February 11, 2021

Picture Engineering Team as a Sports Team

I was watching The Last Dance, Michael Jordan’s Netflix documentary, last year when I returned to work from four-month-long paternity leave. It was a great show and brought back all of the joys I had when watching Chicago Bulls in the 90s. And it still got me to think till today, what if my engineering team were a sports team.

Give this idea a shot. For an engineer in an IT company, you don’t play against other players per se, but you and your team are playing against the environments - a specific project goal with a set of constraints and oftentimes a fixed deadline. It is a competition of the time, skills, and management. To get ahead in the game, you need to come up with a plan that fits your team’s culture and nature.

I often wonder what type of team I’m in, and what position I’m playing. Do we play the triangle offense, or is it centered around a great Duo? Who is the superstar that leads the team to victory? Who is the underpaid yet irreplaceable one that does all the hard work? Who makes troubles outside of the court but can save the team in dire situations? Who is the role player that steps up and fires when the team needs it? Who is the mood maker and cheers everyone up? Or simply, what type of player is missing?

I have an inner tendency (for good and bad) to look around and best guess what position should I play right now. In my previous team where everyone was a senior engineer that can easily cruise the Sprint, I kept a low profile. I could take a backseat and learn from their plays while getting my job done. That was a relaxing season. I didn’t need to push myself too hard; why risk it when you know Michael will score if you pass him the ball? (That’s the downside of the trait, I tend to stay low and play safe in such environments.)

But in the past season when I returned, my team was completely reformed. Three new players had just joined, and I was the only old member on the team. I knew we needed to do some serious work. Naturally, I had to step up and take more responsibilities to keep the team up and running and also make sure the culture does not get lost in my hands. That was the position I was playing, not officially written or assigned, but I know from my heart that’s the spot I need to be. I shared all of the tribal knowledge I possess, clapped for good work, called out and confronted when necessary.

It can be stressful to shoot the buzzer beater, and it also consumes energy to keep an eye on and off the court, but I gotta do what I gotta do. The game is not a one-person show. There are times you need to get out of your comfort zone to show your leadership so that you can win together as a team. My current position will no doubt help me grow as a human being. It has already rewarded a great deal.

After playing with each other side by side for a year, we have built up good chemistry. I’m happy to see my new teammates expanding their games. It’s time for me to assist, rebound, and delegate more.

That’s the team I’m in right now. How about yours?

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Qihuan Piao

Qihuan Piao

(aka kinopyo) is Chinese based in Tokyo. Software writer. He shares stories inspired him in this blog. His infamous line - "I feel calm when I kill those monsters, or people (in game)" shocks his friends deeply.

He also writes in Japanese and Chinese.