Sometimes you get what you want by accident.

A year ago I had thought to go back and get my Ph.D., thinking that eventually I’d like to turn this into either a teaching gig or into a research gig. I’m nearly 45, you see, and while I probably could go on and do the single contributor thing pretty much the rest of my life (since I love to learn new things all the time), at some point it’d be nice to think of the next generation.

So I talked to a couple of college professors about Computer Science Ph.D.s, and–meh. The problem is most of the interesting research is being driven by corporate need rather than by theoretical considerations. Which makes a certain degree of sense: the Internet and modern CPUs have introduced all sorts of interesting problems that really need solving far more than refining Turing Machines. And university research is often funded by–you guessed it–those corporations generating the problems that need to be solved.

Besides, you do anything for 20+ years, constantly striving to stretch your own talents the entire way, and chances are you probably have quite a bit you could be teaching the professors.

So I punted.

And instead I took a management gig thinking that perhaps I could use the opportunity to act like a college professor–teaching a group of graduate students. Except they’re professional developers with a decade and a half less experience than I, and the problems we’re working on aren’t as theoretical.

But I was hoping no-one would notice that I was spending all my time with one publicly stated purpose: execution–but all the while with one secret purpose: developing my direct reports.

Now I’m reading The Extraordinary Leader as part of a management training program at AT&T. And something interesting stood out: one of the most important things a leader can do is develop and advance the people he leads.

Hmmmm…

I guess my secret agenda doesn’t need to be quite so secret.

So here we go: I think what I’m going to do is (a) when there are tight deadlines, keep the schedule by pushing back at unreasonable requests, setting a schedule that may be aggressive but can be kept, get the resources we need and protecting my team, and helping out (very selectively) in areas where I can do the most good while leaving most of the work to my team. But when (b) we have times where our schedule is not quite so tight, to help by creating team building and learning exercises–such as tomorrow’s brainstorming sessions where I’m going to turn over the design of a new component to my team and have them come up with several alternative architectural designs, then debate the pros and cons of each.

My theory–and we’ll see if it works–is that by having such exercises, both teaching exercises, as well as team building through constructive discussions of alternate ways of designing something–my team will learn new stuff through practice and become better developers and, if they wish, better leaders.

Wish me luck.

Fortunately management pays far more than a professorship.

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