Look beyond tools and technologies posted on 08 May 2024

There’s a fundamental difference between a developer and an engineer – the first one is about using technologies while the latter one is about solving problems. Most of the new grads/junior engineers I talk to tend to focus too much on technical skills. This shows up in their resume where they’ll talk about the tools they use rather than the problem they solved (see the previous post about “skills section in resume”)

This post isn’t about writing a good resume though but more about switching mindsets. If you refocus your energy on fixing problems rather than using tools, you will make the biggest step in your career toward becoming a senior software engineer. Being a (senior) software engineer is again about fixing problems and working with others – this is why AI tools like copilot are productivity boosters rather than threats to your job.

If you are given a task, make sure you understand the problem and why the task would solve the problem. Do not be afraid of challenging the solution if you think it’s not adequate – this isn’t a reflection of your TL’s skills as they just might be missing details/context.

Understanding how your work fits in your environment allows you to:

  • Understand the impact of your work – this will help you properly prioritize tasks
  • Understand how your work fit in your company’s mission – this will help you give meaning to your work and practically speaking make work more appealing (it’s just difficult to work hard on something if you don’t understand its value)
  • Help you come up with what you should work on next – even if you are not part of the leadership/product discussions, there is technical work needed that you can frame/champion
  • Last but not least, make you a better engineer – you will be able to build better infrastructure by looking at systemic issues and fixing them once and for all with shared infrastructure

This exercise tends to be harder when you are in large companies (especially if they aren’t very transparent), but this is something you should definitely work on. It also doesn’t necessarily need to be a constant effort – this is something you can do simply by discussing with coworkers (including senior ones) about their work. You can ask them not only what they are doing but also why – the why is the most important here

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