After my last post on how I got my career back on track I was flooded with (at least 3) requests to share my advice on what I did to “level up” my work so other people could get ahead the same way.
The easy answer here would be “I can’t say”. Each person, each manager, each organization, each situation is unique and who am I anyway to be giving advice on things I’m still figuring out myself. That said, my “obvious” might be someone else’s “mind blown”, so here goes.
I recently reviewed some code which converted gRPC error codes into custom errors using a decorator and the simplicity and genius of it made me facepalm “why didn’t I think of it myself?”.
Really, why didn’t I? When I wrote how to handle errors with grace I mentioned using decorators to validate input parameters and how important it was to keep error handling separate from your main code as much as possible. I just didn’t think to combine the two. Oh well, better late than never.
I usually start my posts with some personal anecdote explaining the background for what I’m writing and how I came up with the idea. I could probably do the same for this one, but the truth is that I’m writing it because I ❤️ permissions. I don’t exactly know why they hold such magic for me, but it is what it is, I get excited about permissions. User roles, checking who’s allowed to do what and when, and making sure it all works together is just the best kind of fun!
You might not share my excitement, and that’s OK, I guess, but permissions are one of the basic building blocks of almost any application. The permissions framework I’ll present here can start simple and evolve as you go, so you can be sure you are gonna need it and it’s definitely worth the small effort of setting it up from the get-go.
I was lucky to be in Dropbox’s headquarters when Kim Scott came to speak about her (then) new book “Radical Candor”. Dropbox was nice enough to hand out free copies (yay! free books!) so I actually ended up reading most of the book on the flight home.
Even though the book was written with managers in mind, I found myself referring back to it pretty often. Its insights proved quite useful in my daily work as a software engineer, especially in processes which require written or in person interaction with our co-workers. A little bit of Radical Candor can totally change how we do and react to code or design reviews, driving better results and higher satisfaction.
Radical Candor: Some Background
Before I share how you should use Radical Candor while creating software, it might be helpful to explain what Radical Candor is. I will try to keep this section as short as possible, since it’s just setting up the background for how to use Radical Candor in the context of software processes. If you’re already familiar with the framework you can just skip to the next section (titled Radical Code Review).
Radical Candor is about giving guidance that’s kind and clear, specific and sincere
Have you ever tried to design a complicated bit of software and ended up with a great big tangled mess? Designing software is hard and formal processes can be frustrating. Is there a better way to approach this task? Mind maps are a fun and intuitive way to brainstorm and organize your ideas on paper or a whiteboard. In this talk I show how to use mind maps to design software well, convert your thought process into an excellent technical spec, and break it down into workable tasks while leaving lots of room for agility and flexibility.
A while ago I was telling a friend how I was frustrated at work. I had been adding support for a really important product feature, and our platform teams were making it impossibly difficult. It felt like every line of code required a month of negotiations to get approved. Let’s be honest here — I wasn’t telling, I was complaining. “Do they think we’re idiots?!”, I asked.
She was smiling with what I thought was empathy, until I was done and she said: “You are idiots”. Then she proceeded to explain that from her experience as a platform engineering manager, product engineers and platform teams live in a parallel universe. Finding common ground is quite a challenge. I believe at one point she used the words “silly baboons” (which gave this post its title).
I’m an engineer, but I also have an MBA and for this post I’ll be wearing that hat. I was seriously considering buying an actual hat with “MBA” printed on it, but some good people talked me out of it, so unfortunately it’s a metaphorical hat instead of a real one.
I often see engineers complain about recruitment processes: They are long, they seem totally irrelevant to the job, everything is stupid. We just don’t get it. Unfortunately, we’re probably right — some employers don’t have any idea what they’re doing, but does it really have to be that way?
One of the very best courses I took during my MBA was a course about recruitment processes and the research behind them. It left a lasting impression on me and affected my perspective on recruitment processes when I was hiring and as a candidate. When I hear these rants, I often try to explain the rational behind a good hiring process, and I think this is insight which can be useful for engineers and recruiters, which is why I’m writing this post.
I’ve never really had much of an opinion about error handling. This may come as a shock to people who know me as quite opinionated (in a good way!), but yeah. If I was coming into an existing code base I just did whatever they did before, and if I was writing from scratch I just did whatever felt right to me at the time.
When I recently read the error handling section in Clean Code by Uncle Bob, that was the first time I gave the subject any thought at all. Sometime later I ran into a bug which was caused by some code failing silently, and I realized it might be time to think about it a bit more. I might not be able to change how errors are handled in the entire code base I’m working on, but at least I would be informed on what approaches exists and what the tradeoffs are, and, you know, have an opinion about the matter.