Usually, the product manager role is filled by someone on the client's side. These are our expectations:
- Keep the business and the development team closer.
- Communicate strategic decisions to the development team and help it to update priorities accordingly.
- Be responsible for the product's decisions making, asking for advice when necessary.
- Produce feedback for UI/UX deliverables. Also accepting input from the design team.
- Be responsible for communication with the technical team.
- Produce insights for mid and long-term product strategy (quarter-based).
- By getting inputs from all stakeholders, including the development/design team.
- By analyzing risks and tradeoffs.
- Keep Roadmap updated considering technical challenges and product strategy.
- Together with the development team.
- Warn team about changes ASAP to avoid development work loss.
- Be aware of the development team needs, such as new developers, designers, QAs, etc.
- Plan and sync project major releases among development and business teams.
- Provide and analyze metrics and data from development team aiming to support product strategy.
- Validate technical team decisions that impact product strategy.
- Find, analyze, and sync strategic partners.
- Analyze regularly competitors features/flows
- A Project Manager's most important duty is to manage clients' expectations and keep them realistic. We realize most of the problems in software development come from communication issues, and the Project Manager at Vinta is the 'Communication Person'. The Project Manager should always track the deliverables for the next sprint and, if any problems are to appear, features must be simplified, development strategies re-evaluated, and priorities re-defined, always sided with the client. That's easier said than done in some cases, but surely brings benefits for us and the clients.
- The Project Manager will be the main point of contact with the client. It's good for everyone to have an open communication channel directly with the client, but the Project Manager should be aware of all project-related decisions. However, regarding assigned tasks, each developer is free to discuss and validate it directly with the client. Should the client ask the developer to do another task, it will need to be tracked and communicated to the Project Manager. There might be occasions when the manager will know the priority better, even more so than the client, so they might need to step in.
- The Project Manager should encourage everyone to manually test all features before validating them with the client.
- The Project Manager should remind developers to report daily on what they are working on.
- The Project Manager should make sure there are no ownership gaps in the project. When everybody is responsible for some parts of the process, there might be gaps where no one acts. The project manager must be aware of those gaps and address them with the team. Critical aspects of the project such as support, deploys, QA, security, etc must have a person who's clearly responsible. The Project Manager should also inform the client who's responsible for each aspect. This kind of ownership gives team members responsibility and autonomy.
- The Project Manager should ensure the project's documentation is up-to-date and make sure it's shared with the Client.
Technical career paths
Pushing careers onto people generates dissatisfaction. The traditional big old-school corporate career ladder is built in such a way that requires the most technically experienced people to fit into management roles if they want to keep growing in their career. This approach forces people that excel in their technical jobs into roles that frequently don’t align with their desired career path or skills, often leading to frustration for both employee and company.
This is why at Vinta we adopt a "Y" shaped career structure for developers and designers. We want to enable people to keep growing and earning more money even if they choose not to go down the management road.
We name these two possible career paths: Expert and Lead.
Everyone starts on the "Expert" path. Acquiring the traits of an expert is essential to becoming a great leader. Leaders need a lot of experience because they are the ones who will have the ultimate say in technical decisions. Our advice is to specially in the beginning of the career, focus 100% on developing the skills of the expert path. As you grow, you will learn more about what is the job of a lead, and if you are interested in this other path you should then start working on its specific traits.
You own your career. It’s our value that you decide for yourself your next career steps - no one knows better what you want for your future than yourself, so you are accountable for your own career development. Vinta will provide you with guidance, tooling and structure through mentors, 1:1 with your manager and leadership, skip levels sessions, and quarterly feedback for you to grow, but ultimately you are the one in charge to take the first step to sync with your leaders, collect feedback and assess the skills you need to develop in order to move to the next level. We can’t achieve excellence in service if we wait on others.
You need to be vocal. Communicate to your leaders what career path you want to pursue, actively ask and offer to take on activities that will help you grow in that direction, dedicate time to investigate how you work, take notes of your difficulties and consult people on the ideas you have. Ask your mentor for advice on how to develop the skills you are lacking. It's also important that your peers recognize your skills, so don't be shy in showing them the things you do.
Leadership roles require exceptional self management, accountability and alignment skills. These are very important traits for every professional but are inherently required for good leaders. If you chose a lead career path, one of the ways you can show that you are a good fit for the role is by managing your own career development. We expect that you keep working on improving technically while you continuously learn and take on leadership activities.
While you can always keep taking on more ownership and practicing tech leadership skills, there is a limited number of leadership roles in a company. Be patient, if you keep doing a good job and keep aligning expectations, an opportunity will eventually arise.
Being a software developer expert is far from just knowing how to write code. Although time on the market and having a lot of experience in diverse scenarios is required, there are many other skills that are just as important - and also required- for a person to be successful in this position. It’s important to know and work on each of these skills from early on in your career, most of them are not something you can learn from a book, they need constant practice and improvement.
Here is the breakdown of the most important activities Vinta expects from a person in the role (or in the path to become) a software developer expert.
Ace self management. It’s not possible to be great on any of the other topics in this document if you depend on someone else constantly pushing you. Self management means that you are capable of understanding what is expected from you (syncing and communication) and that you are able to find and use all available tooling to help you accomplish the task.
Know what is your “one job” - and get it done first. Exploration and experimentation are great for self improvement but they can only happen once you’ve managed to accomplish what was agreed with your direct leaders. While working on a task, experts exhaust their possibilities and dig deeper on topics in order to find a solution. At the same time, they know when it’s time to ask for help and benefit from the shared knowledge of the company.
Good reporting skills are a must. Managers should not need to ask you about the status of your tasks, you should proactively report progress, particularly if things are not going according to the plan.
Communication and People Skills
The fact that you are seeking a technical role does not exempt you from having great people skills. In fact these are required and one of the main traits a professional of any area should work on.
Clear and honest communication, politeness, humbleness, and regard are all abilities that will make your and the whole team's jobs much easier and pleasant.
Additionally, great communication enables proper decision-making. Tech Leads need assistance from experts to translate technical challenges into the language of trade-offs and product vision to support product leadership in correcting course and prioritizing tasks. Developing software is a team work exercise, there’s no way you can develop great products without great communication among your developer peers, designers, managers, customers and users.
As you grow in your career it’s expected that you not only develop your own skills but that you also help others grow. It’s important to notice that you don’t need to wait before you are a senior developer to do this.
Everyone has a different career path, there’s always someone who can learn from you and often it’s a person you consider “more experienced” than you.
There are limitless ways you can help other people growing, some examples are: sharing articles, pair programming, giving talks, reviewing code, and giving feedback.
Risk Awareness and Mitigation
Mind about risks, and mind even more about mitigating them. A big part of the job of a software engineer is evaluating risk. There are infinite ways to write code to get a task done, our job is to evaluate the possibilities and choose the one that better fits the constraints at that particular moment (also considering that they might change in the future).
Each project also has its own inherent risks that are constantly changing as it grows in team size, user base and data size. Every decision has pros, cons and a risk. We need to weigh everything in, decide how we want to proceed and communicate all of this to peers and stakeholders so they are also aware of what motivated that decision.
Mitigation is a mandatory concern: there’s no such a thing as zero risk. There’s a risk involved in making a change and there’s also a risk in not making a change. It’s important that regardless of the path you choose you will set up guardrails to prevent the risks and also to mitigate the losses in case the odds are against us.
Problem Solving Attitude
Point problems alongside their solutions. It’s practically impossible to attest the correctness of any minimally complex software. There will always be bugs, unpredictable user behavior, and uncovered edge cases.
There’s always something to improve in the test suite, code linting, tooling, documentation and deploy pipeline. Experienced developers understand that this is all part of the process and invest energy pushing the team into improving these things.
Complaining produces no productive outcome and brings down team morale. A better attitude is to report the issues early on when you find them and bring attention to the things you consider risky. An even better attitude is to run a quick assessment and propose solutions as you report the problems.
All developers in the team own the development process. Everyone is responsible to ensure the quality of the code, the documentation, logging, the use of development assisting tools, the code review process, tests, the bugs and even the unknown unknowns.
Experts care deeply about the codebase they are working on and are constantly looking for problems (and potential problems) and doing improvements regardless of who wrote the code.
Experts not only fix what is broken - they build into the architecture, pipelines, and tooling measures to prevent developers from making mistakes and to get alerted when things break. They are constantly asking questions like: "what could have I done to prevent this problem from happening?", "why wasn’t this caught during the code review?", "why wasn’t this knowledge passed along?", "why was there no test to catch this case?". Experts own the code and are accountable when things go well and when they go bad.
Developers are co-owners of the product alongside all the other stakeholders (even though each of them will have more or less say in the final decisions). Code only exists in the context of a product that has multiple stakeholders. It’s expected that all code decisions are made in this context and with the product success in mind.
So owning the code is not enough. Developers should constantly communicate the software development related risks involved in each decision from other areas of the product such as design, sales and business. When it’s appropriate, developers should also provide opinions and feedback to these other areas.
Activity and Project Accountability
Experts harness the power of accountability. It's often necessary that certain key activities and projects are delegated to specific members of the team. Often these are things that are primarily owned by the Tech Lead but that the execution can be offloaded to other team members.
Experts understand the importance of being accountable for the success of these tasks and that they need to provide visibility on progress to the leadership. Demand is quite unpredictable for Tech Leads and they need to trust team members to keep up with the operation tasks and projects so they can focus on other things on their plate.
Experts are encouraged to dig deep on areas of interest (backend, frontend, devops, security, …) but this should come with a broad understanding of the whole development process and being able to act on these on their day to day tasks.
Because software development is an ever (and rapidly) changing area, they also need to keep up with these changes by reading, attending/watching conference talks, keeping up with major tool releases and practicing new skills.
Recognition is also key here: it's important that team members and the customer recognize you as a reference in your areas of expertise. Both should feel confident that we have the required competences to achieve the project's technical challenges.
Software discipline is a broad term that encapsulates many practices that, when applied, tend to produce good software. They are skills that often can’t be enforced by anyone other than the programmer that is writing the code. Some examples are: TDD, writing comprehensive documentation, refactoring and logging.
Developer Experts are expected to have these practices internalized in their modus operandi of writing software. Keeping up with the market best practices is also encompassed here.
Experts are mindful towards architecture. Architecture comprehends many things from data structure to how files are organized in the project. Developer Experts are familiar with the paradigms of software development such as Object Orienting, Functional and Parallel, as well as to software design principles, practices and patterns. This knowledge base provides the solid foundations and tooling for you to take good decisions and build robust products and code bases that last.
Managing software complexity is also key here, all architecture decisions should push for reduced complexity and make code easier for less experienced developers and newcomers.
Technical Leadership is a relatively new role in the world of software development. There's little structured content about it available in either books or blog posts. Most content is presented as reports on the goals and experiences of individuals or companies. This is a natural process as the industry adapts and learns what combination of attributions are best suited for the role, quite similar to what happened to the now much less obscure role of DevOps engineer. In the spirit of learning from feedback and collaboration, we want to be part of the debate by sharing what it means to be a Tech Lead at Vinta.
For us, Tech Leads are accountable for various monitoring and guidance activities for a wide-range of perspectives, from systems to individuals. They need to have technology and architecture fluency to support business goals from a technical standpoint, as well as to keep up with co-workers' individual needs and goals. There are two big cornerstones to the role: People and Technology. We'd say they are equally important and will probably require about the same mental effort on daily activities.
The Tech Lead of a project is not necessarily the most technically experienced person in the team and forcing such a thing is not wise. Primarily because the team would be losing productive time from someone that could be best allocated as a full-time programmer and also because that person might not be interested or willing to act on the People part of the job. So a Tech Lead is someone that can both smoothly deal with people and that has a very good understanding of the project in business and technical terms.
Here is the breakdown of the most important activities Vinta expects from a person in this role.
The People Cornerstone
Tech Leads need to have an open and safe channel with team members. The goal is to build a relationship where people feel that they have the psychological safety to impact the project. But at the same time they trust the Tech Lead's final decisions and will do their best to make them successful. Keeping up that kind of communication should also provide a better understanding about each team member's strengths and needs, allowing for a clearer overview of the team. It's not possible to be a good leader without knowing who you are leading.
Technical decisions should always be backed by business goals. The language or framework choice for a particular project should be based on the knowledge of the current project's status and the vision of the business' next steps. The same goes for technical debts and refactorings: the decision to tackle them should be backed by precise project or business-related goals, e.g.: "this will help us to be more productive in the medium-term", or "there will be a change in feature X so we need to refactor this part of the code for it to be more flexible". This means that Tech Leads need to keep up with the other project leaders. They need to be in sync with areas such as business, marketing and finance so they can take better technical decisions based on those. Keep in mind that other leaders will need inputs from the Tech Lead to better accomplish their work as well. It's the Tech Lead's job to push for the technical tasks to get included and accounted for during product planning. Communicating technical risks and negotiating trade-offs are very important activities here.
In-company mentorship programs are a great way to help people grow their careers and understand how to navigate through the company's processes and hierarchy. Everyone at Vinta has a mentor that will be available from time to time to hear and advise on those high level topics. This is a great resource, but in general it's aimed at medium/long-term goals. Tech Leads can serve as great resources to fill in the gap of short-term advisory. Teams often have processes and specific needs and that require someone inside the project to pass them on. Also, Tech Leads are experienced people that can advise on more specific things (i.e. people skills) that can be worked on, technologies that are more important to that particular project and also provide daily feedback on various aspects.
Pairing is a great tool to pass knowledge on within a team. Teams that don't do full time pairing should be encouraged to pair from time to time. The more you mix people around, the better. Junior developers should pair with more experienced developers and experienced people should pair with each other now and then. Due to their understanding of the codebase and architecture, Tech Leads should dedicate some of their time to pairing. This has some of the same goals as mentoring but from a more hands-on perspective.
Connecting People / Knowledge Matching
Time is limited and it's not always possible to be available to assist teammates. That means Tech Leads should be smart about when to directly jump in and help or when someone else can be assigned. To do this, it's very important they know not only what are the strengths of the people in the team but also build a strong network of people in the company that can assist on specific subjects. This will allow them to optimize how can people meet and help each other. Matching the right people is a great way to improve the performance of the team while also accelerating individual growth.
As we'll see later in "The Technology Cornerstone", there are many activities which the Tech Lead is ultimately accountable for (from a business perspective), but other people can be responsible to work on them. Those people should have the autonomy to execute key technical activities beyond feature development, but always receiving timely feedback from the Tech Lead to ensure continuous improvement. The Tech Lead must empower people to be owners of key aspects of the software product, like security or backups. That ownership can also rotate periodically to avoid creating gatekeepers or increasing risk due to concentrated skills. Rotating roles can also force people to document better, create processes, and consolidate knowledge. Additionally, the Tech Lead must ensure no activity is being forgotten, i.e., there are no ownership gaps.
Hearing / Trusting the Team
Under no circumstances should Tech Leads act as gatekeepers. Although they are experienced developers, this doesn't mean that technical decisions should be taken without consulting the team. Everyone in the team, regardless of experience level, should be encouraged to speak and have a saying in all parts of the code. Ultimately it's up to the Tech Lead to decide what will be done, but all decisions should take the team's inputs into account. This also means that Tech Leads should not own any part of the code. There's no architecture or feature that can only be implemented by the Tech Lead. Such a thing is a red flag and can lead to disastrous situations like burnout for the Tech Lead. A much healthier approach is to act as coach, unblocking and helping other people to work on those complex tasks.
The Technology Cornerstone
Monitor the Codebase
As one of the most experienced programmers in the team, the Tech Lead should have control of the codebase. What languages and libraries are being used? How long since they've been updated? Are there any security updates available? What architecture will be used for that new feature? Are code practices standardized? Are tests being properly written? How fast is technical debt growing? Are the gains really worth the compromises of acquiring that debt? Those are some of the questions the Tech Lead should be constantly thinking and also inquiring the team. Here is a list of tasks that need continuous monitoring:
- Libraries' and tools' updates
- Security releases (especially for the major tools and frameworks)
- Development processes and methodologies
- Linters (to easily standardize practices)
- Test coverage and depth (unit, integration, acceptance, etc)
- Permission tests in all endpoints
- Technical Debt (tracking and paying)
- Continuous Deployment
- Database Migrations (forwards, backwards)
- Feature Flags (managing and cleaning)
- Configurability (hard-coded values vs. environment vars vs. admin toggles)
Good architecture decisions can save a lot of development time. Regardless of the size of the feature, insights from an experienced person can reduce a lot the effort to complete a task, simplify solutions and improve the code quality. This kind of insight can only come from someone that is an experienced developer and also has a good understanding of the project business logic. Therefore, it's a perfect task for Tech Leads. It's important to emphasize here that although Tech Leads should have the final call on architectural decisions, they should always take into account inputs from the team and should act as mentors, not gatekeepers of complex tasks.
Monitor Application Service-level
Growing is painful, so preparing for growth can avoid a lot of stressful situations. At the beginning of new projects, is common to trade system performance and robustness for development speed. While in many cases those are worthwhile tradeoffs, they should be taken carefully as the software product grows. Tech Leads should keep an eye on application metrics to foresee increasing demands and prepare for them at the appropriate time. Additionally, they should always be closely looking to the most critical points of the application, i.e., the key transactions where failure is the riskiest for the business. Some key activities related to service-level monitoring are:
- Scaling up application infrastructure (including optimizing settings)
- Setting up and reacting to alerts for application performance and uptime (using New Relic, for example)
- Setting up and reacting to alerts for errors (including end-user specific errors, like 4xx HTTP errors or frontend errors, using Sentry, for example)
- Enforcing backup policy (including periodic verification of backups)
- Enforcing logging policy (including end-user activity logs)
- Ensuring proper platform compatibility (specific browser versions, network conditions, etc)
- Documenting and enforcing quality-ensuring processes (downtime recovery, error postmortems, QA, deploy and release, end-user support, …)
- Other non-functional requirements
Note that the Tech Lead isn't the sole responsible for those activities, but they're the one Accountable (the A in the RACI matrix) for them. If anything goes wrong, the blame ultimately goes to the Tech Lead, because from a business perspective they're the one that should ensure the proper execution of tech-related activities.
Support and Monitor Customer Success
Happy customers is the goal of the best products. There's no point in having a great codebase, with the perfect architecture, if customers are not satisfied with the product. Customer Success (CS) is often the role of a full time person (or a whole team, depending on the size of the product) so it's not something a Tech Lead can keep up all by themselves. But it is their job to make sure the people doing it have the tools and the data to support their work. This involves adding functionalities that will facilitate the CS job, adding as many metrics and logs as possible to the product (especially to the critical flows and key transactions). Besides the service-level metrics and logs, UX KPIs like Time on Task are other important Customer Success goals that Tech Leads can help the CS person to track and improve. Also, the Tech Lead should empower the team to answer questions and solve bugs swiftly (by ensuring good communication channels and processes, for example).
A great way to keep up with all parts of the system and mentor coworkers is by reviewing PRs. PRs are a great place to give feedback, identify when architecture is tilting to the wrong side and keep a good overview of different parts of the codebase. Tech Leads should do as much PR reviewing as possible but doing all or close to all reviews is considered a bad practice. Everyone in the team should be reviewing each other's code for the same reasons previously mentioned, with the added bonus that it's a good way for less experienced people to learn.
Tools get outdated and new improved stuff is constantly released. Many times those can improve code quality, speed up development or automatize some process. Tech Leads should keep an eye on those and systematically experiment and review if they are useful in the team's context.
Guide through Crises
Crises will eventually arise in all projects. It's important that Tech Leads are prepared for them because many times there will be people in the team that are not. Keeping calm and thinking straight during those situations is required and will also give the confidence the team needs to sail smoothly through crises. Tech Leads should know who, among the team, are the best to tackle the situation while also asserting how many people should be deviated from their planned tasks to work on it.
Last but not least, Tech Leads should keep actively working in project tasks. The hard part of this is actually choosing the right kind of task that will fit the schedule. Tech Leads need to be very smart so they keep up with technical work without leaving aside all the other important activities. It's normally a good idea to look for challenging tasks with a stretched deadline. What is the best kind of task will vary according to the current project needs, but the key thing is to keep working on things that you enjoy and that you will be proud of at the end of the day. There's no such thing as a non technical Tech Lead.
Philosophy behind the process
We always hire interns with a clear goal (we also make that goal clear to them from day one), that is to hire them as juniors in a year time. The whole process is designed to maximize learning opportunities, knowledge sharing, and professional development. In order to do that, we believe three things are essential:
- Code best practices and development process should be a concern from day one;
- The person’s only focus should be on learning and growing professionally, so books, online courses, and more experienced developers should always be available;
- Knowledge should be demonstrated and consolidated through building things. Reading is awesome and necessary, but true growth is achieved through projects.
Steps of the process
First, every intern here develops a toy project. Then the person is integrated into a project (with full access to production environment) working non-billable hours for the client and finally, the person is hired as a junior and starts working billably for the client. This whole process lasts on the maximum 12 months, but eight months is usually more than enough.
What you’ll learn
- Object Relational Model (ORM)
- Django Rest Framework
- Celery Beat (to schedule tasks)
- Jest (frontend tests)
- Redux Thunk
Internship project on Trello
We try to avoid overwhelming people that are beginning to learn a stack. So the first thing every intern does here is to receive this Trello board. The cards are already separated and ordered to maximize learning. The idea is to start with a Django app and then to rewrite the front using React. The lists are ordered according to the priority of deliveries, it’s important to follow the order and develop every feature without parallelization so that you’ll learn faster. Remember to read the card named Project Specs first to get an overview of the project! You can check it below:
To copy the board, press W and click on More > Copy Board.
First step: become an intern
If you've read it until here and enjoyed our way of thinking, come forward and join us!