This week, we asked 5 questions of Justin James, senior VP of Solution Design and Architecture at Cloud Development Resources of Nashville, Tenn. James is based in Lexington, S.C.
We wanted to know about his job and what it takes to lead developers for a living.
1. Why did you get into your field?
James: My father was a software developer and owned his own businesses since long before I was born. I grew up surrounded by engineers, and the first time I sat down at a computer, I was five years old, and that was in the early ‘80s. So, I had a lot of exposure to computers in an era when few people did. They were too expensive for many people to have one at home, and movies and TVs were still making them seem mysterious and interesting. I took formal programming courses in high school, and it all went forward from there.
2. What energizes you about your current role?
James: I get to grow a great team of software architects, and I love working with people. I really enjoy getting to pass on my knowledge and experience, especially when I have a chance to mentor someone relatively junior and coach them through things that are not just technical challenges, but things like how to work with a team or communicate with a client.
3. What makes your job difficult?
James: Miscommunications and misaligned expectations are usually the root cause of my challenges. Sometimes it is someone in our organization who failed to raise a risk so it can be mitigated. Often, a client just doesn’t have their act together, and we find ourselves dependent on something that won’t happen on time or won’t happen right. Something I need to remind myself often – and the people on my team – is that if our clients were perfect, they wouldn’t need our help. We’re here to help them get better, so we can’t expect them to just nail everything 100%.
4. What books have you read lately to keep yourself current?
James: I hate to admit this, but I literally haven’t read a word other than work emails, chats, etc. since May. The last book related to work that I read was more than a year ago, “How and Why Large Companies Make Product Selections: You Know How to Sell, Now Learn How Companies Buy” by Brian Burns (the guy on LinkedIn who is always walking around his neighborhood in a Nike shirt). Total genius, but having been 50% of the way through one of his other books for almost a year, you really just need that one book by him to get his point. Most business books are absolute trash, filled with fake conversations and pointless anecdotes to fluff them up. Anything by Steve McConnell is pure gold for a software leader, and should be treated like it was handed down on stone tablets.
5. What should people know about managing software development teams?
James: I think you, the people you lead, and your organization all deserve for you to put your best foot forward and become a great manager, rather than to dabble in it. The hardest thing to learn is to be decisive about letting people go. It’s much easier on any given day to tolerate a bad employee rather than go through the pain of a performance improvement plan and then termination if needed. But if you add the total pain up, not just for you, but for the rest of the team too, never mind the organization, your customers, your users, etc., it is far better to let someone go if they aren’t working out. The first time I let someone go, I broke down into tears in the middle of it because I knew how badly I was hurting him and how ultimately his termination was my fault for making a bad hire in the first place. I learned to do a better job hiring, and now I very, very rarely need to let people go as a result. I have to treat every hire with ultimate seriousness, their life, the lives of their family, are resting in my hands, and if I botch that out of inexperience, hubris or pride, everyone is going to suffer. Not enough managers treat hiring with the respect it deserves.
If you know a tech leader in flyover country you’d like to see in this space, send an email to Lisa@flyovermediagroup.com.