I’m an E5 iOS engineer at a Big Tech company. An E5 Android engineer (let’s call him A) on my team is very direct & blunt in his communication style. If he doesn’t like something, he’ll definitely let you know. An E5 backend engineer (let’s call him B) on my team is the complete opposite in his communication style. A and I collaborated on an official spec that we shared with our entire team to align everyone. B deviated from this spec in his RFC, but had tagged A and me on his proposed name change in the sample json response in his backend RFC.
A called B “sloppy” for embedding the source of truth in the backend RFC’s sample json response instead of using the official spec as the source of truth. This offended B, who viewed it as “finger pointing”. From B’s perspective, it was an innocent misunderstanding that’s easily resolved since it’s so early in the project that not much code has been written. It’s a single string that can be easily changed on both the mobile and backend sides. B thinks that A is making a mountain out of a molehill.
I worked closely with B last quarter and really enjoyed it. He’s extremely kind, easy-going, encouraging, and puts you at ease. If you make a mistake, he would never call it out explicitly. A seems to be the complete opposite of all those things, but I haven’t worked much with A yet.
Both A and B vented to me privately for support. A thinks that B is “sloppy” for burying the changes in the backend RFC instead of updating the official spec. B thinks that A is “difficult to work with” and “points fingers” over something that can be easily resolved. We’re still in the early stages of this project, and B doesn’t know how he can work with A if A keeps finger pointing.
When I suggested that A sugarcoat the “sloppy” comment, A told me that’s already the sugarcoated version.
B’s planning to escalate this to our EM, since he suspects that A will as well, so he needs to “defend himself”. Any advice on how I can improve the situation? Sadly, I feel that most engineers at this company use A's "direct" approach. I personally get along fine with both of these individuals (so far, at least), so they both confided in me. I think that A is “right” that the source of truth should be in the official document, but the manner that he communicated it could have been improved (not that I’m an expert at this skill either!). Are there concrete actions that I can coach A on to make him a better teammate to work with? When another teammate (E6) previously berated B in front of the entire team, I escalated it to my EM on B's behalf and my EM had intervened. Should I just escalate this to my EM as well? There are some strong personalities on this team that are going to make this project challenging. Sigh.
Sounds like you’ve already had success raising interpersonal issues with your EM, and this situation is no different. I’d continue to do that.
Thanks for the suggestion, Harish. I've seen improvements in the E6, but there's still work left. My EM's dealing with a lot right now (e.g., interpersonal issues, managing up, managing stakeholders, setting the team's vision, filling in for team members who are on PTO, etc.). He told me that this is the toughest team he's ever managed in his career. He's an incredible EM, so I worry about him getting overwhelmed and stepping down to be an IC. He has hinted about it, so I'm trying to lessen his load however I can.
That’s unfortunate but I’d argue that resolving these kinds of interpersonal issues falls under the job description of the EM. If this is something you feel unequipped to take a first pass at yourself, it’s crucial to the health of your team that your EM is made aware of this.
It seems like both A and B trust you and value your opinion. You can definitely try arranging a 3-way discussion and resolving this yourself before escalating to the EM if you feel comfortable doing so.
Here's a few thoughts:
Hope that helps. Happy to clarify and/or provide more thoughts.
You definitely don't want to be caught in the "crossfire" between two engineers here. We all want the team to be harmonious and happy, but as an IC engineer, you should primarily be concerned with your project and the deliverables.
Trying to appease multiple parties, or giving feedback on an employee's conduct generally does not help you (or the situation). Leave that to the eng manager.
You should address this insofar as it impacts the timeline and quality of the project. One way to move forward productively is to propose how you'll prevent the same mistakes going forward. In your case, that could be:
Just having the conversations can often go a long way in soothing the tensions.
Here's the masterclass on building relationships in tech, for which communication is critical.