Thursday, March 1, 2012

Three Reasons You Should Be Training Your Successor

It's Friday afternoon of a long week. Despite wanting to pack up your bag and go home, you know you need to review the new hire's code. It's their first week so inevitably it will be some scary stuff for you to untangle. When you get in there, it is scary. But not in the way you expected. Instead of causing more bugs than they fixed, they've actually managed to fix every bug you gave them and in the process redesign a hairy part of the system into something rather... elegant. You want to find fault somewhere, but you can't. They're really good, so good that you're feeling threatened. I want to convince you that this threat is an opportunity. When you find that up-and-comer on your team, instead of trying to prove that you are better than them, train them to replace you. Why? Here are three major reasons:

1) Career Growth 
It's hard to grow yourself and your career within a company if you hoard the knowledge or ownership of a particular project. The people that succeed the best at growing into bigger roles are those that can point to a protégé waiting in the wings to fill the position they are leaving behind. This applies to us tech types that may not want to grow into managers, but want the freedom to move into new projects. It's easy to get stuck on the same codebase when you're the only expert in the area. Training other smart developers on the team lets you move on to new and exciting things as the opportunity arises, and with no guilt about leaving people in the lurch.
Even if you prefer to switch companies every few years, it is always great to be able show a track record of several successful projects per company, and it gives you the opportunity to get a good breadth of experience.

2) Guru Points
Teaching and mentoring others makes us learn what we know even better. I always find that any time I have to give a teaching talk on a topic, I learn that topic a little bit more. Explaining things to others formalizes what you know, and in watching them learn they will almost always teach you something as well. Do you want to grow into the guru of your team or company? Mentor others and teach them all you know, and before long you may find yourself the most trusted advisor of the team.

3) A Stronger Network
Helping others grows your network, and provides you a pool of talent that you can draw on throughout your career. In a big company, knowing people on other teams that trust and respect you makes cross-company collaboration much more effective. If you are the sort to move between small companies every few years, it's likely you will need to hire talent to work with you and make those companies successful, and who better than your former mentees? And if one of those that you mentor grows to become a great success? They are not likely to forget the people that helped to get them where they are, and can be a very valuable part of your professional network.

This post is dedicated to my mentor Mike, who taught me this rule and practically every other useful thing I know. Please leave a comment here or on twitter!


  1. sharing in my company's posterous space!

  2. Great again! My previous question "Where is the growth" has been (partially) dismissed. :)