Thoughts on being a senior engineer

Having worked for almost a decade in software engineering, I generally pause and reflect on my journey. Have I produced enough value? Have I gained enough knowledge? Am I considered an expert in the field I work in? If I start over will I end up in the same position as I am now? What do my fellow engineers expect from me?

I have noticed that all these questions have a common theme. These questions are with respect to what others see me as. Such questions have no straight forward way of measurement, unless you have a mentor who can give unbiased opinions.

At times it becomes difficult to proceed in our careers without getting answers to these questions. Some engineers end up switching roles and move to management. However, I am of the opinion that they take some of these questions with them in the new role.

Although I don’t have answers to many of these questions, I do follow some practices which have helped me perform well in different roles through out my career. I wish to share some of them here:

  1. Always take out time for others: As a senior engineer, I have observed that fellow engineers want to bounce ideas off me. At times it’s for validation of an idea or to get a different perspective. I find such exercises really helpful. Even if I am in the middle of something, I try my best not to miss out on such opportunities. These small discussions are full of energy and enthusiasm. And I have seen otherwise introvert people opening up to me. Such exercises not only help others but help me as well. I can reach out to anyone when I need to bounce off ideas without the awkward small talk or ice breakers.
  2. Always do the right thing: A recurring thing which I have learnt from experience is that deep down, my subconscious knows what is the right thing to do in any situation. To meet a deadline, I have known that it is right to work on weekends or stretch yourself couple of hours in office. I have known that it is right to report or fix a glaring bug rather than waiting for quality analyst to do so. However, many times I have done the wrong things in such situations, may be out of laziness or out of pride and regretted in most of the times.
  3. Adopt a growth mindset: I have always wanted to work on the most challenging aspect of any project. Earlier in my career, I used to feel a bit disappointed when I was not approached first for such complex items. As a result, I either distanced myself too far from these items or prayed for them to fail spectacularly so that I can give a go at them and come out victorious. In almost all the cases, it used to be the former. I have realised that distancing myself from such situations help nobody. I miss an opportunity to contribute on something complex and people miss on my inputs. Now, I try to adopt a growth mindset by just asking if I can be involved in these projects. This has allowed me to be involved in challenging projects and people find me quite approachable as well.
  4. Create a schedule and stick to it: Early in my career, I didn’t have any schedule in place. I didn’t know where my time goes. I generally had the complaint that I don’t have much time to do the important stuff, even though I didn’t have much roles and responsibilities outside of work. To fix this, I started creating a schedule on my calendar by allocating time for things like reading blogs, reading news, watching an online course. This worked well till the moment I found a new activity which should be part of my schedule, for eg. solve one algorithm/ds problem daily. This involved rethinking about the schedule, removing some activity or reducing time from another activity. These iterations happened quite frequently, sometimes every other day. This led to frustration and confusion. I have realised that each schedule should be given a chance of almost 4 months to figure out if it works or not. This allows me to know with certainty what is feasible and what is not.
  5. Take care of your health: Software engineering is a profession which involves creativity and problem solving. This requires one to be alert and active throughout the day (at least during office hours). I have observed that my level of enthusiasm is directly proportional to how I am feeling health wise. I need energy to implement any new ideas I have in my mind. Hence, it is important to keep tab on what I am eating and have physical exercise every day.

These are some of the things I keep in mind in my everyday. Following these keep the nagging questions at bay for some time!

Thanks for reading!

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