Reflecting on the year 2018

Today is the last day of 2018; it has been a rather interesting year. I had my very first counselling session as well as an operation in hospital, followed by the sad news of my grandmother’s passing, then the big decision to move to a new job after working at hipages for 9 years, trekking the Kokoda trail in Papua New Guinea with 16 others and finishing the year with the goal to be an entrepreneur. It’s been a great year in reflection. Here are 3 main lessons I learned in the past 12 months.

Don’t take your health for granted; mental and physical
When we are able bodied, we tend to forget how blessed we are to be mobile, to be able to see, to touch, have a sense of smell and taste food. These may be simple things in life but once we get injured or sick, we can’t help but notice the absence of these things very quickly. Staying active has been a big part of my life in the last 7-8 years and when I had to rest up after my operation, I was on struggle street big time.

The same applies to our mental well being. As mentioned earlier in the post, I went to have my first counselling session this year. I’ve been putting it off since my dad passed away 3.5 years ago. I had to accept that it was ok to see a counsellor and to have a chat. I know I kept putting it off because I would convince myself that I was ok – that I didn’t need any help. It came to the point where all my loved ones were giving me the same suggestion – “go to see a counsellor”. During the counselling sessions, I was able to understand why I was behaving the way I was, pushing myself to the limit. I was working very hard and not letting go of things that reminded me of my dad. I also wanted to do things my dad would be proud of. My dad inspired me to own my own property and be technically skilled as a software engineer; and those were goals I worked towards. Once I had achieved them, I was lost in my career path and didn’t know who to turn to after his passing, as this was a usual topic I shared with my dad. I must admit, I didn’t feel better straight after the sessions. The outcomes of the sessions were only the beginning of my self awareness journey to understanding why I behaved the way I did.

When my paternal grandmother passed away mid year, it triggered some emotions from when my dad passed away, I began to accept that grieving over a loss of a loved one can take time and the intense sadness is normal and not to be confused with symptoms of depression.

Getting out of your comfort zone can be tough but focus on getting through bit by bit, day by day
I’ve had an amazing 9 year career at hipages. I’ve loved working with different people in the team as they come and go; collaborating, solving technical challenges together as a team. hipages was like my second home, I often referred to hipages as family but I was too comfortable there. I know I needed a change in my life and had to gain more exposure of other businesses and code architectures, so when it came time to move on I was definitely out of my comfort zone. It wasn’t so much the tech, but working with a different team. From being the person that knew most people in the company to being the newbie who didn’t know anyone, not seeing my “family” and friends everyday, adapting to a different team, working with different personalities, being a part of different company values and trying to understand what value I can deliver to my team and the business. It was a change that I had underestimated – I thought I’d cope fine. I was trying hard to rationalise all the changes and knew they were all positive. My manager, Rich is very supportive through my transition, we have weekly 1:1 check ins. The team were welcoming and approachable – everyone is willing to help and explain things when I had questions. I knew I just needed time to get to know them a little bit more socially but all these rationalisations was not enough; my body was reacting differently. A rash developed in my torso and it was getting worse even after 2 months of joining Koala – I had to see a doctor. As the rash was getting worse, I would stress and panic even more, which didn’t help the situation. It wasn’t until I went to trek the Kokoda trail that my rash started to go away. Time away from technology was a great way to reset the pace in my life. Most people who know me would probably disagree, but I do feel I have mild social anxiety. It takes me a while to warm to people and speak out. So on the Kokoda trail, without a phone to hide behind, I was forced to connect with 16 other trekkers. I ended up spending a lot of time talking to them, getting to know them and pushed out of my comfort zone both mentally and physically. I asked myself, what is the difference between pushing myself outside of my comfort zone to leave hipages versus pushing myself out of my comfort zone to trekking Kokoda? I was coping with the Kokoda experience a lot better than my job transition. Then it struck me. Each morning, I’d wake up and concentrate on the day ahead, getting through the mountainous terrains for that day and that day only. I needed to take the same approach with my transition from hipages to Koala; focus on the changes bit by bit, day by day. I came back to Sydney with a different mindset and it has worked a charm!

We all fear the unknown but use it as your energy and motivation
Lastly, for most of 2017, I was lost and tried to search for my next goal in life. I didn’t know what career paths I could take, where I see myself in 5 years and not knowing the “answer” really bothered me. I bought books to try and help me get an answer. I raised this to my counsellor hoping she could give me an answer! She made me realise that no one could give me an answer except for myself. A few years ago, I had a conversation with my partner. We were discussing matters like marriage and starting a family. I told him that my parents have always taught me that I only needed to find that one perfect Mr. Right for me and if I met someone who didn’t share the same beliefs, it was time to move on. “Don’t waste your time on the wrong man!” they would say. My partner explained that life isn’t always about the ‘destination’, it’s the journey that counts. How could it be a waste of time if in the process, you learn more about yourself and what qualities you like and dislike in a person? The good times and wonderful memories shared was not a waste of time. It’s the journey we should be cherishing. At that very moment, everything clicked, I was enlightened in my relationship and was not afraid if he wasn’t the man I’d be with for the rest of my life. The funny thing was, I couldn’t apply this same concept in other aspects of my life. I kept on focusing on finding the “right” answer of what I needed to be, I was afraid that I would get it wrong. I needed to shift my mindset but knew I was always making decisions in the right direction – trying out different things and taking on opportunities like teaching code at General Assembly, being a mentor for females studying engineering at UNSW, taking on the Head of Diversity and Inclusion role at hipages, accepting a promotion to becoming an Engineering Manager. The more I try, the more I will know if I like it or not – a process of continuous learning and growing; it’s ok to try something that you know nothing about and end up disliking it – don’t see it as making a mistake but an opportunity to learn and grow. The more things we try, the more we would understand ourselves better. Bearing in mind, our taste changes with age also! What’s important is how we reflect upon our journey and adapt. Use the fear of not knowing as motivation. I’ve finally managed to get a clearer picture of what I want to focus on in the next 2-3 years. At first, when I identified what I wanted to do, I was procrastinating and making excuses for myself. Deep down, I knew I was petrified and scared. I didn’t know how to take the first step but after the encouragement of Kailash and the founders of Laddr, Mizko and Vaibhav, I accepted that it’s ok to be scared. When I take the leap, results whether good or bad will follow. Either way, it’s an opportunity to learn and grow!

I think it’s important to reflect on the past year and come up with new year resolutions and goals. I recently bought a Bucket List journal from MiGoals. Allan and Barbara Pease in their book, “Answer” quotes a Californian study where 42% of people who handwrite their goal achieves them.

When you use a keyboard to type, it only involves 8 different movements of your fingertips and this uses only a small number of neural connections in your brain. Handwriting can involve a range of up to 10,000 movements and creates thousands of neural paths in your brain. This explains why handwriting has much greater impact on your emotional attachment to your goals and on your commitment to them.

What are some of the lessons you’ve learnt this year? Want to set some goals for yourself for 2019? I truly recommend getting a bucket list and start writing down some goals! Happy New Year everyone! 😉

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The most colourful and inclusive march in the world; bringing the strong heroes of the LGBTIQA community together at Mardis Gras

After 3 weeks of attending rehearsals and practicing the routine, it’s on. The night has come. It was 4th March 2017. The moment I walked passed the fence and into the “back stage” area, I could see colourful, vibrant costumes; unicorns, super heroes, sea creatures, dresses made of CDs, rainbow coloured flags, hoola hoops… it was amazing. I was at Mardis Gras for the very first time in my life, not as a spectator either. I was part of the parade celebrating the freedom of love, equality and inclusion.

I was very lucky to be part of Dr. Mark’s Marching Academy, a community float which inspire others to keep up the good fight, no matter what obstacles or hardships are ahead. Our amazing float organiser, Bradford Jeffries said in one interview, “Our morals and beliefs are intrinsic to who we are. Sometimes standing up for the things we believe in is hard. Sometimes it is unpopular. Sometimes we are let down by institutional bodies that supposedly support us. We are, however, the greatest agents of change. We don’t need to rely on others; we can all be our own heroes.” To convey this message, the float this year have embraced a superhero theme; “celebrate those heroes within our community, whose shoulders we stand on, and the rights and privileges we have today because they were brave enough to take a stand when it was neither popular nor easy.”

I feel so privileged to be part of Dr. Mark’s float this year because the theme, “Be your own hero” really resonated with me. It’s not always easy to be yourself everyday for people in the LGBTIQA community. They show strength and courage. I used to believe that Mardis Gras was an event only for the LGBTIQA community but I was ignorant and wrong. If this was the case, there would be an even bigger divide amongst us. It’s an extremely inclusive event.

I dug a little into the history of this event. The first gay rights parade was held on 24 June 1978 at 10pm. It was in actual fact a celebration after a protest organised by the Gay Solidarity Group in commemoration of the Stonewall Uprising and bring awareness to put an end to discrimination against homosexuals in employment and housing, police harassment and the repeal of all anti-homosexual laws. Although the organisers received permission to go ahead with the celebrations, the turn out from the crowd rose from 500 to 4 times as many. The police broke up the parade and arrested 53 people. Sydney Morning Herald published the full list of names of the 53 arrested, which lead to many of them being exposed to their friends and places of employment. Majority of those arrested lost their jobs since homosexuality was a crime in New South Wales until 1984. These people were the true heroes which made the colorful pride parade we know today possible.

Although the parade was only a few days ago, my memory is a blur. It happened all so quickly. Time flies when you’re having fun! All I can remember is the cheering crowd behind the barricades. Many smiling faces, people singing and cheering, reaching out their hands to the floats and marchers. It was an extremely great event. If you have never participated or attended the Mardis Gras, I strongly recommend you do next year!

There is a documentary below about the Dr. Mark’s Marching Academy float which was filmed on the day. Enjoy 🙂

Create a Facebook Messenger chatbot with Claudia.js Bot Builder and AWS Lambda in 7 steps

In a world where connectivity is at the tip of our fingers, we are constantly surrounded by conversational chat interfaces and it has become a part of our daily lives.

Instant messaging is not a new concept, my first encounter was back in 1997, when I used to go to my primary school friend’s home and we would log into her ICQ account. That was over 20 years ago! Since then, Yahoo Messenger, MSN Messenger, SMS, Skype, Viber, Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, Google Talk and Slack have appeared, just to name a few.

As technology advances, we are constantly developing automated programs to save us time and to help us become more efficient. When we have a question, we want the answers almost instantly. Thankfully, we have google. Time is of the essence and our patience threshold is becoming shorter and shorter. In the last 12–18 months, the notion of artificially intelligent chatbots has steadily increased in popularity amongst technology news and there are more and more AI machine learning programs and third-party tools and domains being integrated and developed. AI chatbots can help with getting faster customer support responses. Is this the way of our future?

As a side project for work, I had fun developing a simple Facebook Messenger chatbot mid last year. Here are a few tips to help you get started.

Designing your chatbot

Have you thought about how people would interact with your bot? Would your bot be leading the conversation and prompting users for all the information required to do their task or would it be artificially intelligent enough to understand the needs of what the consumer is asking or saying? This requires natural language processing (NLP); understanding human language to enhance the user’s experience. It’s important to take into account recursive neural networks and combinatorics. It is ideal to design a UML diagram of your bot. This could help define all the possibilities of how the conversations with your bot could flow.

Picking your tools

One of the biggest factors of developing a chatbot on your own platform as opposed to an existing platform, is your reach. On Facebook’s Messenger platform, your bot can “reach 1 billion people around the world”. Does it make more sense to use a platform which has an established user base already?

The next consideration is whether you would be leveraging machine learning services like wit.ai, Houndify, motion.ai or api.ai. You could also build your own text classifier and plug your chatbot to it. At hipages, we built our own text classifier with MetaMind.


Getting started with Facebook Messenger and Claudia.js

What you will need:
– Set up claudia.js deployment tool (Node.JS 4.3.2 AWS Lambda installation)
– Use Claudia.JS Bot Builder
– Set up a Facebook page
– Set up a Facebook app

1. Setting up the claudia.js deployment tool

npm install claudia -g
npm init
npm install claudia-bot-builder -S

2. Code your bot
Create a javascript file app.js.
Example:

const botBuilder = require('claudia-bot-builder');
const fbTemplate = botBuilder.fbTemplate;

module.exports = botBuilder(message => {
  if (message.type === 'facebook') {
    const list = new fbTemplate.List();

    return list
      .addBubble('hipages.com.au', 'Australia\'s #1 site to hire trade professionals')
        .addImage('https://assets.homeimprovementpages.com.au/images/hui/hipages-logo-full.png')
        .addDefaultAction('http://www.homeimprovementpages.com.au')
        .addButton('Get Quotes', 'http://www.homeimprovementpages.com.au/get_quotes_simple')
      .addBubble('Meet our team')
        .addImage('https://hipagesgroup.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/hero-fall-back-img.jpg')
        .addButton('View job openings', 'https://hipagesgroup.com.au/careers/')
      .addListButton('Our Story', 'https://hipagesgroup.com.au/our-story/')
      .get();
  }
});

3. Create a Facebook app and page.

4. Configure your app
In the dashboard of your app, under ‘Product Settings’, add a product and click on “Get started” for Messenger.

Under “Webhooks”, click on Setup Webhooks.

5. Deploy the bot

claudia create — region us-east-1 — api-module bot — configure-fb-bot

Copy the webhook url and verification token into the screen from Step 4. Select all subscription fields.
Click ‘Verify and save’.

6. Generate access token
Under ‘Token Generation’ in Settings, select your Facebook page and copy the access token back to Claudia.

7. Try out your Messenger bot!
Go to your Facebook page, click on ‘Message’, then ‘Copy Messenger Link’ and ‘Done’. Go to a new tab in your browser, paste your link in and hit ‘Enter’. Type your message and see your bot come to life!

Would love to your thoughts on chatbots or AI voice assistants, feel free to reach out 🙂

Women in technology

Being a women in technology and being appointed Head of Diversity and Inclusion at hipages this year, I feel I need to bring a voice to the lack of women in digital positions.

Did you know there are only 31% women in IT jobs and 13% women in engineering jobs across Australia?

hipages have recently launched an annual scholarship program for women studying STEM subjects as an initiative to help with the pipeline issue. This scholarship is one of many of the steps we are taking to ensure that we can move the 31% of women in digital jobs to 50%.

I am very passionate about this topic since I know what it feels like to be a Chinese female engineer in a technology company. It can be quite overwhelming at times; talking about technology in a room filled with men, who have all studied Computer Science.

The following tips are applicable to any women in any field.

Importance of role models, sharing stories, networking and mentors

Late last year, I attended the Sydney launch for Women in Digital, a meetup to empower women in their digital careers. CTO of Newscorp, Alisa Bowengave a talk about 12 lessons she learnt in her career. I was deeply inspired after hearing about her journey to becoming CTO even though she did not start her career being a woman in technology. Who knows? Perhaps I could be a CTO one day. I would have never thought this career path could be a possibility for myself before that night. Tahnee, organiser of WID touched on the importance of women having role models and the support we should give one another. My advice? Find out who your role models are and aspire to be like them.

I went for a coffee with one of our female mobile engineers a couple of months back. She is the only female mobile engineer in our team. I don’t normally work with her but thought it might be nice to reach out since I often see her with her head down quietly coding away. We were chatting about how we got into our respective fields and it was only during that chat, I found out that one of my blog posts inspired her to work for us. For me, this was extremely humbling feedback. Sometimes you don’t know who you can inspire. You may think your experience is ordinary, non-unique but if you don’t share it, you will never know. Sharing is caring.

I can’t stress enough the importance of networking. When I was first appointed Head of Diversity and Inclusion, having only engineering knowledge, I had no idea where to start my D&I research. My manager, Jodette suggested that I reach out and network with others in the Diversity and Inclusion space. Although I consider myself an extrovert, networking is definitely not my strong suit. But I am glad I listened to her advice. The moment I tried to organise casual meet and greets with others in the industry, I was in amongst the D&I managers at companies like Deloitte, Diversity Council, EY and Allianz and PwC just to name a few. They’ve all been extremely friendly, sharing their learnings from initiatives they’ve implemented in the past.

During one of DAWN and Westpac’s Conversations for Diverse Leadership, one of the Westpac employees commended Westpac’s internal mentor and mentee program. The program is a fantastic idea! I believe as each generation passes, we outsmart the previous. We become wiser with experience. Having a mentor can make a huge difference. I was very lucky to have many engineering mentors in my life.

From the above incidents, I hope you get a sense of how important it is for women to be there for each other in any industry/community.

The stress of being a professional and being a mother

I’ve heard many women my age confess that they want children but are not ready to give up their career. The more research I have done for gender diversity, the more I realise, the two doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive. You can have a child and keep your career! Organisations and businesses just need to be more aware of the flexibility policies put in place to allow for women returning from maternity leave.

Ei Sabai’s blog post allowed me to get a taste of some of the concerns a new mother may have to balance between her career and being a mother.

Break away from stereotypes

I never used to notice these things in TV ads but after studying about unconscious bias, the most recent TAFE ‘Be Ambitious’ ad annoys me. The have subconsciously placed biases in their ad by having a male appear when they show they have ‘game designer’ courses and a female appears when you want to become a ‘makeup artist’. Having said that, I must commend them for choosing a very diverse cast.

One of my diversity idols, Ming Long, who worked with the Property Council of Australia and the Human Rights Commission to establish Male Champions of Change, stated at the World Women Summit 2016, that we need to break away from stereotypical roles. Why should there be an awkward silence when a man says he is a ‘stay-at-home dad’? Why should we think of women as nurses and men as surgeons or software engineers?

Although this blog post is titled ‘Women in Technology’, it’s just as important acknowledging the struggles men have in their lives. Men are looked upon as the strong and dominant character in a family; show no weakness or tears. We are all humans with emotions, why can’t men talk about their problems? According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, on average, 1 in 8 men will have depression and 1 in 5 men will experience anxiety at some stage of their lives. Depression is a high risk factor for suicide and, in Australia, there are approximately 2,500 suicides each year. 75% are by men — with an average of 6 men taking their lives every single day! Suicide is the leading cause of death for men under the age of 54, significantly exceeding the national road toll. Our focus should be on gender equality.

Increasing awareness

It also important to keep the conversations going and voice out when you see incidents which are unfair or discriminating. By talking about it, the more awareness we raise. I particularly like ANZ’s take on creating a more equal world through a series of campaigns; one involving children speaking about pocket money. A simple video like this can help increase awareness.


Please find a list of support groups and meetups for Women in Digital/Technology jobs. My challenge to you is to reach out, network, share your stories and become a role model for other women in your community.

Support Groups

DAWN
CBA’s Women in Focus

Meetups

Women in Digital
GirlGeeks Sydney
Women who code
NodeGirls

I am biased

There, I said it. And you should say it too! For my Head of Diversity and Inclusion role, I have been researching about unconscious bias. It’s been a hot topic in the last 4 years… so what is it all about?

Our brains are wired to help us process information. At any given moment (we’re talking seconds), we are inundated with 11 million bits of information but our brains can only process 40 bits. This means 99.99% of the time, our brains are operating unconsciously. This helps us makes decisions; should I shuffle left or right when a person is walking towards me, do I switch off the light when I leave a room? These examples seem trivial but when it comes to situations of life or death, these shortcuts in helping us make decisions are vital. Imagine you’ve woken up one day and you’ve decided you are not going to let any ‘unconscious bias’ get in your way. You go to the beach, hit the water and surf a couple of waves. While you’re on your board, you see a black dark patch coming your way; there is a dorsal fin sticking out of the water, five to seven gill slits on the sides of its head, sharp teeth so it must be a predator, looks to be in the fish category and you’ve come to the conclusion it’s a shark. Should you continue to analyse whether this shark is a sand tiger shark, nurse shark or a great white? By now, you’ve probably realized you should turn to shore and swim for your life but it’s too late. This is exactly why these shortcuts in decision making; these ‘biases’, are built-in.

But this is not always the case, especially when it comes to decision making for people. Many companies want to make sure they are hiring the right people for the job but how can we ensure we are making the best decision for business without biases getting in the way?

Since July 2016, I have been researching tremendously on Diversity and Inclusion, looking into areas of age, gender, race, ethnicity, religion, social class, sexuality, disability status, nationality and unconscious bias. There is still so much to learn but the journey so far has been incredible and D&I has become a topic that I am very passionate about. I am a Chinese women in engineering, some say that I add diversity to a team the moment I step into it. That’s true. I am a minority. Women in technology has been a thoroughly discussed topic in the gender diversity space. In June 2016, Davidson Technology’s DiversIT Report revealed only 31% of IT jobs were filled by women, which means men generally outnumber women 2:1 in all states of Australia. And according to Engineers Australia, there is only 13% women engineers. I was appalled when I saw these statistics. I reached out to other women in the industry and wanted to see if there was something we could do to address the pipeline issue. I was very fond of companies such as Code Camp, building up the pipeline for our next generation of coders, developers and engineers. This has become an integral part of the D&I initiatives hipages are working towards. You can read about it in my blog post on Women in Technology. But what fascinates me the most in this Diversity and Inclusion role is how much I have managed to find out about myself through this journey.

Last week, I took the Gender Science Implicit Association test, developed by Harvard on Project Implicit and the results? I am moderately biased against women in science! Yes, I am bias against myself in my own field… how does that work? And if that wasn’t enough, I read a blurb in the start of an article about a fictional situation; a father and son were involved in a car accident in which the father was killed and the son seriously injured. The father was pronounced dead at the scene of the accident and his body taken to the local morgue. The son was taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital and immediately wheeled into an emergency room. A surgeon was called. Upon arrival, and seeing the patient, the attending surgeon exclaimed, “Oh my God, it’s my son!”. So the question was, who was this surgeon? 40% of people usually get this wrong and I was in that 40%! The first imagery I had of the surgeon was a man. This further emphasised my bias towards women. I had to ask myself why I had these biases but more importantly, I have to accept that I have these biases.

Accepting that you are biased is the first step to creating change. I am a true believer of the saying “out of sight, out of mind”, having awareness means it’s in mind. With the increased awareness of what biases I have, I will hold myself accountable when I make decisions or interact with other members in my team.

Google’s re:Work is a good place to start when you want to hold yourself and your organisation accountable for spotting biases. You can also find Managing Unconscious Bias from Facebook online.

My takeaway for everyone who comes across this post is to ask yourself, what biases do you have and what steps will you take to make yourself accountable? Try taking an IAT.

Sharing my Growth Hacking journey

Back in February, I wrote a post on Conversion Rate Optimization and A/B testing and briefly touched on the topic of Growth Hacking. I’ve been inspired to write more after meeting Sean Ellis, the godfather who coined the term “Growth Hacking”, entrepreneur, angel investor,  startup advisor, founder and CEO of Qualaroo and GrowthHackers.com, last week at SydStart and today at the Fireside Chat in ATP Inovations.

Sean talked about learning from your test failures, asking those repeat users from your platform what they would miss from your product if it wasn’t around anymore, how growth hacking is addictive like a drug and there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution when it comes to Growth Hacking. His passion to share the knowledge from his journey has been very inspiring. So I thought I’d share a little about my journey.

The first time I’ve been exposed to the term Growth Hacking was from our VP of Product, Dino Talic. He introduced the concept to hipages back in 2013. I used to say that I’m the curse child because every test I worked on, the results were opposite from our hypothesis – it was very demoralizing.

But early this year was when I really saw the concept of growth hacking differently, I was no longer disappointed when tests didn’t work, instead it provided valuable learnings about our users. We picked up our velocity, created a mini CRO growth pod, decided to set ourselves a goal of deploying 3 tests per week and gosh we were on fire! We would analyze the behavior of our users, brainstorm test ideas, prioritized the impact and wins, implement them, get the test out and the process repeated itself. We learned from our test results, increased our conversions and celebrated our wins!

I feel extremely privileged to have the opportunity and luxury to put this into practice at work. There is nothing about growth that is not to like. I love the variety; wearing many different hats, analyzing data, coming up with test ideas on how to move the metrics we were chasing and when you see the needle moving, the satisfaction is exhilarating. This is growth.

But what’s more interesting is the concept of growth teams. It was only around August when I realized more and more companies adopted having dedicated ‘Growth’ teams. When I met Paul Nguyen, Growth Hacker from OpenAgents.com.au, I was in awe of his talent. He was like a data scientist, engineer and product manager all-in-one.

What is your growth team like? Would love to hear what growth hacking means in your company. Feel free to drop me a line!

What makes a good engineer?

This question has been on my mind for some time now. If I had to answer this question three years ago, I’d say that skillset was probably my first utmost priority in choosing a good engineer.

But I’ve only noticed a shift in my way of thinking recently especially after having different chats with engineers and working alongside product managers, even though I have adopted this change of behavior for the last 3 years. I remember there was a time when I walked into work, got told by my manager what the business wanted and just followed their orders, built the product without challenging why I am working on it and what could make it better? 

I think a good engineer should be able to work smart, take a step back and ask ‘why’ for everything they are building. What product is it you’re building? Why are you building it? What problem is your product trying to solve? Who is this product for? Once these questions are answered and with this understanding in mind, it makes the task at hand much more interesting. You’d start thinking out of the box, think of your users more and become involved in the journey in bringing a product alive. One that is meaningful.

You can have an impressive skillset, be on top of the latest technology but without understanding ‘why’, ‘what’, ‘who’ and constantly challenging whether there could be better solutions or whether you’re working on the right product, you are still a big gap away from becoming a good engineer. To get an understanding of the business, their vision, look into their existing data means a good engineer will have to wear many hats. You might need to whip up wire frames, analyse data in Google Analytics and fully understand what metrics your team is trying to move in these moments of ‘war’ time. All these traits attribute to a great engineer. 

I also believe that another very important aspect is to keep your team in the loop; your manager, tech lead, other engineers, product managers. Like my manager likes to put it, the point is to ‘over communicate’. There is less room for misunderstanding when you continuously check in with your team.

Being adaptable to change is an advantage. Specs change, products change, technology changes. As humans, we like a level of control and comfort; it’s a part of our nature – we are creatures of habit. But if an engineer is susceptible to change, they can go a long way. 

I think it’s also beneficial to help identify what MVP is. Work closely with your product team. If an engineer can balance time-to-market; delivering product value quickly with writing clean, maintainable, and scalable code, that would be a bonus. But as mentioned previously, when your company is focussing on growth and moving those metrics, it’s very likely they would want to test out the product first. How can they justify working on a feature for 3 months writing code to make sure the solution scales if they are not sure whether it will gain user traction?

This is only my 2 cents, of course. Would love to hear your thoughts. What do you think makes a good engineer?