June 28, 2020.
When I work on the organization design of an engineering organization, I think a lot about "organizational mathematics", the guideline that each team should have one manager and six to eight engineers, and each manager of managers should support four to six managers. From those numbers you can rapidly determine an appropriate structure for your organization that’ll work fairly well. It might not be perfect, but it’ll work.
June 20, 2020.
When I wrote An Elegant Puzzle, I wanted to document some of the structured ways I’d learned to foster inclusion within the organizations, which surfaced in a number of sections, including Opportunity & Membership, Selecting project leads, Inclusion in the first shift, and Work the policy, not the exceptions. Those pieces continue to reflect my values, but they often operated on an aspirational level without acknowledging the grittier, more ambiguous layers beneath the ideals where you spend most of your time attempting to effect change. In these notes I want to focus on what I’ve seen work over time.
June 18, 2020.
Learning to influence without authority is the keystone leadership skill to transition from early to mid career. It becomes an even more important skill later in your career as you need to partner effectively with your peers, executives and board members.
May 25, 2020.
Years ago, the company I was working with hired a new Director of Engineering, and the CTO was talking about why the new Director was an amazing hire. The new Director’s clinching accomplishment? The best ever explanation of the distinction between leadership and management. This turned out not to be a particularly effective way to evaluate hires, but it is an interesting topic.
May 5, 2020.
Some years back I had the strangest meeting in my career. Andrew (not real name) was my new manager, it was his first day on the job, and we were having the standard “get to know you” one-on-one meeting. My outgoing manager and I had been heavily involved in assessing and hiring Andrew, his interview performance was excellent, and I was legitimately excited to work together. So I was surprised when Andrew sat down, cradled his head in his hands, and lamented how much he regretted taking the job, how inept _his_ new manager was, and how terrible our engineering team was relative to his previous experience. What?!
April 9, 2020.
Most career ladders define a single, uniform set of expectations for Staff Engineers. These career ladders attempt to identify the commonalities across many folks performing similar roles in their organization, but in the end these ladders are a tool that apply better against populations than people. In the case of Staff-plus engineers, career ladders paper over a number of distinct roles clustered under a single moniker.
April 5, 2020.
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.
April 2, 2020.
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.
March 28, 2020.
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.
March 3, 2020.
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.