Keyboard One

Marco Arment:

“What I hadn’t considered was that even though I had common tasks that could fit within the MacBook’s limited specs — email, writing, chat — all of them required a lot of typing. Oops.”

That’s one of the reasons why I decided to go for a Macbook Pro 13″ as replacement of my old MacBook Air 11″, despite of the weight. All my work has to do with typing, be it in a browser, a terminal or even in Word.

You’re a senior engineer. Now what?

It’s a widespread practice to give sysadmins and developers that have accrued a few years of experience a new prefix to their job title: “senior”. So they suddenly become Senior System Administrator, Senior Ruby Developer and so on.

So, senior something. What does that even mean?

The very senior John Allspaw shared his thoughts on this topic a few months ago on his blog under the title “On Being A Senior Engineer“.

John cites Theo Schlossnagle who asked what might come next:

After five more years will you not have accrued more invaluable experience? What then? “Super engineer”? Five more years? “Super-duper engineer.”

When you get promoted to a “senior”, you haven’t actually become someone else over night. It’s not an event of metamorphosis, neither of enlightenment. John chose to find another adjective that has more meaning:

I expect a “senior” engineer to be a mature engineer.

And he lists these main characteristics of a mature engineer:

  • Mature engineers seek out constructive criticism of their designs.
  • Mature engineers understand the non-technical areas of how they are perceived.
  • Mature engineers do not shy away from making estimates, and are always trying to get better at it.
  • Mature engineers have an innate sense of anticipation, even if they don’t know they do.
  • Mature engineers understand that not all of their projects are filled with rockstar-on-stage work.
  • Mature engineers lift the skills and expertise of those around them.
  • Mature engineers make their trade-offs explicit when making judgements and decisions.
  • Mature engineers don’t practice CYAE (“Cover Your Ass Engineering”)
  • Mature engineers are empathetic.
  • They don’t make empty complaints.
  • Mature engineers are aware of cognitive biases.

He explains each characteristic in depth, so don’t miss reading his post!

So, can you tick all the boxes of the mature engineer for the seniors in your team, for yourself? Yes? Then there’s one last aspect.

After listing “The Ten Commandments of Egoless Programming”, John adds another essential requirement that I was missing in quite a few senior sysadmins I have been working with over time:

Dirty secret: mature engineers know the importance of (sometimes irrational) feelings people have. (gasp!)

When you’d like to become a senior, or better, a mature engineer, then first and foremost become a mature person.

Meetingless Standups

Keeping the whole team in the loop about what its members are currently busy with is essential for effective collaboration. Especially for distributed teams. For them, the most common method, the daily Stand-up Meeting, doesn’t work as well as it does with co-located teams. At freistil IT, we’ve replaced them with daily status check emails.

In his blog post “Kill your standup, Alex Godin describes a variant of the email approach practised at they call “Show and Tell”. Obviously, email as a communication tool is far from dead.

Motivation increases uptime

We IT operations people love our disaster porn and exchanging war stories is always a great reason to have some drinks together. Recent hurricane Sandy certainly let the book of Ops Tales grow quite a bit. This morning, I came upon the story of how the folks at Squarespace, Fog Creek and Peer1 carried generator fuel up 17 stories to keep things running. I think that’s awesome from a lot of perspectives:

  • Customer care: They could have just said “Don’t blame us, blame the elements.”, publish a status page and be done with it until the water was gone. Instead, they did everything they could come up with to keep their services running.
  • Team spirit: Their people could just have said “There’s nothing in my contract about hauling buckets of fuel around in the dark”. Instead, they pulled up their sleeves and went at it.
  • Leadership: Getting people to volunteer for this work is already a great leadership achievement. Keeping this up without people dropping out left and right even more.
  • Communication: They kept customers in the loop, didn’t sugarcoat impending outages and finally delivered much more than they promised. That’s perfect PR.

Guys, I bow before you in respect.