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Great Engineering Culture

June 26, 2013

engineer

There are some nice quotes in this piece, and it’s an interesting talk to watch as well. The talk is aimed at people starting companies that are based on technology and how to build the culture from the beginning. However I’d argue these same techniques can change culture in an existing company as well. It takes time, and patience, but you can slowly transform your technology department one that people want to work in. More importantly, you can make it much more effective and efficient.

Way too many managers don’t communicate effectively. They want to use the military techniques of command and control, broadcasting a message and assuming everyone will follow along. Instead it would be better if managers listened more to the opinions and ideas of their technologists, especially when it comes to technology issues. The management part of your job comes in when you help your staff mitigate problems, and help them understand the issues and constraints of the business. Giving someone real, logical, valid reasons for adhering to deadlines or requirements often works well. Most technology people are smart and respond much better to discussions and debates based on reason rather than edicts backed by fear or power.

I love the section titled “Firing A**holes”. This quote is especially important: “Even if you have an engineer who is exceptional, but an asshole, you should fire them immediately. Your team will thank you for it afterwards. It only takes one asshole to destroy an entire team“. I completely agree. It doesn’t matter if someone is an average or even poor worker. If their attitude is corrosive, disruptive, and upsets people, move them on.

I especially like the part about promotion. Most of us want ownership, responsibility, or as I’ve thought about it, autonomy. Most of us want to make decisions and have control over what we do. Give more responsibility as people do better and drive forward. When they don’t, remove some. That alone will probably help motivate and drive your people forward.

Building great culture is hard. It isn’t something you set up and it will maintain itself, but rather something that you constantly work on, and tweak to make better. There will be regular arguments and minor disruptions, but if you have people actively managing and working to make the environment better for other technologists, you’ll get great things done.

Steve Jones


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