How do you know a company has an emphasis on engineering excellence? This question is personally important to me, because I want to work at and then build companies that value engineering excellence.
Three signs of engineering excellence are culture, leadership, and recruiting.
You can measure a company’s commitment to its culture by viewing its resource expenditure. There is no more important resource than time. Does the company have a technical blog? Do they maintain or contribute to open source libraries? Do they have hackathons? Do they have internal tech talks and study groups?
These activities aren’t enough on their own. Engineering excellence is a mindset. It isn’t bought; it is cultivated. A lot of companies say they practice engineering excellence, but they just go through the motions.
Go deeper. Is technical curiosity valued and encouraged? Are the above activities viewed as integral parts of the job, rather than extracurricular? Does the company encourage employees to get better on the company time and dime? Can they point to a time they prioritized quality over speed? Ultimately, does the company support employees to be the best version of themselves?
Do they have high profile engineering leadership? Personally, do they have technical leadership of the kind I see myself becoming?
Values should determine priorities. Leadership composition strongly signals a company’s priorities. If a company truly values engineering excellence, it hires and empowers aligned leaders.
Great technical leaders possess great credibility, perhaps through a track record of achievements. They have a strong reputation in the industry, which allows them to recruit well. They seek to understand the entirety of a problem, not just the technical component. They are hands-on in their engagement with their reports. Ideally, they have stayed at companies for a long amount of time, in order to properly solve and monitor problems. (I strongly believe technical problems do not pop up overnight and that solutions don’t always manifest quickly). They understand modern practices and are always learning. In fact, they make an effort to learn as a way of empathizing and supporting their reports (a form of servant leadership). Leadership starts with self-mastery, so they themselves are often great engineers. They have an opinionated perspective on problem solving, whether it is for company building or technical solutions. They understand architecture, implementation, and delivery. Most importantly, they inspire others to do great work through the great work they do.
Examples: Stitch Fix
Does the company make an emphasis on their technical culture in their recruiting?
I think that's a sign. A company has a choice on what it chooses to describe about itself. If it chooses to say in its 10 second pitch, these are the opinionated technologies we use, these are the ways that we make the problems interesting, and these are the way we reward our engineers, I think that's really meaningful.
If I wanted to work with great professionals, I would say “this is how I try to be great too”. When a company does that, I try to take it seriously.
Examples: BetterUp, Stripe,
More to come...
As I identify more traits of engineering excellence at companies, I’ll add to them.