When I’m applying for jobs as a tech leader I usually say I have seven years of management experience. That is, my roles at InCrowd (2012-2017) and YunoJuno (2018).

But it would be more accurate to say I’ve been managing teams since I was about 18. That’s when I started my first band, during a year I spent at an English boarding school. My responsibilities as founder and leader of None Good included:

  • Scheduling rehearsals and making sure everyone was aware of them and turned up.
  • Designing and executing marketing campaigns (posters all over campus with teasing “to-be-revealed” messages).
  • Ideation - I came up with the idea of a Beatles-esque rooftop concert to promote our product. In retrospect, its being shut down by the authorities (they impounded our instruments) was the best possible outcome.
  • And, of course, product development - co-writing and iterating on songs and other musical product.

My next startup management role came at university, where I started a band that came to be called “Hallelujah Plastic” in a paean to everyone’s least favorite essential petroleum by-product - we even had an eponymous theme song!

Duties there again included:

  • Scheduling and project management: practices and live performances. Recording sessions.
  • Creation and execution of yet another cryptic marketing campaign involving posters of considerable artistic merit.
  • Product development (I was a player/coach again).
  • Overall team leadership of The Plastics - motivating three or four busy people to keep practicing for little or no financial return.

This pattern continued after I started working in the actual tech industry in San Francisco. The band I formed and led while working at Red Hat, SCSI Fast & Wide (still proud of that company name) was one of my longest-lived enterprises.

There was no single exit; more a series of small departures as the drummer moved to New York City, and the bass player moved back to Alabama.

I had an additional responsibility in this role: vendor management. I liaised with the local provider of rare herbs and illicit substances to keep the office well stocked.

My other musical startup in San Francisco, The Phobes, was the first to bring a complete product to market, in the form of a full-length CD. While it suffered from a lack of growth, it was still a well-received product among early adopters.

My last management role before going full-time on the technology leadership thing was with a band called The Props that I helped found in Hanoi, Vietnam.

This situation was unlike the others in that I was concurrently running an actual tech company called The New Hanoian.

In this band I played a less central role, delegating many responsibilities for marketing and project management to other team members.

Proof of how effective this delegation was came when I was able to leave the band after the birth of my second child, and see them continue to thrive in my absence.

There’s some wistfulness at seeing your band / company continue without you, but also pride that what you helped build is solid enough to outlast you.

Perhaps the next time I’m asked how many years management experience I have I’ll say “about 25 years. Not all of it in software”. What do you think?