Five ways to become a Software Engineering Multiplier

Just before I started my working career, I completed a social sciences degree in Communication Studies. For the most part, this was  a non-technical IT degree. It was one which made me think deeply about the day to day encounters I have with other people, written, verbal and more. With the job market not being awash with social science jobs at the time, and having hacked around a lot with BBC Basic on an old BBC Micro and Acorn Archimedes in my formative years, I felt a pining for programming again, so I forged a career in the IT industry. I’ve been here ever since.

Since I’ve been in leadership roles in software development, I’ve continually had to revisit my old social science learnings. In the IT sector nowadays, most people assume you need to be deeply technical to be the best you can be. That is obviously really important, but it is only one part of it. What is more important is how you can create a multiplier culture, avoid becoming an accidental diminisher and look at practical steps you can take to unlock the genius in your team.

What is a Multiplier?

Liz Wiseman wrote in her book ‘Multipliers – How the best leaders make everyone smarter’ how there are two types of people, multipliers and diminishers.

 “A multiplier is someone who has the ability to get more out of people than they knew they had to give.”

We are all asked in business to continually get more out of the resources we have. A multiplier tries to create genius around them and makes people more capable, empowered and ultimately happy in their job. One example is where a multiplier may consciously allow someone to fail instead of jumping in to help because that is the first step in them standing on their own feet. This is not about people getting more out of people by working evenings and weekends! It’s also not about being everyone’s best friend or being a walkover.

A diminisher on the other hand is someone who is so absorbed in their own intelligence that they can stifle others and dilute the organisation’s crucial intelligence and capability. At the extreme example , a diminisher – the CEO of Intuit – once said in a meeting – “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard”. He then noticed over the next few weeks that everyone stopped asking him questions. A diminisher may crave to be the hero that saves the day, but ultimately holds the company back.

How does all this apply to software engineering practices then?

The theory is well and good, but what practical things can you do to become a multiplier? In true clickbait style, here are five things to consider if you want to unlock the genius in your colleagues.

1. Deal with Imposter Syndrome in your organisation

I see and hear more and more online about people in IT feeling like imposters. This is despite them having achieved some phenomenal results in their IT career. Sometimes there is a tendency to put too much value put on low-level technical and software engineering skills and forget everything else important about a role.

Imposter syndrome can lead to a fixed mindset in a team, where people believe that who they are is an immutable truth. For managers this can lead to dictatorial and defensive behaviours to ensure  they don’t get ‘found out’. For others it can lead to low self-esteem and anxiety that they will be exposed. Either way, it’s not a good thing.

As a multiplier, it’s your job to build a culture where people feel are valued and allowed to think and break out of the imposter mindset. Kowing that you have imposter syndrome can be a positive though, it means you are self-aware enough to know what you don’t know.

2. Always be learning

The total information in the world doubles every 18 months. Knowledge becomes obsolete at the rate of 15% per year. In tech industry right now, that’s as high as 30%. Ten years ago Microsoft Azure did not exist. Three years ago the term Microsoft Power Platform did not exist. There’s a dedicated twitter account dedicated to letting people know of deprecations in Azure so all the old tools you’ve spent a lot of time learning may be going away, never to return. The Gang of Four book ‘Design Patterns’, once considered as baseline reading for software engineers and architects twenty years ago is now it’s being slated as unreadable.

What’s the lesson here? It’s to always be learning and learning how to learn in new ways.

In Liz Wiseman’s follow up book ‘Rookie Smarts’, she explains accurately, “It’s not what you know but it’s how fast you can learn what you don’t know”.

As a multiplier, the most important quality leaders can infuse into their organisations is the ability to learn. It’s important to produce an organisational culture that is both comfortable and intense. This culture removes fear and creates the safety that invites people to do their best thinking and learning. But it also creates an intense environment that demands people’s best effort.

3. Avoid Expert Beginner Syndrome

Understanding fundamentals are important. Nowadays, with the abundance of quick fixes, impending deadlines and ‘programming by stack overflow’, it’s tempting to focus on the short-term issues and not the medium or long-term ones. If you don’t invest in considered training of your staff, you might end up with a culture of ‘Expert Beginners’. Expert beginners are people who can solve relatively advanced problems but don’t truly know what they don’t know or how or why they did it. So while it’s important to have niche and specialise, having a breadth of foundational training in other technologies is equally important.

There are some great foundation courses available across all technologies whether it’s Azure, .NET, Power Platform. Microsoft has invested recently in some fantastic structured exam learning paths to get started. Understanding other stacks or services is equally important.

So make sure to learn the fundamentals of any technology first in a structured way.  Then you can move your team from novice to beginner to competent to expert.

4. Look for attidude over ability

Don’t just hire the A-A

Warning, football analogy coming involving Roy Keane!

Bill Beswick is a sports psychologist who worked with some of the best sports professionals in the business. If you have 3 minutes, please listen to this clip (from two minutes in specifically) of Bill discussing Roy Keane and the England international squad. Of all the superstars Bill has worked with, he categorises them in three camps.

  • A for Talent, A for Attitude – the Messis, Ronaldos, Michael Jordans, but there’s not many of them around.
  • A for Talent, B for Attitude – The people who will always come second best to themselves and continually let themselves down.
  • B for Talent, A for Attitude – The wonderful people. The backbone of your team who play in all sports (and workplaces) everywhere.

When talent hunting, don’t look for the A for talent, B for attitude rock stars. If you get an A-A great, but actively look for the wonderful people. The B-As will be the backbone of your team and drive you forward.

5. Instil ownership and accountability

“People are smart and will figure things out”

When I’m interviewing people, I always like to think I only want to hire people who are smarter than me. This means I want to hire everybody of course! It’s important to build a team who are intelligent. But once you have that team, you also need to ensure that your team has ownership and accountability and the freedom to make mistakes, or that intelligence you’ve hired is wasted. If you are experienced in a new technology, it’s tempting to be the person that everyone defers to for approval. But if you are always the bottleneck, you will never get home to have dinner.

So let people fail. Give the power to be people closest to the information. You will have setbacks and doubt that you’ve done the right thing repeatedly when mistakes happen, but in the long run you your team will be strong.

This is a Microsoft blog, what’s all this got to do with Power Apps?

This post could equally apply to any organisation or software development function where you are building an engineering or business consultancy effort. However, low-code no code tools like Power Apps are becoming more mainstream. They are an outlet for people who previously considered themselves imposter software developers. The technology is also bringing out the best in the super users and evangelists who love to constantly learn and are wildly enthusiastic in their job. Microsoft have a real focus on Adoption and Change management which aligns to some of these multiplier principles. The Power Apps centre of excellence toolkit is a great framework to nurture your Power Platform team.

So next time you are thinking about how to make your technical team better, please consider taking a leaf out of a social sciences or leadership book and not an just engineering one.

Be a Power Apps multiplier, not a diminisher!


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