I somehow missed to write anything about 2009, but I am continuing my series from 2008, 2007, 2006 and 2005.
The most noteworthy change for me this year was my new role as support manager that I undertook for the last nine months of 2010. Initially the plan was just to substitute for a couple of months the person who recently got in charge of the customer support activities, but who had to go on-site to an important project. But I ended up doing this kind of a job for such an extended period of time. I was all the time trying to keep up with my work as developer as much as I can, though there were days when I couldn’t write code even for a minute.
It was a very different type of work. Definitely more stressful, especially in the begining. Unlike my dev work, it required often switching between tasks, quickly prioritizing where to put effort and where not. There were times I worked overtime by answering support tickets from home (before going to work or in non-working days), but the worse part is that often my mind continued to go back to the problems at work, even when I was trying to get rid of such thoughts.
The nature of this type of work was pretty demanding, as well:
- It required deep and broad knowledge of many aspects of our products (I guess only a developer can have both).
- It required knowing which of my colleagues to ask for assistance for particular customer issues (I admit I initially hated to delegate work that I though I would finish more quickly than anybody, but soon I realized that this is not always as effective as it seems).
- It required an ability to quickly find out what is the customer really wanting and help him get it (either by directly solving his issue or thinking of clever workaround to get the job done in another way).
Often it felt very rewarding to help people solve their problems, and as an additional benefit my support work gave me a better understanding of how our products were getting used. This lead to better clarity what matters and what not, so I could concentrate on the truly important things.
Being the person responsible for the support, I strived to improve the process in several ways: by customizing the help desk software that we use, by educating our staff and our customers how to use it effectively, by trying to setup proper expectations and attitudes. There were numerous challenges and even several mini-crisis during those nine months. They definitely gave me a better understanding of the bigger picture. They also shaped my vision how things should be done in order to things to go smoothly. It was a valuable experience, but I am happy that I will be handing it back to my colleague, since I think that I would be more valuable in other areas of the product development. My passion for being a developer is stiill strong, but additionally I think I’m a person whose understanding of the product, the technlogies and the customer needs, could be used for architecting proper solutions for the areas that will make a difference for the company and its customers.
Besides this role of the support manager, there were other experiences that were new to me:
Going on a two-week on-site project – I went to Poland for an on-site work at our client there. I am not used to such type of work, but I think it went very well. Besides answering questions and troubleshooting issues, I also coded a few simple tools that help them solved some problems. The work was diverse and interesting, and it kept me busy all day. It was pretty exhausting too, so I am grateful that my lovely fiancé (now my wife) came for the second week to make my stay in Poland much more pleasant. It really helped me get my work-leasure balance back.
Interviewing candidates for a developer position – the last month I participated in several interviews (I’ve used to be only from the other side of the table). I was responsible for evaluating their technical abilities. Although the CVs gave hints about what the candidate knows and is capable of, asking proper questions sometimes revealed unexpected voids in the knowledge of people. Btw, in my first interview I was totally unprepared and didn’t know what to ask, but after some research on the topic I became more adequate to the task, though I guess I could be more creative. In addition to the interview questions, I also prepared a simple coding homework assignment that we were giving to the candidates. I am happy we used this approach since it showed pretty well how people approach code and what their skills are. It was also interesting to notice how differently people could try to code their way through such a simple problem.
Looking towards 2011 – I already mentioned what are my preferences about my career development for the new year. I hope that it will be a great year for everyone I work with. I wish my colleagues all the best, to keep it cool and to their best to maintain a friendly and supportive work environment.