Why engineering principles matter

Weighing up autonomy and alignment

By George Goodyer

Why engineering principles matter

As individuals and engineers, we want to control our destiny. We want our actions to make a difference. We want to have impact. We want to enjoy the journey.

A definition of autonomy by Cambridge dictionary, online

Autonomy matters to all of us and, at Skyscanner, we have created an engineering culture with a high level of trust and transparency. But, if autonomy were the only part of the equation, the result would be chaos.

The opposite of autonomy is dictatorship and I doubt any of us relish the thought of being micromanaged on a daily basis.

So, what is the right counterbalance to ensure we avoid falling foul of either extreme?

The answer is alignment, which comes from having shared beliefs that we all live by to create a common understanding of what good looks like.

The intent of engineering principles is exactly that. To have values and considerations shared by every engineer that help inform our craft and serve as a tool for decision-making — here are ours:

Skyscanner Engineering Principles:

We have a clear definition of success for every piece of work

We ship multiple times a day and deliver customer value week in, week out.

We use design reviews to validate every significant change

We deliver our products using our defined technology standards

We peer review every change

Our Definitions of Done include being live in production… responsibly

You build it, you run it

Most importantly, these are organic beliefs. We iterate. We learn. We grow. And our principles adapt with us.

But what about autonomy, you may ask, if we have added a set of ‘rules’ into play?

If we use the analogy of driving on our roads, autonomy is the freedom to choose how you get to your destination. Principles are the checks and balances, such as speed limits, that help get you there safely. You need both to reach your goal and avoid chaos.

The final part of the equation is accountability which, if we’re not careful, can often be overshadowed by autonomy. As engineers, each of us has a responsibility to our travellers and every one of us is accountable.

how do these meet in the middle?

At Skyscanner, we try to strike a balance of all three. We hire the right people, provide the context, show them what success looks like, give them the autonomy to solve problems and ask them to share the beliefs we live by.

Our principles do more than help us avoid chaos. They get us where we want to go.

Want to learn more?

Come and be part of our journey. Right now we’re creating the next-generation of apps, products, systems and services to connect travellers across the globe. Like the sound of this? Look at our current Skyscanner Product Engineering job roles.

Like the sound of this? Look at our current Skyscanner Product Engineering job roles.

About the Author

Hi, my name is George. I am the VP of Engineering at Skyscanner. Skyscanner is the world’s travel search site, saving you time and money by finding the best travel options wherever you want to go. Our secret is in our self-built technology and global reach connecting you directly to everything the travel industry has to offer.

I love to travel and I am proud to be part of a Product that can make that easier and more achievable for our travellers.

George Goodyer, Skyscanner