Be an apprentice. Evolve as a manager.


Being a manager is not something that's in my DNA. I'm primarily an engineer, a scientist, a software developer. I find it hard to spend time on governing activities that have no direct output, and prefer doing things rather than guiding and supervising how things are done. Some people are natural organizers, others need to somehow learn and adopt that specific set of technical and social skills that help teams operate smoothly and efficiently. While I may have the technical skills of understanding how things should be done, my problems lie elsewhere.

The truth is, I don't feel that good when I'm telling people what to do, I don't see myself as a superior who sets the goals and awards or punishes people based on their results. At the same time I fully recognize this is something that needs to be done one way or another, otherwise, inefficiency. I must admit I did advance on the field in the past years, since I'm trying hard to learn how to do it. Slowly. And to my great surprise, it seems one of my latest ventures will unexpectedly help me evolve as a manager as well. As you will see, I happened to find myself on the other side of the story.

After many years, even decades, I'm finally an apprentice again! By dedicating multiple 10.000 hours to system architecture, database design, development, (digital) marketing, design and user experience, I've done or heard about pretty much everything that is associated with the fields of software development. That's what I do for living, and even if I embark on something new, I always have enough initial knowledge to prevent me from being an apprentice. Now I understand this fact made me miss out on a few very important realizations that come from being one.

My grandfather has left me this really cool car. A Yugoslavian Zastava 101, built in 1978. She hasn't been driven in about 20 years, but now, the time has come to bring it back to life. My girlfriend's uncle happened to be a car mechanic for 20 years, and he was specialized in repairing Zastavas. Lucky bastard me! He was very happy to help me out, and in the past weeks, we have spent a few session in his garage, coming close to making the beauty run.

I wanted to be there when repairs happen, to help and to learn. Which makes me an apprentice car mechanic. Swiping the floor, cleaning up spark plugs, screwing and unscrewing stuff, holding things aside, moving the flashlight, operating the car jack. I even managed to disassemble the wheels and brakes and felt amazing about it. My teacher is very patient and I don't feel bad at all for being ordered around and doing all the small things. I understand this is my role in this specific project, and I love playing it.

Dissasembling the wheels of Zastava 101

I did this. I will also have to put it back together.

I learned so much already, not only about cars and engines, but about management as well. The most important one being that people don't feel bad if they're ordered what to do, rather the opposite. They need to know why things are happening and how we will get there. It has nothing to do with someone being something more than the other, it's just a person's role in the specific situation. Perhaps those managed will be the ones who will give out orders in a few years, who knows. But today, I'm the one who is expected to do so, and it's becoming clearer, how. It's a bit ironic that I learned that by fixing up an old car that was waiting 20 years for me to take care of it.

Funny, how things are interconnected, how everything is everything. I probably wouldn't perceive the whole apprentice experience the way I do now if I wouldn't be where I am now, but what's even funnier, is that I can imagine having the same epiphany who knows where as well. I was ready for this, this needed to happen. We evolve every day, and sometimes, the next steps are achieved under very weird circumstances. That's why you and I need to do as many crazy things as possible. Being an apprentice somewhere to become a better manager somewhere else? Why not. Life is like a box of chocolates.

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written 16.4.2013 9:22 CET on chronolog
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