Embracing papercuts

Team growth requires giving people room to make mistakes. Figuring out which mistakes are just “papercuts” and which are critical is one of the most difficult challenges in engineering leadership.

We’ve all seen “helicopter parents,” hovering over their kids to catch them at the slightest inclination they might fall. We swear we’d never do that, that we’d give our kids room to grow and learn from mistakes. Then we become tech leads and turn into the worst kind of “helicopter leaders.”

I was certainly guilty of micromanagement. It started with code reviews, commenting on every minor issue I could find. 

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Don’t lead by example

This is the first in a series of posts that Dropbox Principal Engineer James Cowling has published on his personal Medium blog about technical leadership. Being a strong tech lead is very different from being a strong engineer and we thought the readers of our tech blog would find his experiences relevant and interesting.

Back when I was a first-time tech lead at Dropbox I had the misfortune of juggling two intimidating responsibilities at the same time:

  1. Build a multi-exabyte distributed storage system and migrate our data off Amazon S3,

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