How Zumba helped me become a better Tech Lead

September 29th, 2018

I wrote about some of the commonalities between Zumba instructors and Tech Leads in my last post. I have a few more points to add on, which will give you an idea of the multitude of skills required to be either.

Multitasking

Zumba instructors are fierce multitaskers. Our main job is to dance to the music so that participants can follow along. But we also need to think ahead to what the next move is because we need to inform the class that the change is coming. This is known as pre-cueing and is the next most important thing that group fitness instructors do. At the same time I visually scan the room to make sure that my class members are enjoying themselves and executing the moves safely. There have been instances where I had to get someone’s attention to tell them that their shoelaces are undone. While I kept dancing. And getting ready for move changes.

Tech Leads need to multitask as well. There are very few days where I can sit down and just focus on coding. My weeks are filled with code reviews, preparing statement of works, running meetings, identify roadblocks, and planning resource allocations for upcoming projects. People interrupt me throughout the day for things that they need and it’s my job to be there for them. In fact, I wrote a whole other post about how I recover from context switching.

Role model

I struggle to think of another profession where the term ‘role model’ applies better than to fitness instructors. Class members literally follow my every move for 55 minutes. It is important to be comfortable in front of crowds and be treated as a semi-public persona. I will admit putting on a bit of a character when I change into my Zumba clothes because I represent the Zumba brand, the gym I work for, and my personal reputation.

Tech Leads are role models as well. An individual contributor’s actions reflect back on their teams too, but Tech Leads have an amplified ability to influence perceptions. That is why I think great Tech Leads have to be comfortable with speaking and presenting to a crowd. I believe there are two levels to this.

The first level is to speak to their teams as a group. Tech Leads have the responsibility to shape and influence how technical work is done in the team, and it is more efficient to influence an entire group rather than one person at a time, although that is necessary in certain cases. For example, I did a presentation on the value of unit tests in managing the complexity of legacy code during our team meeting.

The second level is to speak to groups outside their teams. This can be talks inside the company, e.g. brown bag lunch sessions, or talks outside the company, e.g. Meetup gatherings. This is where Tech Leads start presenting an idealized image of their teams and companies, whatever that image may be. In blunt terms, this builds political capital and goodwill for both the Tech Lead and their teams. This makes it easier to attract new talent to the team and increase the Tech Lead’s influence when angling for new opportunities.

Continuous Improvement

Zumba instructors, and all dance instructors by extension, don’t have it easy. Casual observers may think we reuse the same material, but we have to continuously learn new songs and moves to keep our classes fresh. Les Mills programs have an entirely new class every quarter, while Zumba instructors receive about 10 new routines every two months. That’s a lot of continuous improvement. Personally, I aim to learn or choreograph one new song each week because I work better with constant, spread-out effort rather than bursts of intense learning. Either way, we have to keep working to stay in work.

This is no different for Tech Leads. There is no magical finish line when one becomes a Tech Lead. We don’t just sit back with our existing knowledge and start issuing epithets about how developers should write programs. At least, I don’t! On the other hand, there is too much tech to learn all of them in detail. It is a difficult balance because Tech Leads need to stay abreast of different technological trends while also knowing enough about them to make recommendations to the team. The appetite for continuous improvement is required whichever approach one takes.

Conclusion

I hope I’ve demonstrated how two very different professions can require different skills but actually need many similar qualities. I genuinely believe that my experience being a Zumba instructor has helped me navigate my journey to be a top-notch Tech Lead. And I hope you enjoyed the insight into how much work Zumba instructors put in to create a world-class exercise program!

Photo credit: pontla on Visualhunt.com / CC BY-NC-ND

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