Pursuing greatness posted on 16 May 2024

There are many reasons certain companies want to hire engineers from Google. Facebook, Databricks, etc. – There are also times when hiring such engineers is a bad decision. One of the interesting reasons I was told is that these engineers have seen ”greatness”.

Greatness here is mostly about technical aspects – some of these engineers have worked on large scale systems like only few have witnessed, some have worked on the bleeding edge of their technical field, some have solved legal issues that exist only for handful companies etc. This experience, knowledge and skills are things you don’t find in academic books as these tend to be a few years outdated – this is one of the experiences certain companies value a lot (e.g. companies who have grown to be successful and are starting to hit similar scalability issues).

If you didn’t have a chance to work in such environments, you may not know exactly what greatness is in your field but you should be aware that greatness is a relentless chase – if you never settle for mediocre systems and continuously push for improvements, you will eventually reach such state (it may take a bit longer though).

A corollary of the statement above is that while you can witness greatness, what matters is to pursue it. This means that not every engineer from top tier companies can replicate what they have seen, especially if they were never part of such efforts. They just have a head start since they know where they should head to but they may not be capable of completing the journey. For example all engineers at Google have a sense of what a good developer experience should be, very few can make it happen in another company.

Last but not least, my 2 cents is that being hungry for greatness is a more valuable trait. There’s a French saying that goes “un intellectuel assis va moins loin qu’un con qui marche” – a smart person sitting goes less far than a dumb person walking. Journeys for greatness are never straight paths since you have many external factors that will make you drift from your goal – this is why relentlessly chasing your goal is the most important thing to do.

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