Number 18
January 4, 2024

Advice column: respect my authority

I was recently appointed a team lead and need help imposing my authority. My teammates ignore my directions and don’t write the code as I tell them to. How can I force them to follow my orders?
      — Leroy

Dear Leroy, the reason your teammates don’t respect your authority is very simple: you have none. You are their team lead, not their parents, teacher, or boss. Your job is not to give them orders, nor is theirs to do whatever you say the way you say.

A despotic king sitting on the throne.

As a team lead (abbreviated TL), your job is to direct a larger project than a single person can complete. As a TL, you have a global project vision and engage other people to help you complete the puzzle.

Don’t try to make your coworkers do everything as you would. That would be like doing it all by yourself, making you not a TL but a domineering individual contributor. Since the project is too large for a single individual contributor, this would lead to your failure. And, since you don’t want to fail, you must let your teammates work how they prefer.

You don’t need authority to be a TL; you need influence. Your team will not follow you because you tell them to but because they want to go wherever you are headed. To achieve this, you must become a model to emulate: set a good example, teach what you know, do your part of the job, and help your teammates progress in their careers. Let them make their own mistakes and have their successes, praise them in public and criticize them privately, and give them the recognition they deserve.

Or, in other words, be a decent person.

Vi or Emacs?
      — Denis the Menace

The year is 2062. Thanks to miniaturization advancements, everything has a computer in it.

Jeanne works as a programmer in Bordeaux. She wears a hat in which four chips, each as powerful as a supercomputer from 2022, interpret her brain waves and generate other waves that induce sensations in her cerebellum, creating a brain-computer interface. With a single thought, five thousand lines of code appear out of nowhere and insert themselves in the correct position in the program. Another thought and two million lines are refactored.

Jeanne feels a bug in the program: that unsettled feeling is unmistakable. She decides to follow it, and within three seconds, she pinpoints its cause, fixes it, and adds regression tests.

Suddenly, she feels Antoine’s presence. Not now, love, she thinks, I’m in the middle of something. Antoine withdraws from her consciousness, leaving behind a trail of affection, and she returns to her program. Antoine is at work in Arcachon, and even though he’s wearing a hat like Jeanne’s, he is not a programmer but a civil engineer. He shuts his eyes and places some imaginary loads on the bridge he is designing, feeling the tension and compression forces as if it were his own body.

Meanwhile, in Toulouse, Denis is turning on an old laptop. A penguin drawing appears on the screen, and a few seconds later, Denis types his username. At the command prompt, he writes “emacs”. Looking proudly at the twenty-five lines and eighty columns, Denis congratulates himself for staying at the forefront of computing.

The illustration for this Coding Sheet is based on an engraving by Thomas Rowlandson.