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I'm a senior engineer on a team that's mostly E5+. How can I work through others?

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Senior Software Engineer [E5] at Meta2 years ago

In my effort to grow my scope as an engineer (and get promoted), I’ve constantly hit the same weak spot - not “working through others” enough.

I’m always happy to identify problems and solve them, but as a relatively inexperienced engineer compared to the rest of my team, I feel uncomfortable pushing work onto others, as I often am not sure my ideas will even be fruitful.

This issue is exacerbated by the fact that my team skews very senior and I don’t feel comfortable/qualified working through them.

How should I approach this problem?

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(2 comments)
  • 9
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    Robinhood, Meta, Course Hero, PayPal
    2 years ago

    My main point is that you should always be empowered to have a voice on your team, regardless of your level or how new you are. Anybody coming from any background can add a lot of value to a team/organization. I've generally found that once people champion this mentality, it's a self-fulfilling positive prophecy where this confidence leads to them putting themselves out there more, building that reputation among the team, and getting their projects accepted.

    That being said, here's some ideas on what to do tactically:

    • Don't be afraid to propose ideas! The thing I loved about Meta is that its metrics-driven nature leads to people respecting data-driven proposals that really show the impact, regardless of who you are. This more objective way of evaluating the world, while not perfect, does allow people to overcome barriers (like a lesser amount of experience) winning over others. Like with any instance of creating scope, do the research on the project(s) you're proposing and build a strong case for them. If you do it properly and have a supportive team, I'm sure you can land something new that you can then lead.
    • 3 classes of people you can work through:
      • More senior
      • Same level
      • More junior
    • Working through more senior folks is admittedly tough as an E6+ engineer will want to work on at least E6 scope and probably E6 EE/E7 scope (assuming they want to get promoted).
    • Same level is the most interesting as I think it's the most feasible and also the most impressive. My approach here would be to build relationships with other E5s and see if you can collaborate on projects together. Ideally, you want to create projects with multiple E5 scope (with room to grow to E5 EE and beyond). To keep things fair, you can working through each other as E5 engineers. On 1 project that you have created, you're the lead and work through the other E5 and then it's the reverse for a project that your E5 peer has created.
    • More junior is the most straightforward, and my suggestion here is to feel empowered to change the lack of people here. Try to identify scope on your team where an E4 can succeed and forge a path to E5. Then make the proposal to your manager and try to get the headcount.
  • 19
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    Meta, Robinhood, Baidu
    a year ago

    Don’t let the levels get into your head. It doesn’t really matter what level you have and what levels they have.

    Imagine you are organizing an offsite for your team: deciding where to fly your team, which hotel to stay, how many rental cars are needed for the whole team, where to eat and accommodate everybody’s dietary preference… A lot of things. You are the owner and you are doing well staying on top of everything.

    You ask an E7 in your team for some help. They ask you what needs to be done. You ask them to help identify drivers for each rental car and match each car with passengers. They go ahead and ask everybody if they have a driver license and if they are willing to drive… In the end they come back with a list of cars with assigned drivers and passengers.

    Is this E7 performing as an E7 in your team offsite project? No. They are performing more like an E3. They don’t have much context of your project. They have the willingness to help out. You assign a well defined task to them and they fulfill the task. They don’t necessarily seek out more work, more scope or more ownership.

    That’s my observation of human behavior. People don’t have the technical depth, scope or ownership needed for their level in everything they involve. In fact, everybody starts with E3 or E4 behavior when getting involved in something new. They don’t know much about this new thing and they don’t feel committed to this new thing. They are just willing to try it out and give it some effort.

    So don’t pay attention to your level and their levels. Focus on going through this list:

    1. Creating work that is worthy and potentially interested.
    2. Getting people excited about the work.
    3. Providing opportunities for people to get involved, ideally starting with some well defined tasks and making sure they are successful in those tasks.
    4. Gradually ramping them up to larger scope or more ambiguity in your work.

    They may have more depth and insight in the work they’ve been doing. Believe that you can bring your unique perspective and value to the team. That’s how you create worthy work that other more senior team members didn’t think too much previously.