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Finding Your Identity in a Role that Doesn't Quite Fit (while everyone else seems to be growing faster than you)

Entry-Level Software Engineer [SDE 1] at Amazon profile pic
Entry-Level Software Engineer [SDE 1] at Amazon

Hey everyone,

I've been abit lost in my job recently and feel disappointed by own performance. I'm part of an infrastructure team, and while the primary force pushing me forward is my personal engineering growth, I can't shake the feeling that the domain itself doesn't resonate with me. That said, being an average l4 I'm not in a position to switch teams.

What's keeping me going is the goal of self-improvement, which is helped from being surrounded by my incredibly talented colleagues, each bringing their unique strengths to the table. For instance, our senior engineer is an incredible communicator, teacher of concepts and general problem solver, another engineer is a coding machine and works extremely hard, and an L4 who joined at the same time as me is very customer-centric. In particular, it was through observing the L4 leveraging his strengths, while almost neglecting his weaknesses (he doesn't care as much about code quality and is quite argumentative) that I felt uncomfortable with my own trajectory. I've been so busy with trying to improve all my weaknesses that I'm now reflecting on whether I should focus on my strengths.

All of that said, I've been here for a year, and I'm struggling to pinpoint where my strengths lie. I'm willing to put more hours than others but for obvious reasons that should in no way be considered a strength (my manager described me as a hardworker, which i don't want to be known as haha). I'm also a very enthusiastic person and very open to feedback, but it leads me to being pulled in different directions. I don't think I can be an engineer that does it all and I think Amazon wants you to focus on your strengths through their conflicting leadership principles (e.g. bias for action versus insist on the highest standards, deep dive versus thinks big). I've been reading this book called Atomic Habits recently and it really focuses on the idea of identity and how that shapes your habits. It seems like everyone in my team has built an identity based on what they're good at, how can I find mine? And are there certain skills that provide higher ROI over others that I can perhaps focus on, given that I don't really have any strengths right now?

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an hour ago

Onboarding Successfully To A New Semi-Chaotic Engineering Org

Mid-Level Software Engineer [SDE 2] at Amazon profile pic
Mid-Level Software Engineer [SDE 2] at Amazon

Context Of Company

This is a really well funded company (Bank) that underwent a large scale leadership change. The company's primary source of revenue was never it's tech capabilities, however with the new leadership change they're looking for a large scale revamp on how the existing systems work and are working on setting upto a FAANG equivalent engineering environment. This is vision is consistent across the leadership upto the CEO. This org currently consists of multiple Staff engineers from Twitter, Meta, Amzn and Google leading big initiatives.

Personal Context

I'll be soon taking up an offer in this company and will be joining this freshly created Org, where I've opportunity to be among the first 10-15 engineers to join with potential of the org to grow over 100+ engineers. There are lot of existing tech that have been already deemed unscalable due to previous decisions and have been a known business blockers, these tech require either re-write or a large refactor or a completely different viewpoint on tackling this problem. This will involve me working with Engineers who've built this system (Not part of this new Tech Org, rather the old existing infra), I've been already given a heads up from my potential manager that there can be potential hesitancy that the existing engineers may feel and wouldn't be too open to provide all information necessary as our systems will be replacing their soon (Have been reported that this has happened). There isn't a concept of internal wiki similar to Amazon or other Big Tech, hence lot of this is just domain knowledge etc. Fortunately the leadership is aware of this and is taking steps to answer this, and takes into consideration when scoping for projects and setting up right expectations.

The following are certain concerns that I've, and wanted to understand what is the best course of action I can take up to make my onboarding successful.

This is my Current plan, given i'll be among first engineers to join this team.

  1. Understand domain, reach out to multiple PMs and document all pain points, problems we are solving in long term & Short term.

  2. Go through code base of relevant packages and start adding their UMLs, HLD etc to best of my abilities to a document to move towards creating a Knowledge base.

  3. Socialize with engineers from the related org and try to gain their confidence, and potentially get few KT sessions (Not sure how i'll go about this as the team is situated in different city).

  4. Work with manager to setup boy-scout rule, such that everyone onboarding will incrementally add more to the existing knowledge base.

Follow Up Questions :

  • I still haven't taken up the offer yet and still have a week before I can respond. The increase in pay and the growth opportunity in the new company is significantly big, I can see myself reaching Sr.SDE in < 2 years and Staff in < 4 years there due to the problem space being so fresh and getting a really early head start. However, I'm slightly concerned if the lack of co-operation from other org and lack of documentation, and the fact that the entire org is being setup fully freshly could be a concern. What's the best course of action i could take to minimize this risk?
  • Second, one would view moving out from FAANG to a not well known company as a downgrade, would this still hold true if the problem space and opportunities in the new company is more complex?
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2 months ago

Should I take a SWE job in government or keep trying to get back into tech after layoff?

Entry-Level Software Engineer [SDE 1] at Amazon profile pic
Entry-Level Software Engineer [SDE 1] at Amazon

Hi Taro. I got laid off in April from AWS. I interned at NASA JPL and I am considering going back fulltime and continuing to apply to tech companies. I don't have an offer but I am hopeful I would be able to connect with a team since I interned there one year and have 1.5 YOE at AWS. I have some concerns about joining JPL, because they are prototype and research focused.

  • They don't have many production systems or serve customer traffic.
  • They also operate mostly in small and independent groups so the engineering standards can differ a lot. The research group I interned at had poor engineering and code quality compared to AWS.
  • The engineering environment is different than corporate. Some technologies and experiences missing at JPL that are common in tech are pipelines (CI/CD), TPS, tickets, oncall, debugging large and distributed systems, customer traffic, metrics, operational reviews.
  • JPL pays poorly and has slow growth. You can be there 10 years and make less than an SDE-1 in FAANG.

I don't have any visa issues. Finances are not a problem. Currently I have very low expenses and good savings because I didn't RTO and I am living with my parents. I have 1.5 YOE at AWS and 3 years of internships before that. I see the market picking up so I am tempted to keep trying for a tech company.

Another thing to consider is that there is a lot of inertia when you join a job. I will have little time to look for other jobs in the first few months because I will be busy onboarding. I will also have less time to look for jobs and study for interviews.

Please give advice :)

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2 months ago

Manager offered me return internship rather than SDE position due to hiring freeze, but I would need to delay graduation for it. Should I do it?

Software Engineering Intern at Amazon profile pic
Software Engineering Intern at Amazon

My manager made it clear that my org is not offering return FT offers, but that he would put "incline return" for an internship position if I stayed another year in school (or somehow delayed graduation until 2025).

I could just take random classes or another major to extend my time in school. I also could do a 1-year Masters program which I have already been admitted into. But I am an older student and would rather not stay another year in school. I also feel like I am learning very little in school (I go to a small state school). Compared to the ridiculous amount I learned this summer in the industry, I feel like staying in school for another year would be a huge waste of money and time.

I could potentially work Fall/Spring internships for the next year (so basically a gap year) to artifically delay graduation by a year as well.

Becuase I go to a small state school, getting interviews from Big Tech is extremely hard. We send about 1-3 kids to each FAANG+ company each year and I was only able to get 2 FAANG+ interviews even with refferals to every top company, a 4.0 GPA and relevent experience. Even getting actual SWE engineering jobs is really hard with most CS grads getting jobs labeled "SWE" but that involve very little coding.

Because of that, my worry is this might be my only chance to break into Big Tech for a long time (if ever).

So is it worth delaying my graduation for a shot at big tech? Or should I just graduate and start my career, even if its at a non-tech company (with potentially very little actual engineering work)?

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2 months ago

What is a hiring manager's opinion on a candidate who takes some time after being laid off to work on side projects/freelance?

Entry-Level Software Engineer [SDE 1] at Amazon profile pic
Entry-Level Software Engineer [SDE 1] at Amazon

I am an SDE1 that was recently laid off from AWS (~2 YOE total). Lately, I have been reflecting on what I wanted to do/what really excites me. I really enjoy software development and while I do want to get another job one day, I wanted to use this opportunity to scratch my entrepreneurial itch and create apps/websites/side-projects for fun or for many small business owners I know that need someone to create software for their business. I'm not sure how long this "break" will be but I would say ~2 to 3 months time. Part of this is inspired by Alex Chiou's love for side projects.

I understand that finding a job will take some time as well, so the total gap on my resume that will be filled by this freelance work/applying might be ~6 months total. I understand that there are other posts on Taro that talk about the impact of a career break but this won't necessarily be a break per se. On my resume I will put this down as freelance work I completed for clients and will be prepared to show potential employers a portfolio of what I did.

I was wondering if this would negatively reflect on my application when applying for SDE jobs again/will make it harder for me to land a job. Alternatively, I could begin applying and interview prep now and only work on these projects on the side. Thanks.

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4 months ago

Should I be wary of what tools I work with to maximize delivering impact?

Entry-Level Software Engineer [SDE 1] at Amazon profile pic
Entry-Level Software Engineer [SDE 1] at Amazon

I've always been the one to dive into problems and solve them without thinking about how difficult they are but recently I've been running into this failure mode where many of the problems I work on involve using old tools that are cumbersome to work with. The result is that it takes much longer to deliver my work compared to those that work on packages with newer tools (I'm talking about native AWS lambda, s3, dynamo, etc) and sometimes I wonder if I'm doing what's best for my career.

Some cumbersome tool examples include

  • One package uses an old technology that doesn't allow us to test our changes in our dev desktop before we can submit a PR
  • Another package doesn't map correctly our dev desktop to the prod environment so it's sometimes difficult to reproduce the issue
  • Some non aws tools do not really provide much information to help the user debug their problems compared to the native aws tools

My company has at least acknowledged the issues with the above first two bullets and has slowly started deprecating those tools. Oftentimes the senior and mid-level engineers work with newer tools and therefore aren't as familiar with the older ones, which is fine. I could just avoid working with these packages altogether and only work on the packages that involve the shiny new aws tools but I'm not sure if that mentality is what's best for my career.

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7 months ago

Worried about Q1 2023 performance cycle

Mid-Level Software Engineer [SDE 2] at Amazon profile pic
Mid-Level Software Engineer [SDE 2] at Amazon

Since Dec 2021 to Aug 2022, My managers changed 4 times after and I got promoted from sde1 to 2. Due to multiple projects and managers, I could not take ownership as I was still in ramp up phase but manager was expecting more at the SDE2 level, pointing issues, demotivating. So I took internal transfer to a different team. I am in this new team for 3 months. 1 month - I took to even understand the basics. Manager left and new manager joined. I had to go on vacation for 15 days. I don't have metrics to show that I am performing at the SDE2 level because

  1. I didn't get design projects (design phase has already been completed by the time I joined this team).
  2. No OPS, this is a new product. There are no operational tasks. Working on beta launch.
  3. I am the last person who joined this team. I don't have anyone to become mentor since I have limited knowledge on this new team and work
  4. Have not taken interviews due to hiring freeze

Worried about Q1 performance cycle in 2023. 2022 was difficult for me to show any impact. Is there anything I can do now to not get low rating in Q1?

At this point, I am no more interested in work and just want to leave due to lack of mentorship. I have a buddy who answers questions if I ask in this team but I don't have anyone to mentor me to guide me to see what kind of projects I can work, coming up with the initiatives. I feel stuck. There are no hirings happening outside and inside the company. What can I do to proceed further?

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9 months ago