January 2, 2021.
Have you presented to company executives about a key engineering initiative, walking into the room excited and leaving defeated? Maybe you only made it to your second slide before unrelated questions derailed the discussion. Maybe you worked through your entire presentation only to have folks say, “Great job,” and leave without any useful debate. Afterward, you’re not quite sure what happened, but you know it didn’t go well.
January 1, 2021.
For much of 2020, I worked on the StaffEng project, collecting stories from folks about their experience reaching a Staff-plus engineering role, and synthesizing those stories with my own experience into a career guide. Behind the scenes, I’ve also been shaping that content in a book. You can now preorder the Early Edition, coming on January 31st, 2021.
December 21, 2020.
One of the downsides of being a group manager is that you spend most of your time on change management, but it must be said that organiational change management is a pretty interesting topic, particularly within a fast growing company.
December 18, 2020.
The tech lead manager role is often presented as an easy on-ramp to Team Manager, but my experience is that being a tech lead manager is considerably harder to do well than Team Management, to the extent that I believe the tech lead manager role is a trap for new managers.
December 17, 2020.
Many engineering managers become obsessed with the transition to managing managers rather than managing a team directly. I’ve seen that pursuit of managerial scope become almost an obsession for some folks. That’s a shame, because group management is a very different job than team management, and is often both less rewarding and less likely to facilitate ongoing learning. In particular, I often get email from folks considering joining a hypergrowth company in pursuit of their first group management role, and my advice is, in its most concise form: Do it if you must, but be cautious.
December 10, 2020.
I'm returning to work from parental leave this week, and felt like taking the moment to to write my 2020 review now rather than waiting for the end of the month. It's been a wild year, with a lot of very good things personally, and a lot of very bad things nationally and globally.
December 5, 2020.
Engineers are often frustrated that their management “treats us like fungible resources when we’re unique humans.” On the other hand, engineers usually view individual ownership as a managerial failure, “critical systems need to be owned by teams not by individuals.” At a certain remove, these seem like contradicting beliefs—they’re not—and thinking about how both can be true brings us to an idea I’ve been reflecting on a lot recently: weak team concepts and strong team concepts.
December 3, 2020.
Anyone who has been cornered by relatives at a party and asked to explain what software engineers _actually do_ knows that explaining the work can be a challenge. Over time you may have created a compelling answer for your relatives, but many folks’ minds go blank when their coworker leans over and asks, “What’s a Staff engineer do?”
November 27, 2020.
While getting feedback on StaffEng,one request was for more content on managing Staff-plus engineers. It doesn’t quite fit the theme--that effort is focused on the Staff Engineer themselves rather the company or the manager--but it’s an interesting topic and a worthy appendix.
November 26, 2020.
Few companies understand their engineering strategy and vision. One consequence of this uncertainty is the industry belief that these documents are difficult to write. In some conversations it can feel like you’re talking about something mystical, but these are just mundane documents. The reality is that good engineering strategy is boring, and that it’s _easier_ to write an effective strategy than a bad one.