One of the hats I have worn during my career is "Head of Community" for Software Engineering. A few years ago, these were rare roles but these days we're seeing them pop up more often. Since we at Macmillan are currently recruiting for one, I thought I'd write a bit about why they are a Good Thing, despite the rather strange mix of requirements. This post is not sponsored!
So, you have a Software Engineering group. Why should you hire a Head of Community?
If you've hired developers and other technologists, you know they are hard to bring in and retain. A typical developer role last to about three years before they move on and when they do, they not only take their professional expertise they also take all the knowledge of the organisation's technical estate and business problems that has accumulated in their heads. This is expensive for a variety of reasons and surely we can do better?
Your organisation has almost certainly been describing itself as proudly investing in its people (everyone does, whether it's true or not). If we care about people, why are any initiatives done as extra work by people who have a heart for that kind of thing? Why are these extras the first thing to go when time is squeezed? Why is there not someone with clear space to think strategically and holistically about essential problems like careers, recruitment, support, mentoring, and so on? These often are shunted off to organisation-wide initiatives, which is good as far as they go, but these areas require specialist knowledge born of experience to be credible.
A Head of Community role brings together professional expertise (and another senior technologist never hurts) with the mandate to improve the lives of the technologists in their community. Happy people are less likely to leave, which obviously is a good thing for retention. They can devote time to finding diverse sources of recruitment and reaching people who might otherwise be overlooked. Furthermore, getting the basics in place across the whole organisation saves considerable effort in recruitment and performance management and enables a consistent experience for all those working there.
Fundamentally, Head of Community roles are about putting our money where our mouth is when we talk about valuing people.
Ok - you're a lead developer, or an engineering manager or some other technical leader. Why should you consider being a Head of Community?
Personally, I see it partly as giving back. Everyone with experience in technology has had to gain that experience somehow. We've all had our first job, made our junior mistakes, and so on. This is not an easy process for most. Technology is a famously hostile and toxic field, and some have it far worse than others. And yet, technology underpins most of the modern world. There is no shortage of work - there is enough of a shortfall in people to do the work that the government set up the Institute of Code to look at the problem. But Computer Science graduates struggle to find work. Why is this? Why can't people get into an industry crying out for workers?
As an industry, we can do better. We must be thinking about the next generations of technologists. It's as important to the sustainability of the industry as making sure our code is well written and understandable in the future. Roles such as the Head of Community roles are created to give space to enable specifically this - to grapple with problems like "how do we recruit juniors in a safe way?" or "how do our people grow?".
Maybe this isn't enough - you'd rather be writing code. Understandable, but what about in five years? Ten? Do you want to be hands-on your entire career? If not, what is next? If you want to progress into senior leadership you need experiences beyond the hard technical. People-oriented roles such as a Head of Community enable broader learning, dealing with HR challenges and issues, line management and operating at a wider scale through people. However there is still a requirement for technical understanding, so do not require stepping entirely into a different career. For someone who wants to be a Director or CTO, this kind of experience can be extremely valuable.
If all this sounds interesting, a reminder that we're currently hiring a Head of Technical Community at Macmillan.