Last week I participated on a panel at a Code2040 event about how to be an effective engineer. The audience was a group of engineering interns working in the Bay Area for the summer.
Evaluating the effectiveness of an engineer is a subjective process that depends on both the size and maturity of the organization. That being said, the following are some traits that I personally value in engineers that I work with:
In my experience, empathy is one of the most overlooked qualities of an engineer - yet it's my most valued. Empathetic engineers consider the impact their product will have on people. They realize that other humans will be using the software or hardware they create, so they make design decisions that take their humanity into account. They make the additional effort to safeguard privacy, and implement a product that is inclusive and accessible - because they're able to put themselves in the perspective of other people.
Teamwork & Communication
Few successful products are created and maintained by just one person. I hope by this point we have found the trope of the 10x engineer who sits alone in a dark room getting fed requirements, and emerging only when the project has been completed to be nonsensical. That's not how Dropbox for iOS or any of the apps I've worked on have been built. The reality of an engineer on a user facing product is one of a tight coordination loop that involves, at minimum, a backend engineer, designer, and product manager. The level of coordination required grows exponentially with the number of users affected by the product.
The best engineers I've ever worked with are confident and secure in their abilities. This inner belief manifests in every aspect of their work. Confident engineers believe their ideas are worthy contributions to the team, so they speak up. They believe they can understand technical concepts, so they approach difficult problems as a learning opportunity. They readily ask for help or admit mistakes, because they know avoiding either will cause development delays.
Engineers who both understand what the most important tasks are that need to be completed, and are willing to work on them without being asked fall into this category.
My team is full of engineers that embody these characteristics, which has made working at Dropbox a delightful experience. If reading this post was akin to looking in a mirror, my team at Dropbox is hiring and I'd love to talk to you.
1. I'm going to expand on this idea of the importance of confidence in a future post. ↩︎