Poking around Contentful.

April 5, 2020. Filed under contentful 1

Slightly related to my notes on build versus buy decisions, I spent some time specifically getting a feel for Contentful over the weekend and have written up some notes here.

Build versus buy.

April 5, 2020. Filed under management 127

A few years ago I was working on a contract negotiation with Splunk, and we kept running into what felt like a pretty unreasonable pricing structure. They wanted some number of millions of dollars for a three year license, which felt like a high price to pay for roughly thirty-two ascii characters in a particular sequence. Beyond the license, we'd still be responsible for operating the software and paying for the capacity to run it.

Staying aligned with authority.

April 2, 2020. Filed under management 127staff-plus 26

It’s a common misconception that authority makes you powerful. Many folks aspiring towards more senior roles assume they’ll finally get to do things their way. They believe that the title inherently creates flexibility and autonomy. They believe that the friction holding them back will burst into a whirl of butterflies that scatter into the wind. The reality is a bit more nuanced.

Getting in the room.

March 28, 2020. Filed under management 127staff-plus 26

One of the most common frustrations I’ve heard from engineers is that they’re not in the room where important decisions are being made. They don’t understand the company decisions, and have important context that seems to be missing or ignored. Staff-plus engineers frequently cite access to “the room” as a major benefit of their level, and titles do increase the likelihood that you’ll be involved in decisions that impact you.

Learn to never be wrong.

March 21, 2020. Filed under staff-plus 26

Most folks have worked with someone who thinks they’re never wrong. In each discussion, they lean in, broaden their shoulders and breach their way into the role of the decider. They’ll continue debating until their perspective wins the day or time runs out. They are often right, but right in a way that sucks the oxygen out of the room. As their tenure at a company increases, they may fancy that they’ve become very persuasive, but frequently it’s a form of persuasion characterized by the resignation of their peers.

How do folks reach Staff Engineer?

March 19, 2020. Filed under staff-eng 5

At most technology companies, you'll reach Senior Software Engineer, the so-called career level, in five to eight years. At that point your path branches, and you have the opportunity to pursue engineering management or continue down the path of technical excellence to become a Staff Engineer.

Hotspotting developer productivity.

March 17, 2020. Filed under architecture 30productivity 3

Late last year I had coffee with Keith Adams, and we ended up chatting a bunch about migrations in the context of making it easier to extend an unruly codebase. The discussion went in a bunch of directions, including chatting a bit about Building Evolutionary Architecture. One idea that Keith mentioned in that discussion has particularly stuck with me: most changes happen in the same handful of files, and those files are the most effective place to invest into quality improvement.

vtt-compactor: slightly less verbose VTT files.

March 7, 2020.

I'm working on a small project that involves interviewing a number of folks to capture their experience becoming and working as a Staff engineer. Hopefully the first stories will be ready to post in a couple of weeks, but what I've been surprised by is just how tricky it can be to get good interview notes.

Resources for Staff-plus engineers.

March 7, 2020. Filed under staff-plus 26

When I was working on "Your first 90 days as CTO or VP Engineering", one of the most valuable things I did was build a list of resources for folks (especially me) to continue their learning and exploration. Recently, I’ve been focused on the question of “What does it mean to be a Staff or Staff-plus engineer, and how do you get there?”, and have gathered this collection of resources for folks who are looking to grow as or into such roles.

From one to two: how to start a successful distributed engineering office.

March 3, 2020. Filed under management 127

Recently it feels like companies are moving beyond the single office model earlier and earlier in the lifetime. Maybe it’s improvements in video conferencing, perhaps it’s the increasing costs of operating in Silicon Valley, perhaps it’s just a fad, but in any case, effectively supporting additional company offices is an important and increasingly core skill for engineering leaders.