A reader wrote in with this great question:
Keep getting the guilt, that I'm not able to code, just running around for discussions and solving other issues, managing people. Any idea to manage all the fronts and get rid of this guilt?
It was in reply to A work ritual that keeps me sane.
Trupti says they're a developer turned technical lead. This is a jarring transition! Going from doing the work to orchestrating the work is no joke.
Yes tech leads and staff engineers are in the weeds. They're not managers. But the work is different than that of an engineer cranking out code.
A while back I complained to my manager that all I ever do anymore is interview people and write feedback. No time to do work.
He sighed and said "Yes and that's important work. Without good engineers we can't grow and without thoughtful recaps we can't make decisions. Keep going"
Roadmap meetings, planning, discussing solutions, and slicing stories can feel the same. Why are we all sitting around talking when there's shit to be done!?
Because it's important.
Important work rarely feels urgent. Urgent work is rarely important.
As a senior+ engineer you're thinking many steps ahead.
Less "How do we get this story done?" more "How do we get every story done?". Plus a lot of "What fits in the time available and fulfills the requirements? Which requirements can we re-negotiate?"
I like how Pat Fry, an F1 tech chief, said it on a podcast:
My job is not to build a winning car for next race. My job is to create a system that builds a winning car for every race.
You're doing the important work that never feels like work for today. That's where the guilt comes from, I think. You're pushing away the urgent to focus on the important.
And that's the job! That's what senior+ is all about. Creating time to focus on important brain work.
You are no longer selling your hands. You're selling your experience, battle scars, and opinions. That's the value add.
The coding may be slowing you down! A bottleneck to your value. You'll have a much bigger impact by getting 5 engineers aligned and pulling in the same direction than by trying to do the work yourself.
Or as a coworker once said in a peer feedback survey: "Swiz is great but he doesn't have to do _all_ of the work."
You're a force multiplier.
By giving you that senior+ role, the company is saying they care more about your impact on the team and engineering org than they do about the code you write.
I like to share this video in Senior Mindset workshops:
It shows how wolves transformed Yellowstone. By hunting deer they made rivers greener, the ecosystem richer, and the bison happier. 🤨
Small move, big impact. That's the goal. No guilt required.
Getting that senior title is easy. Just stick around. Being a true senior takes a new way of thinking. Do you have it?
Leave your email and get the Senior Mindset series - a series of curated essays on the mindset of a senior software engineer. What it takes to get there, what should you do when you're there, how to change the way you think.
Get a series of curated essays on the mindset of a senior software engineer. What it takes to get there, what should you do when you're there, how to change the way you think.
it describes my days in a way I have not read before.
This was a very enlightening article about being a senior engineer.
Senior Mindset Book
Get promoted, earn a bigger salary, work for top companiesLearn more
Have a burning question that you think I can answer? Hit me up on twitter and I'll do my best.
Who am I and who do I help? I'm Swizec Teller and I turn coders into engineers with "Raw and honest from the heart!" writing. No bullshit. Real insights into the career and skills of a modern software engineer.
Want to become a true senior engineer? Take ownership, have autonomy, and be a force multiplier on your team. The Senior Engineer Mindset ebook can help 👉 swizec.com/senior-mindset. These are the shifts in mindset that unlocked my career.
Curious about Serverless and the modern backend? Check out Serverless Handbook, for frontend engineers 👉 ServerlessHandbook.dev
Want to Stop copy pasting D3 examples and create data visualizations of your own? Learn how to build scalable dataviz React components your whole team can understand with React for Data Visualization
Did someone amazing share this letter with you? Wonderful! You can sign up for my weekly letters for software engineers on their path to greatness, here: swizec.com/blog
By the way, just in case no one has told you it yet today: I love and appreciate you for who you are ❤️