Look back to move forward posted on 09 March 2024

One of the common pieces of advice I give to junior engineers who want to grow is to look back. You should spend 5 minutes a week to look at what you did and think about what did well, what could have been done better and what you learned.

At Google, I used to fill my snippets on Friday before clocking out. Snippets were just a tool that let you fill notes about your week. This little routine requires quite a lot of discipline (I definitely stopped filling them a few times) but they are incredibly valuable.

  • Taking a step back, you may realize that you may need help/advice on a project and/or topic – This is especially beneficial if you work in a fast-paced environment where it’s easy to be carried away by escalations and deadlines.
  • You may be able to generalize things that worked well into generic advice you can reuse later.
  • You can see how a previous advice you applied helped with your performance – being aware that your effort have an impact is extremely important for your mental health
  • They give you a weekly summary of your work which comes very handy during perf – I personally don’t remember what I did 2 weeks ago, let alone 6 months ago.

One important aspect of this tool is that it really wasn’t fancy. There are many tools available for this (e.g. 15Five provides such functionality at Databricks) but you could also just write these notes down in a google doc or any other doc.

The best way to grow faster is to do the work and reflect on it (such that you can learn lessons you can reapply later on and avoid remaking a past mistake). Reflecting on your work should be easy and lightweight – you can do this at work but also while running, doing the dishes or some other activities.

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