Software Developers Journey Podcast

#8 Louise Elliott on dealing with people


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Tim Bourguignon 0:00
This is developer's journey. My name is Tim Bourguignon. Thanks for joining. Yeah. Where the top comes here to wonderful talks yesterday. leadership was impressive. I don't talk about chimpanzees very much like daily work for me, but it really is. It is it is. It is. It's It's impressive. I used to say I'm, I'm a Kindergarten Cop. I'm mostly working as a trial coach, and by mastering sometimes feels like it. And you talk about, about punishment, and Oh, God, I forgot the other word. Exactly. PDD was also amazing. And kind of hard to see where you wanted to go. But everything fell down into place at the end. What's really good, pretty good. Um, so, yeah. You were there. My talk about about developer's journey, very helpful to have you in the first row with a big smile and knowledge meant that I'm speaking fast, but that's also Okay. How did you come becoming developer or a job coach or manager? I'm not sure how you describe your job.

Louise Elliott 1:21
Okay. So I guess I started off in development, my dad was in it. Okay. So I'm not sure it was cool back then. It was long time ago. So I used to take me into work on a Saturday or did he, and he would sit me in front of the computer, he worked for a company called Word packs, who wrote word processors, one of the first ones, so huge machines off in other rooms and dumb terminals, and used to sit me in front of the dumb terminal, tell me to break it. Well, he went off and did his work. And whenever I managed to break it, I had to write a little report out. And he would go in, and he would put it in front of the developers on the Monday and say, my nine year old daughter found that

Tim Bourguignon 2:03
it's cool. Great.

Louise Elliott 2:06
So for me, I guess computing was just normal. It wasn't an unusual thing. And so I went to university, I did electrical Electronic Engineering. But the computing stuff was what I enjoyed. So I went into that I didn't want to do anything else. I didn't want to move into management. I just wanted to stay technical. You know, I've been 25 years in the industry now. And it was probably only five years ago, when I finally admitted that maybe management was the route that I wanted to go.

Tim Bourguignon 2:37
I know that feeling.

Louise Elliott 2:39
And I guess I reached the end of my challenges technically, so that when new languages that when new things, but it didn't feel like there was that big challenge out there for me anymore. So I actually took a year out and I did an MBA free. And then went back in on the management side. And I love that

Tim Bourguignon 2:59

Louise Elliott 3:02
I guess knowing the technical side means I can have the proper conversations and understand when people are telling me the truth, rather than not really wanting to do the work. So that's a really important background. But also the people side of it, people are so strange. Every day, there's something that happens that you go, I've never seen someone do that before. That's really interesting. And it just changes all the time. And this

Tim Bourguignon 3:27
is where the challenges, right? Absolutely technical stuff. It's pretty Cartesian. You can solve this, you know, you can solve this. Well,

Tim Bourguignon 3:33
I wouldn't say that.

Louise Elliott 3:36
I have worked on a number of issues, which you Okay, at some point thought you couldn't solve, but you did get them in the end. And I think that's actually really analogous to working with people. when something comes up that somebody reacts to in a way that you didn't expect them to. There's lots of different ways in which I will then stand back and try and go, Well, how do I communicate with this person? What How do I find out what's making them unhappy in the first place? And I love that aspect. I love the fact it challenges me all the time to try and understand people better and to work with them better. How'd you

Tim Bourguignon 4:13
do that? Jeff?

Louise Elliott 4:16
I, I guess it's trial and error. So I am, obviously because I do do that a lot. I've kind of got some things that I try that my first go to thing, but the situations where they don't work on the most fun ones, you know, the main thing for me is to take myself out of the equation, me how I want to lead how I want to manage is the least important thing. The

Tim Bourguignon 4:44

Louise Elliott 4:46
my approach to things is not important. What's important is them how they're feeling, trying to get to an understanding. Have I said something that's actually made them have a negative reaction to that why was that but all So trying to work out what they need from me, that is the most important thing. Okay, so what do I want out of the situation? And what do I need to give them so that they feel comfortable, and were able to move forward?

Tim Bourguignon 5:13
Okay, so if I can rephrase that, that's empathy first, and switch the point of view, from their point of view, and try to see the word from there. They're absolutely,

Louise Elliott 5:23
and I think, what a lot of people do, I think it's just emotionally respond. And their first immediate emotional response is what they come out with. And that's what causes bad relationships in the workplace and us. And what I try to do, and I try to do it in my personal life as well is if I'm feeling that strong emotional responses a certain thing, I use that as a signal to actually stand back and think a little bit before I respond. So it's kind of if I'm feeling that strong emotionally, then I want to understand why before I respond, so a really silly example, for my personal life would be a couple of months ago, I got in my car with my husband, and he had been the last one to drive it. So the seat was in the right pace. And everything had been adjusted. And I had that moment of irritation. And that immediately, I just kind of said, is that reasonable? In my head? No, it's completely unreal, I wouldn't want to be uncomfortable when he was driving my car, and possibly crushing it. So it's that kind of thing where you just immediately check in with yourself? Is my response actually helpful? I'm helpful.

Tim Bourguignon 6:34
Okay, you need to have the control to be able to do that.

Louise Elliott 6:37
I think it's, it's the signal. It's not even so much the control, I think it's the recognizing and training yourself to kind of go, Okay, this is a moment where I need to step out. And using the emotion as a signal that this is a moment to do that.

Tim Bourguignon 6:53
Okay, so translating this to a development team, how do you help developers or IT professionals learn this and get this into their daily routine?

Tim Bourguignon 7:08
Oh, do I do that?

Tim Bourguignon 7:12
Should we?

Louise Elliott 7:13
Well, you know, I think it's, I mean, obviously, it's something that I do, and that I think is useful to do, or I wouldn't do it. So I definitely see it as my role to help people develop. And I guess Initially, I wouldn't do that with people, I would be just doing that to myself as trying to work with them and create the relationship and create the team. And I think there's some people for which this is more useful than for others. So particularly, there's one particular person I can think of, in my development team, at the moment, who is more mature, is newer, who hasn't really worked in this type of industry very much, and does react quite emotionally. And I kind of think it's fun to try and develop people, you know, and work with them. And even just saying things to him, like he gets frustrated that things are done a certain way. And even just planting that seed, that he can take the power and it's his choice. It doesn't have to sit at the bottom of power level that actually, no one's going to give it to him, he can actually just say, I'm gonna change this. And just in deciding to do that, he can change it. And just kind of seeing him kind of think that through and try it out with people. And God comes back and tells me it didn't work with certain people and all of those sorts of things. But for me, there's huge pleasure in that, just that opening people's eyes to the possibilities that are out there. Some people want that and other people don't want that. And that's absolutely fine. But the people who are interested who kind of want to try things and to experiment, because I think that's what it's really about. They're the ones that that I love to work with in that way.

Tim Bourguignon 9:10
So I'm, I love that you I'm doing that. And it's just gorgeous. It is gorgeous. Exactly. Is your minimum requirements for somebody to you said, if he's doing it or if he wants to do it, it's okay. If it doesn't, it's also okay. Yeah, I totally agree. But is there a minimum under which we cannot go under which a Tim a team starts? dysfunctioning?

Louise Elliott 9:36
I, I don't think so. And I probably am answering differently than I would have done maybe 12 months ago. okay with that. I'm working at the moment in an organization where a third of the people in it have been there more than 10 years.

Tim Bourguignon 9:49

Louise Elliott 9:51
It's very unusual. It's not the best situation I've worked in before. So it's quite interesting to see and it's always been a very hierarchical organization. So because I'm a certain way up the management level, they react to me in a certain way that I'm not used to. And then empowering the team. I'm finding it really quite interesting. So I've got maybe, maybe a quarter of the team were already empowered, because they just decided they were and I've always done that. So I recognize them people around another quarter, since I've been trying to empower them have taken that and run with it. So I've got around half the team now. Okay. I would guess about a quarter, we'll take it as they see others doing it. And I think we'll end up with a quarter who will never take it, who actually quite enjoy just being given the work to do doing it and giving it to someone else, and having no responsibility. And that's okay. If that's how they want to work. That's okay. It's just they will get different type of work than the people who run into it. And I think over time, as they see how much fun The others are having, I think they will come. But maybe they won't, and that's okay.

Tim Bourguignon 11:09
Do we need the, the niccola base person, this person with the the the early adopters, and then the the ones coming after, and then the late comers, maybe over 70% 75% was, yeah, your your rough estimate. And then it's okay to have people that not that are not on this bandwagon.

Louise Elliott 11:32
I think it's, you know, because we're talking a whole, it's not a single team, it's a whole development department. So you have different types of work coming in as well. So you have the flagship projects, and you will probably put the people who are more engaged, who are more interested, who are wanting to work more closely with the business who are wanting to do all of those things, and are taking power and being empowered, they're probably more likely to be working on the larger project pieces of work, the things that if you like the teamwork is so much more important far. But we have lots of work where it's single little pieces of work and, and pieces like that were probably we would get people who didn't want to do that working. And that's fine. They're happy coming in and just doing their job and going home again. And there's nothing wrong with that some of those guys do a really, really good job. They just don't want to do in a team, and they don't want to have any more responsibility than they have. Would I recruit people like that? Probably not.

Tim Bourguignon 12:35
When I'm recruiting.

Louise Elliott 12:38
When I'm recruiting, I'm looking for people, particularly because I guess if the environment I'm in at the moment, I'm looking for those people to show people what it can be like, and to bring in more modern ways of working, but also that attitude and enthusiasm. So I probably wouldn't deliberately recruit somebody who wouldn't have that. But I think within the whole team, within the whole of development, actually, I'm okay. I'm okay if people don't want to go the extra mile. Okay,

Tim Bourguignon 13:11
that's something I'm struggling with. I'm very much the guy who does so much on the side that I'm expecting this for everybody. And I need to pray.

Louise Elliott 13:21
It's one of those things that again, because I'm, I'm someone that I get enthusiastic about things, I really love my job, you know, I kind of I get really passionate about things, I want challenges. It can be really hard for me to understand people who are not like that at all. But I don't know that I understand them exactly. But I understand that they are like that. And that me just being really enthusiastic about them isn't going to change that. And I think, you know, it's one of those things, I think, as I get older and understand better is that whole neuro diversity, that whole having people who think differently and are different is actually really adds to a team. They bring something different to that team. I have one guy who moans all the time. But I love it because I know what's making him unhappy. And I know that probably lots of other people feel the same way. They're just not saying it. So he's actually letting me know, all those things where there are places where maybe we can do something better. Okay.

Tim Bourguignon 14:30
There's more hidden inside. You have to hear we're listening. Actually. I call I said you didn't have the chance to hire somebody for this team.

Louise Elliott 14:40
Yes. Yeah, we've been hiring. We're hiring quite a lot actually. Growing hugely as an organization. So we are, as I say, isn't a single team or it's a department. So it's a group so people are working in different teams, but we're deliberately bringing people in when I started at the organization We were, it was very inward looking. So there was no automated unit testing, for example, let alone continuous integration. So we're bringing most things in now, with their with all of the dotnet. side, we're actually getting there at the moment, on the database side, where we have quite a lot of code. And we're actually bringing in all of those ideas on the database side as well, which is somewhat harder, but we're getting there. But all of the people that we're recruiting are people who have worked that way, who do understand that they have a library as a kind of showing others the route they could go. But also bringing in What do you mean, you don't do that? This is such a basic way of working. And one of the things I do love about the organization is, there's very little resistance to change, although it's good, I spent the first six months trying to find the resistance, because I knew it was that there was only a little bit the guy who moves a lot with a little bit, but I took him out for a coffee, and then he was okay. And, and I was trying to find it because you know, it's there. It's just underground, if you can't find it. And I've been there 18 months now, and I've kind of I'm finally convinced that actually, they're really open to doing things better, as long as they think it's gonna make it better. They're really open to doing it. And that's an amazing opportunity to really make a difference.

Tim Bourguignon 16:25
We can really roll out all the things you all dreamt up,

Louise Elliott 16:29
I just have to kind of hold back and not do it too quickly, because I love change. But I'm aware that everyone does.

Tim Bourguignon 16:36
Yeah, and I think they should be the one doing the change, you should be a trigger agent. But nuts, I can go on as fast as deer. Allow me to go.

Tim Bourguignon 16:46

Louise Elliott 16:48
And another ones having to work out how to bring it in for these particular technology sets and what to do. It's merely a case of me sort of saying here, here's a concept, here's something I think we should be working towards. What do you guys think? And making sure that there's time for people to be working on that. That's my role. They actually have to do the day, that's the heart Indeed, indeed.

Tim Bourguignon 17:10
Do the chance to bring somebody quite fresh on the team. I mean, that's not necessarily someone out of the university, but quite early in his career.

Louise Elliott 17:23
Okay, we do have people early in their career, but probably straight from education. So we have one person we bought in France a year, year and a half ago who was straight from university. But we also have at the moment two apprentices

Tim Bourguignon 17:38
straight from Sweden. Oh, that's great.

Louise Elliott 17:40
So they've been with us a few months now. So that's kind of fun. It's the first time we've done that. And one of the things I really love is the team when I joined was very senior. So most of the people had been there a long time, and had worked a lot. So actually having the dynamic of having more junior people in the team as well. It's really allowing people to do that mentoring thing. And there's such pleasure in doing that and bring some necessary skills along. And it's lovely to see how everybody in the department has, particularly around the apprentices sat around them, helped them brought them along from a point of very little it knowledge, they've done a little bit. And they've got the right kinds of mind. And that's why we brought them in, but really very little knowledge at all. It's just really nice to see how they've made them part of the team and also that enjoyment, they're getting

Tim Bourguignon 18:37
punched in you manage to find dues to apprentices. Are you part of the hiring process? Or?

Louise Elliott 18:42
Uh, yeah, absolutely. The so as an organization as a whole. So we're a financial organization. The IT department is an internal IT department within that. And so the financial organization as a whole was running this program for apprentices. And we took six apprentices on this year, two of them in my area. So they came to us and said, Are you interested in having some? Yeah. And there are a number of applications, it's in conjunction with a local university, who are running day release with them. So they're learning academically at the same time that we're learning practically without back and forth. Yeah. And they have certain things that they need to cover in their syllabus. So we make sure we can experience in those areas. And it's a great chance it's, it's an 18 month program for them. So it's a great chance for them to understand what work is really about. But also a great chance for us to find some people really early in their career, who either we send off into the IT industry actually knowing somewhat of what these things are about, or who we take on afterwards and get a huge benefit from the fact they know our systems and We know that they're good at what they do. So who knows where that's gonna go yet? We're around six months in, we shall see. But at the moment going really well. sounds promising. Yeah.

Tim Bourguignon 20:09
Great, great. Um, anything you want to add any topics we didn't cover you would like to speak about.

Louise Elliott 20:18
I could speak about anything for any length of time.

Tim Bourguignon 20:19
I'm sure. In five minutes, it shouldn't be the conference. So thanks very much for your time. It was very enjoyable. I hope we can stay in touch. Thank you.