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Posted on: Friday, 24 September 2010 by Rajiv Popat

When you are the kickass rock star alpha geek of your team churning out code by the minute and getting things done, you love being in the flow. Then slowly, as more and more people in your team realize you can help and as you accept one promotion after another, somewhere it becomes fairly obvious that if someone in your team is stuck he is supposed to walk up to your desk and cause an interruption often without asking if it is okay to interrupt.

The first few years of this 'helping mode' are fun. You are busy helping everyone. You don't really care if you are not churning out a lot of a real work yourself. Time moves on. Fast forward a couple of years. You have managed to stay deeply connected with code, but on an average you just find a couple of hours of non interrupted work in a day. There are days when the builder within you asks you the question: 'What did you do today?'.

You know the answer to the question instantly.

The answer freaks you out.

There are two knee jerk reactions possible in this scenario.

If you were the geek who always loved code, you are going to go back and assign the most complicated module to yourself, lock yourself in that cubical for days f@#king up your responsibilities as a manager and those emails from your clients are going to sit in your inbox unanswered.

If you are the guy who was never quite good at coding you are going to take it upon yourself to walk up to every developer you can find and ask them the status three times a day. You are going to answer every single email in your inbox and watch your experience as a developer go down the drain as you morph from a capable alpha geek to someone who just answers emails and talks.

Both of these knee jerk reactions are small steps towards big problems.

What you need to do is take a pause. Breathe. Let the question soak in. Reflect.

What did you really do today?

You helped Jack by taking his rather long winded function and using an API that would do the same work in half the lines of code. You researched the API. You tried a quick POC on it with Jack. Of course, it was his work but it was your job to keep him moving forward.

Then you spent time responding to emails and building a story around your product so that the clients don't just look at the data.

You picked a bug or two. Fixed those. Did a scrum. Thought about a couple of new features.

And in the process of these you answered about a dozen questions on a feature, on a decision that had to be made or a problem someone was facing. You have done enough by doing nothing concrete which you can sign off as your work.

If there is a geek within you, he is never going to see any of the above as real work so yes you do need a couple of hours a day when you are logged out where you work on keeping your sword sharp and churning out some real code.

Having said that, the sooner you get used to the idea that at some point of time in your life, you will have to stop adding items to the list of things you personally did, stop showing this list to your bosses and start spending a decently big part of your day mentoring, teaching and guiding others, even though this does not really qualify as 'real work' according to the geek that you still are, the better off you will be.

Go on. Strike a balance between teaching, inspiring and doing.

I wish you good luck.