Most teams have a juggler–some may call this person the Swiss Army knife. They jump around from discipline to discipline as needed. They can juggle any component of a system or work inside any technology. A jack of all trades in a way.
Previously, I’ve discussed teams being made up of multiple roles and responsibilities. I’m not talking RACI matrixes, but rather personalities. Today, I want to talk about the person that is able to adapt and handle whatever is thrown at them. Typically, I would reserve this role for more senior engineers, but I’ve had the pleasure of working with less experienced engineers that deserve this title.
The juggler is someone that the team can trust to figure anything out. Maybe there is a bug deep in some Java code, or a dashboard is no longer showing a metric. One day they can be in a familiar codebase and the next in a brand new one. They don’t complain about it due to natural curiosity. They volunteer to go into uncharted waters. Maybe they’ve never used Terraform but understand that is how the infrastructure was provisioned and therefore that is how you fix the problem, so they just accept it and get to work. They’re a natural at problem solving.
As a manager, a juggler is a great engineer to have on a team. They may not be the team lead or the best at a particular language or tech stack, but they fill in all the gaps. And if you and the team is lucky, they’ll bring people along when they go deep to figure something out. Pairing becomes a very worthwhile activity. Others engineers can follow along as the juggler works through a problem. As a manager, recognize when the juggler is diving into something and seize it as an education opportunity if you can free up another engineer on the team.
Jugglers can require some special management though. They are a catalyst for keeping a healthy backlog of items to work on. Their natural curiosity means they want to keep moving. If they need direction or if you need to install guardrails to keep the team focused, the jugglers could be the members that act as the forcing function.
Jugglers shouldn’t be taken advantage of. It would be easy to overload them because they are the first to volunteer to tackle something. As a manager, you have to be mindful of their load. Keep it consistent but not overloaded.
Jugglers are a unique team member. Not every team will have one. But as a manager, if your team does, you are very lucky!