Michael, as your colleague

I recently had the pleasure of Martyn Davies joining the Nexmo DevRel team and during one of our chats he mentioned that he had a user manual to how he liked to work and I asked if he could share it with me. Reading through, it really helped me understand how Martyn works and has made it easier for us to work together.

I started reading more about the topic and stumbled across the concept of a Manager README. The most widely referenced one I found was how-to-rands. After reading a few dozen examples I sat down to write my own. Below is the output of my efforts.


A little about me

I’m a newly married man! Chantelle and I got married on the beach in August 2018. I’m very happy about this, but typing with a wedding ring on is taking some getting used to.

Like many of us, I’m a social introvert. I enjoy spending time with people, but that’s not how I recharge. After a busy day, I need a few hours to myself to unwind.

To unwind, I like to play League of Legends (I’ve been playing for 8 years now), or play board games (Power Grid is my favourite). If the weather’s nice, I like to go out for a walk and chat to whoever I’m with.

You’ll always find me with a book (or audiobook). Primarily these are self-improvement or fantasy. Here’s a link to my Goodreads account

My pronoun.is/he/him

How I work

I start with an assumption of positive intent for everyone I interact with. This has worked out well for me over my career and generally makes the world a happier place.

I like to understand the requirements and deadline for a piece of work, then get started. I’ll push my work to Github each day and keep you updated on any progress (or lack of) being made. If I have any questions, I’ll ask them. If I’m quiet, assume everything is going well.

I’m a fixer, and am happiest when I can switch from task to task, delivering value in a short space of time. There will always be bugs to fix, and I believe that continually fixing small things provides compounding results.

Ship early, ship often. It’d be great if things were perfect on the first try, but in reality that rarely happens. Perfect is the enemy of better, so let’s ship lots of incremental improvements rather than tweaking things for weeks or months.

I have strong opinions, but they’re loosely held. Most of them are experience based, some are theoretical. All of them are open to being challenged, so please let me know if you have a different point of view

What people misunderstand about me

I tend to reply quickly when presented with a question. This is always a suggestion, not a fact. I like to throw out ideas and see what people respond with.

If I’m quiet during a discussion, it’s because I’m thinking, or don’t have any ideas. If I have something to contribute, I’ll definitely voice an opinion.

My strengths

  • I’m not afraid of learning new things. If you ask me to do something I’ve never done before, I’ll usually say yes and start reading everything I can on the subject
  • When someone is approaching a discussion emotionally, I am good at working through the emotion to find out what facts are at the heart of the issue without becoming emotional myself
  • I write everything down. If you ask me to do something, it’ll get a ticket. If we need to discuss something, we’ll book in a meeting. If I learn something, I’ll document it to share more widely.

My weaknesses

  • I jump on problems quickly and try and get them resolved. This doesn’t provide others with the opportunity to learn
  • I am traditionally a people pleaser. I’ve learned to say “no”, but I will always want to help everyone. If this behaviour starts to cause issues for anyone on the team, please call me out on it.
  • I tend to play devil’s advocate a little bit too much

Things that make me happy

  • I like acknowledgements on written communications. A quick “Got it” or a thumbs up reaction on Slack lets me know that you’ve seen the message
  • Critical thinking. Nothing is sacred, and I see “because we’ve always done it this way” as a challenge
  • Artifacts with URLs are excellent. Instead of 1000 word email chains or 50 post deep Slack threads, create a document that covers the problem definition, possible options and the reasons why we made the decision we did

Things that make me grumpy

  • Opinions being stated as fact (this is a big trigger for me. I’m trying to get better at not calling them out quite so bluntly)
  • Unclear priorities
  • Not having autonomy to make decisions within the scope of my responsibilities
  • When people don’t learn from their mistakes or double down on mistakes (making mistakes is ok, so long as we learn and grow)
  • Feeling like I’m not learning or growing

Communication

In general, please over-communicate with me. Don’t worry about sending too many messages or overwhelming me. As we’re all remote it’s tough to see how people are doing by walking around the office. This goes for communications with others too. If you’re not sure about adding me as a cc on an email, do it.

If you’re expecting a reply from me on something and it’s been more than 48 hours, please follow up with me as I’ve likely missed your message.

Due to the fact that we’re all remote, I prefer calls with video as it helps me connect with people more. On large calls I may disable video due to connection issues.

If you have a question, all you have to do is ask. I’ll get to it as soon as I can. Asking “Can I ask a question?” slows things down for the both of us

I’m available 10am-4pm UK time most days, those are my core hours. You may see emails/commits in the evening once I’ve caught up with family and had dinner. This is a personal choice and I don’t expect anyone else to be available outside of their normal hours.

My rules for responsiveness:

  • Email: I’ll get back to you the same day
  • Slack: DM within an hour or two, mentions within a few hours
  • Phone Call: I’ll either answer or respond with a time that I can call you back.

Meetings

If you suggest a meeting, it’s up to you to arrange it. If I suggest a meeting, I’ll initiate finding a time. We shouldn’t say “let’s discuss” without a follow-up of when we’ll discuss.

My calendar is generally up to date. If you see an empty slot, feel free to send me a meeting invitation. I block out a couple of hours per week to do deep work, and these are on my calendar too. I’m unavailable during this time, just like any other meeting. If you really need my time during those hours, talk to me first.

All events in my calendar can be modified by any attendee. If we have a meeting that you need to rearrange, choose another empty time in my calendar, no need to ask. I’ll get the update email

I deliberately run with a public calendar. If you have a question about a meeting on my calendar, ask me. If a meeting is marked as private, it’s title and attendees will be hidden from you view. The majority of my meetings aren’t – if there’s a meeting you’re interested in, ask about it.

I’m fairly mercenary with meetings. If there’s not a clear reason for me to be there, I’ll decline the invitation. Most of the time I do this, it’s because there’s no meeting agenda.

If I’m running a meeting, it will start on time. If others are running a meeting, I expect it to start within 5 minutes. If it’s a one on one meeting and my partner isn’t there within 5 minutes I get annoyed. If they’re not there within 10, I leave.

For me, meetings are a terrible way to share proposals. Write down and share a proposal in advance. This allows people to think of questions in advance and provides documentation for those that couldn’t attend in person. Then, we can have a meeting to make a decision.

I bias towards action. Long meetings where we debate potential directions can be valuable, but I believe the best way to learn and make progress is to start. This isn’t always the correct strategy, but it is my preference.

Feedback

I’m a huge fan of feedback, both giving and receiving. If you have feedback for me, please give it. It could be something you like and want to see more of, it could be something you thought I totally screwed up, or it could be in neither of those categories.

Even if you think I won’t want to hear it, I’d love to know why you feel that way. The only way to improve is for us to share our thoughts with each other.

If you’re not comfortable giving me feedback yourself, please give it to Phil, Amanda, Martyn or Olia and they can anonymously relay it to me and I can work on it.

By default, I give people praise in public, and suggested improvements in private. If you would prefer praise in private too, please let me know.

I like to use the SBI (Situation, Behaviour, Impact) template for feedback. When you did/say ____________, I felt ______________ because ___________.

Michael is a polyglot software engineer, committed to reducing complexity in systems and making them more predictable. Working with a variety of languages and tools, he shares his technical expertise to audiences all around the world at user groups and conferences. You can follow @mheap on Twitter

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