Stephen A. Fuqua (saf)

a Bahá'í, software engineer, and nature lover in Austin, Texas, USA

Delivering Value as a Software Engineering Manager

In Unpopular Opinion: It’s harder than ever to be a good software engineer, author Juraj Malencia opines that “good engineering” equates to “bring[ing] maximum value in achieving a goal.” This is a comforting thought for those of us periodically wondering if we’re still good software or data engineers, though we might not be up-to-date on the latest hype.

Pointing out that “engineering does not equal programming”, implying that we can bring great “engineering” (solutioning) value without writing a line of code, he presents a modified version of a venn diagram on how people in various roles spend their time between programming, alignment, people, and “other”. I was bemused to note I currently sit squarely in the category labeled “beware” 🤨. A position that may continue throughout this year, but will need to change over time.

One way that we can deliver value as senior engineers is by knowing when, and how, to break the rules. Although I am now in management, I am staying close to the work of one of our development teams. When I saw them struggling to meet the sprint commitment, I decided to lean in. There was a tangled situation with library dependencies. The thorniest problem lay with library A, which depended on a dozen or so classes in library B. Remembering a lesson I learned from a very smart “junior” developer a few years ago, I decided that Write Everything Twice (WET) trumped Don’t Repeat Yourself (DRY) in this case.

In other words, I just copied the required code from library B directly into library A. In this case, all of the copied code was highly stable, and generally of a “utility” nature rather than being business logic. Problem solved.

However: I probably could have contributed similar value by simply suggesting that the team duplicate that code, rather than taking it on myself. It felt good to do the work, and helped unblock the team, but it might not have been the maximum value I could have brought to the business. What was I not getting done - the opportunity cost? This is a critical lesson for this first-time manager to learn: think twice (or more) before jumping into the code. Get better at empowering than (hands-on) solving.

Alexander the Great, cutting the Gordian Knot

Maturino da Firenze. Alexander Cutting the Gordian Knot, 1510-1527. The Art Institute of Chicago.

Posted with : General Programming