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Weekly Byte: Code Bash

How can you manage a team of developers and still find time to code?

I felt a sense of urgency around this question last year. Because my team had grown and my responsibilities had increased, it had become almost impossible to protect any focused programming time during the work day. After doing some research, I realized that every successful development manager encounters this problem sooner or later as their scope increases; and most of them eventually give up on the idea of being able to do both things.

But I didn’t want to give up on being an active developer as well as a manager. I enjoy writing code because it exercises a very different part of my mind than my management and customer-facing responsibilities do. It also makes me a better manager because I’m affected by my own decisions and I can better understand the needs of the team. There had to be a way to do both.

It turned out that the other members of my team were also looking for a way to protect solid, uninterrupted blocks of time for deep coding and collaborative work. We put our heads together and came up with the idea of a daily Code Bash. We blocked this time on our calendars, making a mutual commitment that we would dedicate this time to coding and be available to help each other through answering questions, discussing designs, pair programming, and code review.

One of the challenges that we had to navigate was how to make sure that our other obligations to the company as a whole didn’t go unattended, and that a developer would always be available to help with anything time-sensitive that might come up. We didn’t want to reduce our team’s contributions and responsiveness to the rest of the company by blocking this time. So each day, a rotating developer acts as the “superhero,” fielding any support questions, charge capture customer trainings, or data requests that come up during Code Bash.

The team has been a lot more productive since we put this into place, and it’s been truly transformative for me. I now typically get more than 10 hours of dedicated programming time each week, compared to less than 1 hour beforehand - even though my other responsibilities have continued to increase in the meantime. My job is more balanced and more satisfying as a result of this change. It’s a very pMD solution to a problem that felt unsolvable!