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  • Cat Hicks

Listening & Talking at LeadDev London

In June, I had the chance to go to LeadDev London. It was really an amazing experience (as evidenced by the fact that I’m still thinking about it!), first for the overall content, but second and probably most important, for feeling connected to the larger community of folks in tech who are also working on the things I care so deeply about.

Like writing code, doing research can feel very solitary. You spend a very large amount of time making sure things work and are accurate in a way that mostly won’t get seen in the output, except that you know the excellent output never would’ve happened if you’d not put in that careful work. You check and re-check categories, and you bring in new measures and new methodologies. You have to learn a lot. You study new things, so you need to learn even more. You check and re-check that you’ve done it right, and you validate and test your measures. You figure out how to get a research sample of people who have important experiences, and you work to do justice to how you've communicated about what they say. And at the end of it all, you don’t put any of that in a talk, because you know that it’s your job to create evidence that other people can think about and consume as easily as you can make it happen. It's other people's job to decide how and whether to use your evidence.

In the hallway of a really good conference though (or, better, an outdoor courtyard with a nice water feature to look at!), you do get to talk about the creating of the thing. LeadDev was a powerful conference for me for that and it's still impacting the choices I'm making about our research. Even though there weren't a lot of (any?!) other social scientists at a conference like this, I felt part of this builder culture, a community of people who understood that unlocking and unblocking our people is the key to innovation. I had a lot of conversations with people who have already accomplished incredible things for the teams around them: DevRel folks, Dev Advocate folks, tech leads, software engineers who’ve taken on new roles in newly-created Technology Centers of Excellence. Or Engineering Managers who’ve stepped up to lead an initiative around developer experience, or developer learning initiatives. Something that struck me was this: there are a lot of folks working hard who deserve to be empowered in this industry, who deserve their own data and evidence and research. There are a lot of people who've worked, lived and breathed software teams, and now have a passion to improve developers' experiences at work.

As we keep driving forward our research roadmap at the Developer Success Lab, my north star is that we will know we're doing it right when we do the research that developers have wished someone had had time or skills or permission to do at their orgs. At LeadDev, folks told me: "I recognized why I quit my last job," or "now I can see what we're doing right" or "you've really put a name to something that I knew was there"; this is the best compliment a scientist like me can get, a validation of all that careful work we don't get to feature on big stages. When I go to a conference, I love to share our findings and the beautiful things that I think social science can contribute to engineering organizations, but I am also there to listen hard. What are we struggling with across our organizations? What have you experienced, but not had truly heard? What connection points are there that we know are there, but have not known how to measure with clarity and confidence? Where might a research team like mine bring in the evidence, the stories, and the proofpoints that you need to absolutely win in your important initiatives, in your important work to support the software teams around you?

Here’s my LeadDev London talk, which is free to watch in its entirety at our Dev Success Lab site.


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