Habits…time to die.
New career, new challenges, a new way to work
When I decided to shift my career from Product Manager to Programmer, I had no idea how drastically it would change everything about my work day. There are lots of differences from a managerial role to that of a coder. It has, to put it lightly, taken a sledgehammer to my previous work habits. I’ve been forced to adapt and develop an entirely new workflow and day to day routine.
With the new gig came a slew of new obstacles to deal with in the workday. For one, there is a lot of movement jumping between projects or even separate issues on projects that require a crazy amount of detail. As a manager I was a big picture guy, as a coder every detail matters. When acute attention to detail matters this much, it’s much harder to move from one fire to another without getting them mixed up. The need for “quiet” or “crunch” time is much more common on a daily basis. Not that I didn’t have to think in the last job, but it consisted more of “think on your feet” type problems that you talked through and could quickly solve without necessarily having to consider every edge case that might occur. Now that I’ve switched teams, I’ve come to realize that writing the code is totally different and requires complex problem solving that a quick brainstorming session can’t handle.
The majority of the day I’m in problem solving mode and I deal with much fewer menial tasks. This really comes into play with meetings. Meetings are major productivity killers for me nowadays. Any minute spent in a meeting delays the next feature on whatever project I’m working on. Another problem I’ve learned about the hard way is taking shortcuts. Previously I could get away with taking a shortcut here or there to get the job done, and usually I wouldn’t hear about it again. When you’re talking programming, shortcuts are killers. If you skip writing that one test or don’t worry about that one edge case that “probably won’t ever happen,” it will come back to bite you 100% of the time, guaranteed.
At Revelry many of these new pains I’m experiencing are eased by our processes. For starters we have a daily stand up meeting with the stakeholders on a project. These rarely last longer than 15 minutes. What happened yesterday? What’s happening today? Is anything blocking your progress? We answer these questions, then get to work without the distractions of more meetings throughout the day. There is also a weekly game plan distributed to the company that tells us what we’re working on, how we’re splitting up our time, and what’s expected of us so it’s much easier to track what we should be doing. Have an issue that you need to crank on without distractions? We can work from home (or anywhere else for that matter) when we just need some isolation to get work done. Every time you submit a piece of code, it goes through a peer review process. I have learned countless lessons already from my coworkers torching whatever I sent them to review. I say “torching,” but it’s always constructive and always helpful. The experienced guys around here make sure the noobs learn to do things the right way from the beginning.
On a personal level I’ve had to change a ton of habits in order to keep up and stay productive. I’ll mention a few books and tools that have helped me through this. Please throw some comments about anything that may help you be your most productive self. I’m always on the lookout for things that help my process and would love to hear about other people’s methods/experiences. An important step I took when making this transition was to read a couple of books: Getting Things Done and Your Brain at Work.
Getting Things Done gives a great process for managing and completing your daily, weekly and longterm goals. It’s great, and I highly reccomend it as it’s changed the way I attack goals for the better. The author, David Allen, argues that our short term memory gets overloaded with tasks and that getting them out of our head and on to a physical object frees up space and allows for that space to be used more creatively and productively. For this I use Wunderlist and I have it across all my devices so I’m rarely without it.
Your Brain at Work offers knowledge and advice on topics ranging from problem solving to handling distractions to working well with others. The biggest takeaway I had from it was getting to know my own brain’s peak times and learning to use that knowledge to get the most out of my day. For example, my best hours tend to be in the morning so I attack my most important or difficult task of the day then. Once the afternoon rolls around and my mind is moving a little slower, I’ll respond to emails or do some organization–things I don’t have to think too hard about. Your Brain at Work also emphasizes taking breaks. Breaks are a must, and I cannot count the number of times a five minute break has solved a problem I’m stuck on. Clear your mind, think about something else, and a good chunk of the time, the answer will come to you.
To sum it up, it’s not hard to become more productive at what you do. Once you have the right information and the tools that work for you, it’s an easy transition to make. The combination of Revelry’s internal processes and the references I mentioned above have definitely made me work smarter and accomplish more than I ever thought I was capable of. Working hard was never an issue, but the process had to change. Out with the old, in with the new.