How New Interests Led to a Leadership Position in Software Development

By Robert Edwards

As Glidewell Dental’s director of software development, it might be surprising to hear that in college I was an English literature major, who believed my future was in writing. However, like many people, I found that as my career developed, so did my interests. In my case, I discovered a new passion in technology. This led to a successful career, and ultimately formed into a leadership role, where I now mentor others on developing their interests.

I never imagined working in the field of technology before it coincidentally became a part of my job. After I finished school, I got a job as a technical writer for a small stock brokerage firm, which sent out a monthly newsletter and sold textbooks. Since the company couldn’t afford an IT guy when the networks and computers failed, it quickly became a part of my job description.

Initially, this was a nuisance, but I soon began to look forward to opportunities to build computers, create sites and fire up Photoshop to design brochures.

From there, I taught myself HTML and JavaScript by pouring through books and learning through a lot of trial and error. After a while, it became obvious I was in the wrong field. Since then, I’ve worked for several different companies as a software developer.

Using Experience to Lead

When I started as a consultant at Glidewell nine years ago, I only wanted to work in that capacity. I assumed I’d spend about six months at the company. However, the leadership and quality of the business kept me here. I came in from the cold to become an employee, and then I found myself in a position where I could step up into a leadership role.

I still remember what it was like beginning my career in software development. Now that I’m leading teams, it’s important to provide consistent feedback. This nurtures employees’ natural talents, while also helping to support the areas that need growth.

When I first started in tech, I didn’t understand the full scope of a software engineer – the places I needed to be strong, versus the spots where I could lean on others for help.  From my past experiences, I noticed that creating a feedback culture wasn’t a priority for other organizations; it was more about getting things done. Because there wasn’t a good way to understand where I should focus, I tried to be strong in everything. 

Empowering Others

As a leader, I want to encourage the talents that I see growing within my employees and let them know that it’s not possible to be great at everything.

Leadership is the art of getting people to want to do what you want them to do. That’s a rough paraphrase from Dwight D. Eisenhower, and something that’s stuck with me since the first time I encountered it. When attempting to create teams that work effectively together, I think it’s important they are not managed as much as led. Understanding and believing in the company’s vision is an important part of individuals doing what is needed, rather than constant management.

At Glidewell, we have a mission of affordable and accessible restorative dentistry, worldwide. Having a common goal helps keep everyone motivated and driven. Helping each other reach our goals is something that I feel keeps teams unified and focused.

Encouraging an Innovative Culture

There are just as many creative elements to software development, as there are technical ones. As a leader, I think it’s important to keep encouraging this creativity and avoid my ideas becoming the sole influence on the teams. Working with a team to take something from ideation to deployment is much more satisfying than I anticipated, especially when the final product is something I didn’t foresee. It’s the surprises we get while collaborating that are the most rewarding aspect of my work.

Providing employees the space to build confidence in themselves by trying, failing and ultimately succeeding is something that I find crucial to Glidewell’s innovation.

Looking Forward

A decade later, I’m still motivated by software and the software development process. However, my focus has changed. Rather than contribute individually to a component, I lead a group of six development teams who are building flexible, scalable systems and using automation and microservices to align our technology with the future.

Advancements like the™ Solution, which compose AI, cloud computing, automation, and IoT, are exciting for us, while also technically challenging. Our success in these areas is what will keep the company moving towards the goal of providing affordable restorative dentistry to patients throughout the globe.

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