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Defining What Good Looks Like for a Software Engineer

What does good look like for a software engineer? This is a question you might be asking frequently to yourself and I tried to share my thoughts on the topic with this blog post.
2017-03-18 15:00
Tugberk Ugurlu


If you are a software engineer, this is a very common question you will get to ask yourself a lot. This is going to be especially very frequent if you are being part of the recruitment process in your company. As you may know, I work at Redgate, and we have a good culture for development teams. Besides that, common characteristics of a good engineer with examples and counter examples for each engineering role are defined, too. This is a really good guidance for the employer to reflect their culture for a particular role. It’s also good for the employees to understand where they are on being an effective employee.

(Image is from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Coding_Shots_Annual_Plan_high_res-5.jpg)

I got inspired by this and I wanted to share the list of principals I value and look for within a software engineer. Obvious disclaimer: this is not the list of principals that my employer values even if the most of them are pretty similar. As we got the disclaimer out of our way, let's see these principals:

  • Knows the fundamental concepts, data structures and common algorithms rather than only being too good with a programming language or a specific framework w/o understanding the basics. In other words, know the basics and be polyglot.
  • Has good communication skills - both verbal and written. Without this, it's impossible to be a good software engineer.
  • Being pragmatic - Works incrementally and balances delivering value frequently with delivering high quality.
  • Iterates fast - Values Continuous Integration (CI) and Continuous Delivery (CD), makes their code fail fast, enforce consistency and keep master branch releasable. Your release process should as easy as adding a git tag as a valid semantic version.
  • Cares for sustainability - Strives for producing code which will sustain for years, even decades. Not one-off, works-now-who-knows-when-it-will-stop-working ones.
  • Knows the business - Cares to understand the business domain and strives for establishing an ubiquitous language between the software product team and stakeholders.
  • Strives for THE BEST UX - Makes user experience the part of the product completeness.
  • Being a team player - Works with their peers, gets/gives code review from/to them. Develops their skills while they are developing their own. Should strive for being transparent to the team all the time.
  • Knows the metrics but also has a vision - Should know the metrics and how to get them to make decisions. However, they should have a vision at the same time, too. They should not have the "Let’s ask the users” mindset as the default approach for product feature decisions. Remember, good artists copy; great artists steal! The problem you are trying to solve has been probably solved within the same or a different context. Find that, bend it and apply differently.
  • Disagrees and commits when needed - Should not be shy about getting their opinions out and pursue them. However, they should also know that a decision has to be made, and when that’s the case, they should commit fully and try to get the best out of it even if it’s not the decision they wanted to see.
  • Values open source and contributing back to software community - Has a blog, gives talks at conferences or user groups, contributes back to open source projects. Simply shares what they are proud of with others openly.

There are probably more but these are the most important ones that I care about and value at a very high level. However, I wonder what yours are, too. Therefore, please share them with me here by send me a comment.

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