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Engineering You

Israel Carberry
Israel consumes unhealthy volumes of sci-fi novels, pretends at leathercrafting, and ties his own bow ties.
・6 min read

You’re comfy in your cubicle 1 or safe and well at home 2
Poking keys and making memes and engineering code
When an email To: You 3
From: your manager, Sue
Flies flapping out of the blue,
“Congratulations, you’re promoted! You’re now a leader too!” 4

“I don’t need this,” you mutter, in a tone so dark and bitter 5
As you seek for empathy from your followers on Twitter.
Among the literal sighs 6
One calm succinct reply 7
Catches your twitchy eye
“You’re a great engineer so engineer you, and you’ll be fine!”

“What a neat perspective,” says you while thumbing Like,
“A truly epic case of self improvement I will write!”
You make a list or two 8
Of general things to do
Thus is born Project You
As you swear to make the best of this challenging snafu.

You search every keyword, watch all the webinars, 9
Add every mentioned book to your growing TBR. 10
“Manage people this way!”
“Be mindful what you say!”
“Respect mah authoritay!”
Battles rage over how Leadership should be portrayed. 11

You start to experiment with the team that you now lead 12
But is it really work if it’s not engineering? 13
“I’m such an imposter!”
“Should I be on the roster?”
“I’m feeling lost and loster…”
You spiral into the dark like a Kuiper Belt space lobster. 14

You slowly feel more settled as ideas coalesce 15
Working more in the ethereal and coding less and less
You network with peers 16
And grapple with fears
The fog starts to clear
Mentors join you on your journey to challenge, guide, and cheer. 17

What is most important? Is it increasing velocity? 18
Improving culture, the value stream, or productivity? 19
Hunt for the constraint!
Empathize! Evaluate!
Metrics cogitate!
You juggle initiatives, get feedback, and slowly iterate. 20

Out of the murk and muddle, results begin to form. 21
Feeling safe and failing fast is now the new team norm. 22
You see people grow 23
Faster flows the flow
Hardship is trending low 24
Dunning-Kruger kept in check with a bit of imposter syndrome.

“My! How you’ve grown!” beams your manager, Sue, 25
As a warm glow radiates from your performance review. 26
“You’re empowering your team
The pipeline is growing lean
Consider now your own journey
What will you do when it’s you having leaders to lead?”

So now you’re helping others wherever they may be 27
Giving talks and writing blogs and zooming with mentees
The path has been a struggle
Worth each gripe and grumble
New challenges attainable
Poking keys and making memes and engineering people.

  1. There are a bunch of footnotes. Gobs. Oodles of them. If this is your first time reading through this, ignore these, please. Enjoy the story! Come back around to catch all the snark on a second pass. These will still be here. 

  2. (See? Told ya.) Hero’s Journey: The Ordinary World - Throughout this piece, I’m annotating the milestones of the Hero’s Journey storytelling framework as they are encountered (of which there are a gazillion references, of which the one from the Reedsy blog is a personal favorite, the headings of which I quote here). Storytelling is a significant skill in a manager’s toolkit, for use in guiding those on your team as well as in driving initiatives in the broader scope of your company. A great book on the topic is The Storytelling Edge by Joe Lazauskas and Shane Snow. 

  3. HJ: The Call of Adventure 

  4. Forbes quotes a study to say a lot of people are promoted into management because they’re good at what they do, not because they are good at managing, and then aren’t given any management training (e.g. your’s truly). I couldn’t find that study, but did learn that searching reveals a glut of studies to quote in one’s up-management status reports. Only, please don’t be like Forbes; link your sources. 

  5. HJ: Refusal of the Call 

  6. This is a literal (and actual) correct use of the word literal. Hat tip to the pedantists. 

  7. HJ: Meeting the Mentor 

  8. HJ: Crossing the First Threshold 

  9. HJ: Tests, Allies, Enemies 

  10. TBR = To Be Read. It’s that stack of squarish objects made from pulped trees that your wife thinks is a horrible waste of decoration space. 

  11. Speaking of leadership and battles, even the US Navy has figured out that top down authoritarian leadership is counterproductive. Turn the Ship Around! by L. David Marquet is mind blowing. It will rock your boat. Blow you out of the water. Torpedo your presumptions … okay I’ll stop. 

  12. Radical Candor by Kim Scott, and Sooner Safer Happier by Jonathan Smart. Yes, experiment, but don’t throw darts at the wall. The latter will give you the absolutely essential worldview to know where you’re going with trying new things, and the former will give you the mindset for working with your team individually without losing them or ruining them in the process. 

  13. If you’re in engineering, and you haven’t yet read The Phoenix Project or The Unicorn Project (or both), either (preferably both) will blow your mind answering the question What Is Work and revealing the impact that management has Improving Work. The related technical guide is The DevOps Handbook. (The authors for these are, respectively, Gene Kim, Kevin Behr, and George Spafford; Gene Kim; and Gene Kim, Jez Humble, Patrick Debois, and John Willis.) 

  14. If you’re a scifiavore, and haven’t yet read Accelerando, you’re welcome

  15. HJ: Approach to the Inmost Cave 

  16. This is an absolute survival necessity. is an easy first go-to. Online conferences are learning to host a community; the best ones have a dedicated Slack org or Discord server. Even companies are starting to get in the online community game (e.g. 

  17. Seek out a good mentoring platform, which your company may agree to pay for. Plato offers a lot of free content and public events, in addition to a fantastic paid program. Tupu is a non-profit mentoring platform, free to underrepresented groups in tech. 

  18. HJ: The Ordeal 

  19. The answers to these questions are in Sooner Safer Happier. I know, I already mentioned this above, but I can’t emphasize enough the importance of getting this book. If my job was my religion, this would be my scriptures. 

  20. Call it LifeOps if you will. The principles and practices of DevOps (which, if you’ve already ordered Sooner Safer Happier like you should have by now, you’ll soon read are the tools to accomplish the goal, not the goal itself) apply to non-dev improvement as well. In other words, All The Things, hence: LifeOps. And that’s really what this story is all about. 

  21. HJ: Reward (Seizing the Sword) 

  22. There will be failures; if you aren’t failing from time to time, you’re not experimenting enough. For a mindshift from fearing to embracing failure, read The Obstacle Is the Way by Ryan Holiday. 

  23. HJ: The Road Back 

  24. A good roadmap for this transformation can be found in Engineering DevOps by Marc Hornbeek. Study the pillars, ways, and rubrics, and you’ll be able to pinpoint pretty accurately where your team or organization falls in that matrix. This can help you wield the tool of DevOps in the journey of continuous improvement as depicted in Sooner Safer Happier. Did I mention you should get that book too? You should get that book. 

  25. HJ: Resurrection 

  26. Remember how Sue delivered the promotion in an email? Horrid. Don’t ever do that. One on one talks are absolutely, existentially critical to managing, and an email like that should come as a follow-up to past conversations and as no surprise to anyone. We can hope here that this isn’t Sue’s first go at giving feedback, during a performance review. 1:1’s with direct reports should be as often as possible, never to be used as a status report, and the agenda should be set by the understudy (I’m trying to avoid Tayloristic words like “subordinate”), not the manager. 

  27. HJ: Return with the Elixir 

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