Informed Captain

Resources for new leaders


The transition from Engineer to Manager is not an easy one. The role is difficult to describe, and there are a lot of descriptions out there. Couple that ambiguity with a dose of Imposter Syndrome, and you're heading straight for failure. Let's not forget the fact that you are coming from a role where you were performing well enough to be given this opportunity.

You've just gone from really knowing what you are doing, to not knowing at all.

I want this site to be a place to help you cope with that. I don't want you to quit. I don't want you to survive. I want you to thrive. I don't have all the answers, and I still struggle with this myself, but it is getting easier.

The resources page is a catalog of tools that have helped me in the challenges of new management.

The Captain's Blog diaries my journey; the ups, the downs, the breakthroughs, and the challenges along the way.

The New Leader's Newsletter is a combination of the two. A weekly list of resources – more easily digestible than the resources outlined here – and a high-level excerpt of my journey this week.

Why "Informed Captain"? 

In my tenure at Netflix, I have been fortunate enough to move into a role that I can be more impactful at, Engineering Management.

One of the biggest takeaways I have from Netflix, is the concept of the Informed Captain. From the Culture Memo:

For every significant decision there is a responsible captain of the ship who makes a judgment call after digesting others’ views. We avoid committees making decisions because that would slow us down, and diffuse responsibility and accountability. We “farm for dissent.” Dissent is not natural or easy, so we make a concerted effort to stimulate it. Many times, groups will meet about topics and debate them, but then afterwards someone needs to make a decision and become that “captain.” Small decisions may be shared just by email, larger ones will merit a memo with discussion of the various positions, and why the captain made such a decision. The bigger a decision, the more extensive the dissent/assent gathering should be, usually in an open shared document. We are clear, however, that decisions are not made by a majority or committee vote. We don’t wait for consensus, nor do we drive to rapid, uninformed decision making. When the captain of any particular decision is reasonably confident of the right bet for us to take, they decide and we take that bet.

I believe the concept of the Informed Captain is the key to thriving as a leader. The more I empower those around me with the autonomy and agency to become Informed Captains, the more rewarding the job is, the faster we move as a team, and the better I get.

Buying into the concept of the Informed Captain at Netflix, has marked a transition point for me, from surviving to thriving. The job isn't easier, in fact it's even more challenging, and something new as well, enjoyable.

I've named this site, Informed Captain, because I believe that's what you should be, and what you should strive to make others. 

What are you getting out of this?

As an engineer, I honed my craft with side-projects. I get better with practice. I want to get better at developing Informed Captains, I want to be the best at it; for me, for those around me, and for those that trust me enough to be on "my team".

This is my practice.

- Zach

Sidebar: I've heard it said that the Informed Captain would be the lamest superhero.