Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about traditions in engineering. Why engineering teams do the things they do. In life, we are members of many groups that have their own traditions. Those traditions are often passed down by members of the group and the group is able to sustain them over many years. These groups perpetuate their traditions by celebrating them on special days, crafting elaborate stories about them, or writing songs about them. At work, particularly at small companies like Harry’s, people come and go quickly, taking the history behind those traditions with them and leaving the rest of us to wonder where they came from. When was the last time your coworker wrote a song about one of your team’s traditions?
What are some examples of traditions that are often found in engineering departments? Demos, post-mortems, calibrations, request for comment docs (RFCs), stand ups, and hack-a-thons all come to mind. In modern engineering departments many teams carry out these traditions habitually, without ever stopping to think about why. Recently, as I’ve participated in these traditions at Harry’s and seen the energy ebb and flow, I’ve wondered what teams can do to make them durable over the long term.
For starters, we need to remind ourselves to tell our own stories so that each successive generation is familiar with them. Unlike the real world, where generations span decades, a new generation of engineers may come of age every few months meaning the stories need to be repeated often. At Harry’s, we have a monthly all-hands meeting — it’s a tradition. As such, we’ve added an agenda item to that meeting called Traditions. In it, we talk about our traditions as a way to hand them down to the latest generation. In addition, on our wiki where we outline how to carry out these traditions we’ve added a section on why these traditions exist and are important. Finally, this will be the first in a series of blog posts discussing traditions, or why engineering teams do the things they do, to help other teams sustain their traditions.