Luís on the Keyboard

Your job is to look

(This post is adapted from the original written by me in the Red Pineapple Media Enginering Blog)

In the next months you’re going to find a lot of things here that you won’t like. Maybe bad architectural choices, or code which is surprising how it still works.

Some of us, however, will not see it. Maybe we got used to these things and forgot about them.

Your job as an Engineer is to look for these things.

Search for them, write them down and either fix them or find someone who can help you fix them.

This is part of a little talk I have everytime someone joins my team. I give them a little notebook and a pen, and ask them to spend the next month or two being very deliberate about what’s happening in the Engineering team.

But I have only learned to be deliberate in looking for broken things in my work because I had great examples in my career who said this to me many times.

Simon, my first Tech Lead at Nokia, told me this when I joined his team. In fact, I still have the little notebok he gave me at the time.

And later on, I discovered that Will, my first PO at Nokia, blogged about it in a much better than I could ever express. I quote the core of his idea below but his two blog posts are really worth a read.

From the first article:

One of my first jobs was as a bartender in a pub. My supervisor, Ted, had what I then thought was a compulsive neatness habit.

If he saw a chair was out of place, he would straighten it. If there was an empty glass on the table, he would take it. A cigarette on the floor, he would pick it up.

(…) He’d say to us:

> Don’t just turn a blind eye because you’re a bartender and not a cleaner. > > We work as a team here – your job is everything.

And from the second article:

If you look around in any company, I’m sure you’ll see things that don’t make sense. You’ll see ineffective managers and inefficient processes. You’ll see failures and you’ll see waste.

When you look attentively and deliberately at the world around you, you will see so many things that are broken or could be improved.

The more you look, the better you will become at seeing. You’ll undoubtedly see more things than you’ll ever have the time to work on.

Your first responsibility is to look. Your second responsibility is to act.

If you see something broken, try to fix it – even if it’s not your job.

I have lived and worked by these rules since before I was even at Nokia; since the times of MaDlabs in Setúbal, as far as I can remember. We (Pedro, myself, Gualter, Feliz, and to some extent also João and Ricardo) were used to doing everything.

If the problem required recompiling Oracle, we would do it. Repartitioning hard drives in Linux? No problem. Programming in C? Sure. TCL? Flash animations? Learn InDesign? Whatever was in front of us, as long as there was a keyboard we would figure it out.

In those times we didn’t even think of Frontend vs Backend, Systems vs Databases. Is this on a computer? Alright, we’ll solve it.

We were also very fortunate that Miguel and João Paulo encouraged us to work as if there are no limits; we sure embraced this approach to everything. It sank in and became second nature to us.

And here I am, about 16 years later, telling the same things to my Engineers.