3 min read

The 40% that makes it worth it

The 40% that makes it worth it
Photo by Daoudi Aissa / Unsplash

I used to wonder what Directors and VPs do all day. Whenever people would ask at an All Team meeting, they would usually give a generic response of "I'm in a lot of meetings, I make a lot of slides, and I read a lot of docs."

I found this answer unsatisfying. It left me wondering if their high salaries were really justified for these seemingly mundane tasks.What were they really doing all day?

Now, as an Uber Tech Lead, I have a lot more insight into their world. My own calendar these days is filled with 30-minute meeting blocks. Eating lunch during a normal lunchtime now feels like a luxury. I recently joked that all I really do is put two people in a room who can't seem to communicate without my presence, and sit in 30-minute observation sessions.

Avery Pennarun's article, What do executives do, anyway? resonates with my experience. He aptly describes the role as the crucial task of "enforcement of culture and values," shedding light on the less visible impact of an executive's role:

What does that mean? It means if someone in the company isn't acting "right" - not acting ethically, not following the conflict resolution algorithm above, playing politics - then they need to be corrected or removed. Every executive is responsible for enforcing the policy all the way down the chain, recursively. And the CEO is responsible for everyone. You have to squash violators of company values, fast, because violators are dangerous. People who don't share your values will hire more people who don't share your values. It's all downhill from there.

Real values aren't what you talk about, they're what you do when times get tough. That means values are most visible during big, controversial decisions. The executive ratifying a decision needs to evaluate that decision against the set of organizational values. Do the two leads both understand our values? Is the decision in line with our values? If not, tell them so, explicitly, and send them back to try again.

On paper, this job doesn't sound particularly fun. Most of the time, it is indeed as unglamorous as others in leadership positions have described it to me.

Before I accepted the Uber Tech Lead role, a mentor gave me some advice. Here is what I remember her saying:

60% of the job basically sucks. I got 4 post-it notes on my desk right now for presentations I don't want to give. I got a full-day of meetings, I don't want to be in. And a lot of times, I end my week thinking, my job sucks. What do I even do around here?

But then you look back over a year, and you see all the things these 100+ people were able to achieve and accomplish, and you know, that wouldn't have been possible without you pushing things out of their way and making it possible for them to get those things done.

You're going to have the power and influence to elevate the people you think should be lifted up. You get to create a better experience for those 100+ people in your organization that you had in your career. And when you look back on your career not in terms of days, but in terms of years, that kind of makes all that sucking worth it.

Last Friday, my team had our inaugural lightning talk series. I played a minimal role in the actual event organization, but I knew that I had been the catalyst by initiating the idea and encouraging someone else to take the lead.

Afterwards, I pinged one of the speakers with a simple "great presentation!! 👏" She responded "thank you Julie!! you played a huge part in making the design happen." Reading those words, I'm pretty sure I melted into my chair and even teared up a little.

Despite a week filled with challenges, such as layoffs, slipping launch deadlines, and long meetings, that chat message was the 40% that made all the sucking worth it.