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How can I make an impact when my peers have 10+ more years of experience than me?

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Software Engineer at Seed Stage Startup2 years ago

Everyone on my team is significantly more experienced than me. I feel a bit intimidated criticizing the decisions that engineers far more senior than me are making. How can I start contributing?



  • 7
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    Meta, Pinterest, Kosei
    2 years ago

    Four ways to add value even when your team has more experience:

    1. Ask questions. A good question brings clarity and advances the discussion to something important, which is very valuable.
    2. De-scope: just focus on one small part of the project, but go deeper than anyone else.
    3. Look at past literature/docs and apply those learnings to your team.
    4. Ask where they need help: make it explicit that you want to contribute.
  • 5
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    Staff SWE at Google, ex-Meta, ex-Amazon
    a year ago

    Change the mode of thinking about this. You are a peer, even if less experienced. You are providing the gift of a critique, not criticism. Criticism is telling someone what they did wrong, critique is providing analysis and potentially suggesting changes.

    You should practice disagreeing and critiquing clearly and respectfully. If you do this, you’re not being a source of problems but a resource.

    Some examples: It appears that a design has completely disregarded the ability for a subsystem to scale. There is no cache in front of it, it has a hard limit based on its own dependencies that also won’t scale to meet this projects demands. Some choices: Bad, criticism: This design will not work and is insufficient because subsystem Y cannot handle this traffic and you are not mitigating this. The system will fail under load.

    Good, asking questions, but not being completely confident/direct: I am not sure, but I understand that subsystem Y has some hard scaling limitations. Did I miss where this was handled? Is there something else that will mitigate that? Do I misunderstand the limitation?

    Better, questions with clarity: I think that most of this design is sound, but I do have questions about subsystem Y’s ability to scale under the load we will be introducing. Have the owners of that subsystem solved their scaling issue? If not, do you have a plan for that or is it still under consideration?

    You can contribute right now. If you ask questions that don’t apply you’ll learn. If they do apply you’ll help. Either way, this is a win.

    Similarly in code reviews, you can note that you are struggling to understand something and potentially give a needed perspective. If everyone has been boiling gradually, they are all used to it. You have the ability to call out the problems they overlook, and ask about how/when it will be fixed.