Becoming a web engineer is not easy, but there are tons of resources out there to help you on your journey. But where do you go from there? What do you do to keep growing, and to keep expanding the value you bring to your company? In this talk we’ll look at the different kinds of impact you can have as a web engineer. We’ll walk through what it means to take on bigger, more complex projects, and how to scale yourself, and grow the community around you. By driving our own development we can all grow our impact, and in this talk, we’ll discuss how to go about this.
Impact: Growing as an Engineer
AI Generated Video Summary
This Talk explores the concepts of impact and growth in software engineering. It emphasizes the importance of finding ways to make the impossible possible and the role of mastery in expanding one's sphere of impact. The Talk also highlights the significance of understanding business problems and fostering a culture of collaboration and innovation. Effective communication, accountability, and decision-making are essential skills for engineers, and setting goals and finding sponsors can help drive career growth. Feedback, goal setting, and stepping outside of comfort zones are crucial for personal development and growth. Taking responsibility for one's own growth and finding opportunities for impact are key themes discussed in the Talk.
1. Introduction to Impact and Growth
Hello, everybody. Can you hear me? Good conference so far? This is actually my second time here. Good engineers can tell you what's possible and what isn't. Great engineers find out how to make the impossible possible. If you just try and work on it, you can probably make it. I've grown so much and learned so much over that time. I couldn't have done it alone. I wanted to validate, you know, is it just me? Do other people feel the same way? So I actually interviewed a couple of people. This talk is kind of structured into two parts. First we'll talk about what is Impact. What kind of impact does a company care about? And then we'll look into how to grow.
Hello, everybody. Can you hear me? Awesome. How excited are we all to be here? Good conference so far? There we go. And hello also to everybody who's joining remotely. Super, super awesome to have you all. And like you already were told, this is actually my second time here because that is just how excited I am to be sharing this with you. Do you think we can make it even better than yesterday? There we go. Nice.
Yesterday, I received a really interesting question, and it was what's the difference between a good engineer and a great engineer? And I didn't really have an answer, but I reflected a little bit, and I came to this conclusion. Good engineers can tell you what's possible and what isn't. But great engineers find out how to make the impossible possible. And what I mean by that is there's this mindset of nothing cannot be achieved. If you just try and work on it, you can probably make it. I did not have that mindset when I joined Spotify four years ago. And I've grown so much and learned so much over that time. And that is why I'm talking to you today. That is my experience bundled up that I want to share with you. And I couldn't have done it alone either. It was really, really important to have the relentless support of my managers, the people around me, the rituals and tools that we have in place at Spotify. So if anything in this talk catches your attention, that's why you can have in case you want to get a job, we are on a hiring spree this year. And for this specific talk, I also have to thank a couple of people. It is based on my experience. But I wanted also to validate, you know, is it just me? Do other people feel the same way? So I actually interviewed a couple of people. I interviewed two managers, Linda and Nafisa and a staff engineer called Aaron, as well as Tejas, who's on the other stage speaking right now. So thank you all for coming here and missing out on his amazing talk. Sorry.
Yeah. So this talk is kind of structured into two parts. First we'll talk about what is Impact. What kind of impact does a company care about? And then we'll look into how to grow.
2. Career Growth and Impact
To continue growing as an engineer, you don't need to go into management. Many companies, including Spotify, have dual career tracks where senior engineers and senior engineering managers are equivalent. The difference between engineer levels lies in their sphere of impact. Junior developers focus on self-improvement and gradually expand their impact to entire departments or designing interfaces between systems. Mastery is a key pillar of impact, which includes tech excellence and goes beyond writing code. Underrepresented groups may need to prove themselves more, but it's important to ignore negative perceptions and seek inspiration from talks like Tanya Riley's on being blue.
The very first thing I need to do is clean up this myth. To continue growing as an engineer, you need to go into management. Not true. A lot of companies, including Spotify, actually have dual career tracks. That means if you are a senior engineer or a senior engineering manager, those are equivalent. Oftentimes also in terms of salary. And you don't have to stay on one track. You can change between them. It's going to help you, but you don't have to.
But now what's the difference between an engineer two and, say, a staff engineer? I think it's their sphere of impact. So as a more junior developer, maybe you're actually just focusing on making yourself better so that in the future, you can provide more value. Maybe you're only working on a couple of files or that one little application. But over time, that sphere will grow and grow until you're maybe, you know, having impact on an entire department or you're designing interfaces between different domains or different systems, right? And how do you grow this? As engineers, I think we have several impact levers that I'm going to talk about as well as core skills that play into this. And the levers or these pillars of impact, I've looked at a couple of different frameworks that I found online, career frameworks. They call them different things, but in essence, it's usually a combination of these three. The first one I want to talk about is mastery. You can call this tech excellence instead or, you know, our craft. And the reason why I'm mentioning it first is because this is the very first thing we usually assess in, say, an interview process. This is kind of what enables you to deliver impact, right? And we'll talk about that in a bit. This does not only mean writing code. And that's really important. The more senior you get, the less code you'll likely be writing day to day, but you're still doing incredibly important engineering work because you'll be, for example, designing the interfaces between different systems, but you can't do that directly in code. You first have to plan it in a different way.
The next one is, oh, sorry. This is a pillar where underrepresented groups usually have to do a little bit more work to prove that they got what they what it needs. So while if you're a white dude and you say I'm an awesome engineer, people likely believe that that's true. I had to prove that a little bit more. What I heard was I'm not technical enough. If that happens to you, don't listen to me. Head over there and watch Tanya Riley's talk on being blue.
3. Business Impact and Culture
Mastery can only get you so far. If you're using your tech knowhow to rebuild the same application over and over again, you're not providing any value. To be really good at this, you need to understand your business problems, the product vision, and the business vision. Knowing what problems a company is actually facing can help you decide. Culture is hard to quantify, but collaboration and innovation are key. Helping engineers foster an environment of safety and innovation can lead to success. Core skills, often referred to as soft skills, enable you to work on these pillars.
It's changed my life. The next one to talk about is business impact. I already mentioned that mastery is kind of an enabler. Mastery can only get you so far. If you're using your tech knowhow to rebuild the same application over and over again, you're not providing any value. That's what your company is paying you to do. So instead, if you use that to say, I don't know, improve the conversion flow, improve conversion by 3%, or maybe you're, I don't know, removing this repetitive task and by that saving $10,000. That is business impact.
To be really good at this, you need to understand your business problems. You need to understand what problems your business is facing over time. You need to understand the product vision and the business vision. And if you can do that, the great thing is that we oftentimes have these really hard decisions to make between a little quick hack and the super scalable system that will live for years and years to come. How do you know which one you should go for? Knowing what problems a company is actually facing can help you decide.
And the last one is culture. And this is really hard to quantify. But if you have a good culture at a company, you'll probably feel safe. You'll feel good there. You'll want to stay there for longer time. Right? And there's so much that goes into culture. I'm only going to focus on two things for now. Collaboration and innovation. Why collaboration? Well, I'm just one engineer, right? Even if I was the best engineer on the planet, I could still achieve more if I could level up other people to my level. And then innovation. Why innovation? We all work for companies that depend on creativity and innovation to stay ahead of their competition. So if we can, for example, help as engineers to foster an environment where people feel safe to be their true selves, come up with that stupid idea, try it, fail, learn from it, try again, until you succeed, you can actually foster innovation. And this might look different at your company. So it's really important that if you want to make a career at that specific company, you talk to the people you have to talk to figure out what matters to them. And we said it's not only these levers of impact that are important, there's also core skills. What are those? I don't like the word soft skills, although that's what you've usually heard them referred to as before. This is basically what enables you to do that work, right, to work on those pillars.
4. Communication, Accountability, and Decision-making
You need good communication skills, accountability, and decision-making abilities to work effectively with others. Communication, both written and verbal, is crucial for collaboration and consensus-building. Being accountable means taking responsibility for your actions and learning from mistakes. Decision-making becomes more important as your scope and impact grow. It requires technical skills, effective communication, and the ability to make tough choices. As engineers, problem-solving is at the core of our work.
You need that to work with other people, basically. That's what it's going to enable. And in my interviews with the people at work – sorry, do you want to take the photo? There we go. The people I talked to at work, they kept pointing out these three. So that's why, you know, I figured I'd trust them rather than coming up with something myself.
The first one is communication. By communication, I mean both written and verbal communication. This is your most important tool if you're working across teams especially. But even within a team, it's going to help you a lot. You will use it to negotiate, to persuade, to build consensus. And the one thing I see go wrong here most often is that we don't target our message to the person on the other end, especially if they're not technical.
The next one is accountability. This one is even trickier because a lot of languages don't have a word for this concept. So what does it mean? If you're accountable, it means you take responsibility for your actions and your inactions and rather than say blame somebody else or sweep your mistake under the rug, you'll actually stand up and say, look, I messed up, but here's how I'm going to make sure it never happens again or this is how I'm going to fix it. That is being accountable. And that will help you in whatever you try to achieve because if you actually feel accountable, you will make it happen. Right? And you can't only hold yourself accountable. You can also do that with other people, for example, through feedback.
The last one I want to mention is decision-making. And this is going to bring everything in a little nice circle. The bigger your scope, the bigger your sphere of impact, the bigger decisions that you will be making. That will require, you know, all of your tech skills, working on the right problem and all of that. It will require communication between teams, building that alignment that this is actually the right solution. But in many cases, you have several options and there's no clear winner and you'll just have to call the shots. But if you are accountable, people will trust you with that decision. Now let's look at how we can grow.
The first thing I want to mention is we're all engineers, right? Yes? Yes. There we go. We literally solve problems for a living. That is our job.
5. Setting Goals and Finding Sponsors
We need to figure out where we want to be and where we are today. Long-term goals require tapping into inner purpose and finding inspiration from others. Communicate your goals to sponsors who can help you achieve them, even if your company lacks formal processes. Look for mentors and advocates to expand your network and increase opportunities.
It's no different with growth. We have somewhere that we want to be. We have somewhere where we are today. We need to figure out where those are, but then it's kind of easy to build the steps to get there.
Let's start with where even does this be? Where do we want to go? You might be thinking, I know my goals. I want that raise. I want that promotion. Unfortunately, science tells us that's a really poor motivator over a long period of time. For longterm goals, you need to tap into that motivation, into that inner purpose. How do you find that? I'm really bad at this. Straight out, I don't have these lofty goals. I'm not like I want to be an astronaut. I don't have that. Instead, what I did was I looked around myself and I looked up to all of these amazing people that I work with, and I asked myself, what is it that inspires me about them? Why is this project not that project that I'm drawn to? Through that, I've built this vision for myself of where I want to be in a couple years. It's not changed that much over the last three or four years. I do change it up a little bit, of course.
The next thing, once you know where to go, and I can't stress this enough, I just did. I couldn't help it, sorry. Find your sponsors. You need to communicate your goals to the people that can help you achieve them. That might be your manager, that might be your manager's manager, that might be that project manager over there who can put you on that project that you need to work on. It's really important that we do that even if your company doesn't have the rituals in place. At Spotify, luckily, we do have development talks twice a year where we talk about these things. If you don't have it in place, you need to do more of the work yourself. But the beautiful thing is, most people really like helping others. So don't only look for people who can mentor you, who can help you create those skills that you need. Also look for people who can advocate for you, get you in that room that you need to get that next project. And the bigger your network, the easier that will be, right? And a pro tip I learned from Aaron is, don't just approach somebody and be like, can you help me with X? Go to them and be like, I know you're an expert in X. You, yeah. Exactly.
6. Feedback, Goal Setting, and Growth Opportunities
Feedback is crucial for understanding our progress and areas of improvement. Setting goals with clear reasons, metrics, actions, and support is essential. Learning primarily happens on the job and in social settings, rather than at formal educational events. Aligning personal development goals with company needs can lead to valuable opportunities for growth. Examples include taking on communication tasks, embedding with teams, and pairing up with colleagues to practice new skills. Stepping outside of our comfort zones is where real growth occurs.
Is there anything I can do to take something off your plate and help you? The next thing, obviously, if I don't understand where I am today, feedback can really help you with that. And that's super, super terrifying, right? The first time I heard that Spotify has two development cycles a year and you have to gather feedback from all of your peers, anonymous, I was like, shit. Like, what am I going to do, right? But the three things that happened were, number one, my imposter syndrome disappeared because all of a sudden, all of these people telling me I was doing much better than I thought myself. Number two, I actually understood that I had made progress because that feedback that I received six months ago didn't show up anymore. And the third thing that happened is, I actually did get those pointers of other areas that I might want to improve. And on top of all of that, having those really honest but personal and good conversations with each other actually builds a mutual trust between you and your colleagues.
Cool. We now understand where we are, we understand where we want to go, now it's about figuring out that way there. And obviously you can't all do it in one go, right? You'll have to slice this into several milestones or smaller goals. I usually try to look for goals that are maybe three, maybe six months out, something like that. And this is kind of my formula for those. So the most important thing here is that I have the reason of why I wanted to do this on there. That means if, for some reason, this goal didn't work out, I still know what I actually wanted to achieve and I can do something else instead. I then also have a metric. How do I know if I succeeded or not? Actions. Concrete, smaller steps that I can take in my day to day. And super important, support. Do I need to find a project where I can practice that skill? Or do I need to be sent to a conference for this? Can I expense another book, right?
And speaking of expensing books, I'm sure you're all thinking we're all at a conference here, right? So you're like I'm here to learn. Unfortunately, bad news. 70% of learning happens on the job, 20% in social settings, and only 10% at these formal educational events such as this conference. That doesn't mean that this conference is not super, super valuable. It just means if we really want to grow, we have to do it in our day to day. And how do we go about that? Well, we can marry up our personal development goals with something that the company actually needs to do to succeed. At Spotify, this is usually fairly easy because I go to my manager and say I want to go into back-end, and they probably tell me, well, actually, you know, there's this project that you could be working on, you could embed with this team, just a lot of stuff that they already do for you. I also brought a couple of examples of what you can do to pair these things up. One co-worker of mine wanted to improve his communication skills, so what he did was he offered to run sprint demos and write stakeholder updates. The most boring thing in the world. My manager was like yes, please take it away, right! But it helped him, and that's the important part. Another example is a friend of mine wanted to get into this new platform, and he knew that his team was going to use that platform fairly soon, so it was an easy sell to go and embed with that team for three months to figure out how it works inside out. And yet another friend of mine wanted to get into back-end development, so his engineering manager suggested how about you pair up with this other engineer from a different team for four hours every week and get that skill going, so you can practice what you've learned in theory and courses? The other thing that I need to say about these actions that you can take is, although it's super nice to stay inside of our comfort zone, outside is where the real magic happens.
7. Overcoming Fear and Taking Responsibility
I was terrified when asked to lead a huge initiative, but I did it and grew so much. Pairing up with a staff engineer helped alleviate my fear. It's important to check in on goals regularly, reflect on progress, and prioritize focus time. Help others grow by sharing knowledge and offering support. Taking responsibility for our own growth can lead to incredible achievements.
And that's scary, that's really, really scary. I was absolutely terrified when my manager asked, hey Iris, do you want to lead this huge, company-wide, back-end-heavy initiative? I'm like, I'm a web engineer, do I really have to? But I did it anyways, and it worked out, and I've never grown as much in such a short period of time as in those three months. And now I'm hooked, now I'm like, is this initiative uncomfortable enough? Can I find something that's even worse? And it really helps. But also, pro tip, my manager paired me up with somebody else, with a staff engineer, to make it less scary for me. Somebody who would not directly be responsible for it, but who has my back in case anything happens, who can mentor me a bit, and that just took my fear.
All right, we now kind of know where we are, we know how to get to our goal, now it's just doing it, right? That's easy. Or is it? This has happened to me so many times, I just forget about my goals until two weeks before the DevTalk. Shit. Well, we've learned from it, though. So my manager and I now check in on our goals once a month, in our weekly one-on-ones. And on top of that, I for myself have created this little ritual of, in the beginning of in on my goals, understanding how can I make progress towards them this week in my day-to-day, and what other priorities do I have this week? The other part is that at the end of the week, I reflect on how it went, I think about, do I need any support, are there any small wins that I can bite down, any learnings, anything that I can share with other people to make them grow.
And another thing that took me way, way, way too long to realize is this. Does anybody else's calendar look something like this? A couple of hands? I feel you. My manager is now based in New York, so this is what happened to my calendar. All of our team events moved to the afternoon, and I moved all of my other recurring meetings to the afternoon as well. I just don't accept meetings in the mornings anymore, and, all of a sudden, I have like a good four to five hours of focus time every single day to work on whatever needs doing.
All right, we've now kind of wrapped this thing up, right, like we understand what kind of impact we want to have, what core skills to grow, and we know how to plan our goals. There's one more really, really important thing I need to say. This was all about helping yourself grow, but there are almost definitely also things that you can do to help others. Share what you've learned at this conference with your colleagues, right? Reach out to them to offer them help. If you're in a position to sponsor somebody else, do that. Growth compounds. It always takes longer than we think it does. It's not a thing you do once. It's ongoing, and it's constant, but like any investment, a small change today can make a huge difference tomorrow, and I firmly believe that if we just get in the driver's seats and take responsibility for our own growth, there really isn't much that we can't achieve. Thank you. Thank you. Well, actually, just before he goes back there. Well, if I hear the reaction from the audience, people are really enthusiastic about this topic, and I always really like that in a conference that we don't only have technical topics but also things like how to grow as an engineer besides hard skills. Do you like that term? No, like, why is coding a hard skill? Like, it doesn't make sense to me.
Coding Skills and Career Growth
If you prefer coding more than a senior position, it doesn't have to be a career ceiling. There are still opportunities for growth and impact as an engineer. While the type of code you write may change, you can still contribute by writing proof of concepts, load tests, and tools to support teams. Growth may not always be reflected in job titles, but it can lead to increased responsibilities and learning. Holding others accountable through feedback requires delivering it in a caring way, asking if they are ready to receive it, and providing specific examples of how their actions made you feel.
Just coding skills, then. Exactly. All right. Enough from me. Let's go to the audience questions.
A question from anonymous. Does it mean that if you prefer to code more than senior position, is a career ceiling? I don't think so. If you like engineering, then there won't be a problem. If you think code is your way of getting there, maybe that could restrict you in some ways. But it's not like I don't code. It's just very different code that I write. I, for example, would make sure that I investigate how to, you know, if this plan that I had, I'd write a proof of concept to make sure that it actually works in reality. I would write a load test or something. There's small tools that I can write to help a lot of teams achieve whatever they want to achieve, right? So there is still a lot of coding. It's just slightly different. It changes, yeah.
You can also still grow as an engineer, I think. Even if it's maybe not in title, but you grow in responsibilities or just learn new things, take on different responsibilities, and you can still grow. And that also will translate to a different paycheck.
You mentioned, a question from Anonymous, you mentioned you can hold other people accountable through feedback. Can you give an example of that? How do you do that? So, in general, giving constructive feedback is really tough, right? It takes a lot of, you have to get over yourself and really deliver that in a caring way. It's good to have an exact example. It's good to ask people firstly, are you ready to receive feedback? Can I tell you something? Are you in the right mindset, in the right spot? That's really important. If they say no, step away from it. It's not your fault. You don't have to make other people grow. Make them into consideration as well. And then just be very careful and tell them how it made you feel when they did something rather than being like blanket statement, you always do X. That's not going to help anybody.
Receiving Feedback and Improving Impact Skills
If you're good at receiving feedback, then you'll be like, actually, can I ask you a little bit more about that? Can we dig into that? What was it that I did? Focus on your tech skills if you're not already. Just find what you're good at and make the mileage at the start of your career. Oh, I'm not sure I have enough context to answer that one, so I'd love to talk about that at the Q and A as well. What are good resources for developers to improve at impact skills? Honestly, I've read a lot of management books, and they've really made me realize, like, there's so much more than just code that we write, right? Every second that we spend at work, we make a decision to either work on something that has impact or something that doesn't. But I don't have concrete resources other than a lot of management books, a lot of books about start-ups, design sprints, that kind of thing. Like, developing products as a whole, I think, can make you a better engineer.
That's not going to help anybody. But if you're really good at feedback, I think also, if I come over to you and I'm like, what the fuck was that today? That's my average day. Right! If you're good at receiving feedback, then you'll be like, actually, can I ask you a little bit more about that? Can we dig into that? What was it that I did? So that's also, it takes a lot of courage to do that. Already, you know, you're already feeling beaten, but it really helps.
All right, thanks. Question from another anonymous. What advice would you give a developer who is just starting out to grow their career? Focus on your tech skills if you're not already. I think I've probably seen two different kinds of engineers, the ones who are super good technically and the ones who are super good on the core skills. And depending on where you are, you need to develop the other part as well, right? And what I did too early was I started focusing on how can I be that glue in the team? How can I help others? How can I, like I see that blocker. Can I remove that blocker? If you're good at that stuff already, maybe make it a conscious decision to step back from it. Let somebody else grow in that area for half a year and focus only on the coding or whatever other tech you need to develop. Yeah. I guess it depends. Just find what you're good at and make the mileage at the start of your career, right?
Question from Sundaar, how would you suggest to deal with organizational conflict and biased decision making? Important topic. Oh, I'm not sure I have enough context to answer that one, so I'd love to talk about that at the Q and A as well. This is the Q and A, the speaker room, right? Okay. Let's go to the speaker room with that question. So what are good resources for developers to improve at impact skills? That's a very good question as well. Resources. Honestly, I've read a lot of management books, and they've really made me realize, like, there's so much more than just code that we write, right? Every second that we spend at work, we make a decision to either work on something that has impact or something that doesn't. And I'm not saying you have to be productive at all times. There's no point in that. Like, work-life balance would be horrible. You have to do what you enjoy doing, but you can combine that with something that can actually bring a lot of value to the company. I think it's really just making that a conscious choice, realizing you have that choice, that you can ask why are we doing that, understanding the reasons behind, understanding the product and business roadmap. I think that really helps. But I don't have concrete resources other than a lot of management books, a lot of books about start-ups, design sprints, that kind of thing. Like, developing products as a whole, I think, can make you a better engineer. Okay, thanks. We have time.
Feedback and Improvement
There haven't been any negative aspects after introducing the Feedback, your colleague initiative. It may be scary at first, but it has always helped everyone. Asking specific questions in a feedback form and giving constructive criticism is crucial for personal improvement. People can help you grow by providing guidance and support. The Q&A session has come to an end, but you can continue the conversation with Iris on Spatial Chat and in the speaker booth. Let's give a big round of applause for Iris.
Question from Nico. Were there any negative aspects that the company did face after introducing the Feedback, your colleague initiative? I'm not sure when they introduced that. That was definitely before my time, and I've been there for four years. I don't think there's been anything negative. It's scary the first time, but it's always helped everybody I've ever spoken to, despite it being so scary the first time. I write a feedback form, and I ask very specific questions. I know I'm bad at this, or I used to be bad at this. Have you seen any improvement? Yeah. It's only helped me. Even though personal feedback and knowing that the person knows that you gave that feedback and then giving negative feedback might be scary, I think that's the only way for you to improve. If I give you negative feedback, then you can come to me, hopefully, that you'll feel and see hey, Mattin, you said I need to grow on this, how can you help me? That's the next thing, of course. People can help you. I always try to tell the people who are less experienced, where I see a clear gap, I can tell them concrete things they can do to improve as well, even if it's like helping them, like offering my time, whatever it is. Yeah. Valuable resource.
All right. That's all the time we have for our little Q&A session. If you want to continue the conversation, Iris will be on Spatial Chat and on the speaker booth and now, of course, a big round of applause for Iris.