My biz is growing. We’re going from a state where I did everything all by myself to a “real” company. I’ve been working on a mental model to define what developers do.
I’ve boiled it down to three different kinds of work: engineering, consulting, and management. In any real shop, individuals have to be able to wear all three hats depending on circumstances.
A great engineer builds real stuff out of blueprints.
The keyword for engineers is execution. They’re the ones that actually get shit done, and do it brilliantly.
An engineer that doesn’t love building things is not going to be a good engineer. A bad engineer hacks shit together then hides from peer review.
A good engineer spends her free time reading manuals about obscure technologies. A good engineer gets physically ill when seeing bad design. A good engineer builds beautiful stuff and obsesses about skill mastery.
When a new problem comes up, a good engineer builds a tool that can be used to solve other problems.
This is the task of figuring out the next big thing. This takes a lot more work than just talking to customers and writing down what they say.
A great consultant is a lot like an investigative journalist. They know how to keep asking questions until they know exactly what really needs to be built. Then they write down what they figured out from all those questions in plain language, so the engineer can start working.
Good consultants go beyond transcribing what the customer said and figure out what the customer really needs. Great consultants are able to synthesize product ideas from unordered, generalized customer complaints.
Good engineers and good consultants free the manager from doing anything but planning for sustainable growth. A manager’s single responsibility is to keep the system running over the long run. Managers analyze performance problems and figure out what to do; usually the decision is a choice between training somebody or firing that somebody.
A manager makes sure that her team can handle a loss of a few engineers or consultants as people move around, get new jobs, get hit by buses, or win the lottery.
A good manager is really the mom of the organization. She makes sure everyone is happy, working on interesting projects, and generally, reaching their potential. Good managers make sure that as people inevitably leave the team, the team can still function at high capacity.