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How A Good Engineering Philosophy Can Promote Important “Glue Work”

Ashley Swanson

When you cultivate a healthy engineering culture, a values-driven engineering philosophy can start to form in your technical team. 

Edify defines an engineering philosophy as a set of team values, behaviors, and expectations that guides how a team functions and thrives together. It sets precedents for how a problem between team members can be resolved, and most importantly it builds a foundation of trust between team members.

Developers want to be part of a supportive community that values their perspectives and contributions. Having an engineering philosophy contributes to a work culture that software engineers want to be a part of – which helps combat the massive turnover rate in the tech industry.

One way to measure the impact of having a clear engineering philosophy is how an engineering team approaches “glue work.” By laying out guidelines and expectations transparently, it sets software engineering squads up for success so glue work becomes a proactive responsibility instead of a burden.

The Glue Work Question

In Tanya Reilly’s talk, glue work is defined as all the work around a technical project – documentation, setting up meetings, defining coding standards, onboarding – that ultimately helps the project succeed. Yet glue work is often painted as “less technical” or “non-promotable” work, because developer teams don’t set up clear expectations or processes around it. Oftentimes the work falls to a few software engineers who believe it’s the right thing for their team, but who then struggle to get recognition for that work.

How an engineering team rewards glue work is a good example of what matters to a team and how they put their values into practice. The values that glue work foster – open communication, knowledge sharing, big-picture thinking – are ones prized by a healthy engineering culture.

It’s important to define those core values and to discuss what they specifically mean to individual engineers, to teams, and to the organization as a whole. Teams can underscore those core values by encouraging individual contributors to build those skills alongside their technical development. 

A Robust Engineering Philosophy

When glue work is treated as important work and a sign of leadership in an engineering culture, it leads to more well-rounded software developers. And glue work is just one example of how an engineering philosophy helps ask what those values are—about what it means to be an engineer, how to work with other talented engineers, and to ask the whys, hows, and whats during the problem solving process.

 The engineering philosophy can cover topics such as:

  • How to be a contributing team member
  • What are the professional expectations for an individual
  • What behaviors will not tolerated on the team
  • What team issues need to be addressed by a manager
     
  • How will a problem or idea be resolved among team members

Articulating a philosophy helps create a supportive and a psychologically safe environment for every engineer. When team members understand the professional expectations and adjust their behavior accordingly, everyone can thrive.

Rewarding glue work is just one example of how a strong engineering philosophy can shape successful engineers. At Edify, we’ve found having an engineering philosophy also contributes to a better technical onboarding process. 

New hires are given the context and knowledge right from the get-go, so they have more insight and integration into their teams. And because the core values and professional expectations are clear, that also makes it easier to ensure the engineers are a good cultural fit before hiring.

This is why a strong engineering philosophy will always strengthen a good engineering culture, and holistically build an engineering team for long-term success.


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