re-engineering
Published in

re-engineering

We’re better off ignoring one another’s titles

I was off the product engineering career path for three years before starting in my current role as a developer at Shopify. (I was on an internal tools engineering path, which usually has more room for error.) During that time I didn’t look much into seniority of engineers who were individual contributors because it didn’t quite apply to me.

Now, though, I’m seeing staff and senior staff and principal engineers around me, and this time I’m paying attention because it does apply to me eventually (I’m currently a senior engineer).

But I’ve so far not noticed any benefit of adjusting expectations or respect for my colleagues according to their titles (or, a clearer label is probably their ranks). I realised that I’m only making myself feel more or less adequate depending on whether I’m thinking about someone more senior or more junior than I am. What good is that?

In my first week at Shopify I’ve already been in a few situations where I know something that a staff engineer didn’t know.

For example, when we were creating our test stores to gain an appreciation for how the product works, we needed to add a staff member to our store. To do this in Shopify you need to supply an email address. Because I knew about virtual email addresses, I used that.

Here’s a virtual email address:

  • normal email: foo@bar.com
  • virtual email: foo+xxx@bar.com

Basically, you can append a + to your normal email address (before the @ ) and write what you want after that to create an infinite number of virtual addresses that would all be received in foo@bar.com.

But when someone asked on Slack what email we were using, and I shared that I’d used a virtual email address, a staff engineer thanked me, saying “TIL”.

Fact: I know some things that others don’t, regardless of their seniority.

They can be domain specific knowledge (like the virtual email address example), general knowledge, general technical knowledge, or any other kind of knowledge.

So I put forward this as my learning today: we are better for one another if we forget about our titles and ranks, and share information and knowledge freely that will help us make better decisions, design better systems, and build better software. That is, after all, what we’re paid to do.

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notes from the field of software engineering

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Nick Ang

Nick Ang

Software Engineer @ Shopify. Dad, rock climber, writer, something something. Big on learning everyday.

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