Entry No. 8

Small but Effective

This short document will outline some skills and attitudes that would help you with your engineering career at Floating Cube. Engineers receive this document during orientation.

Floating Cube is a small company, and will likely remain small compared to other companies for some time. As of 2016 we are dedicated to building a small but effective team of engineers, who will be building up the foundation of all our future products. Notice what’s not in that sentence: it doesn’t say professional, or perfect. We don’t care that you wear nice clothes to the office. It instead says small and effective. Let’s talk about what this means.

Small teams allow individual engineers to make a large impact on the company. Being small also means being exposed to a lot of technologies and aspects of the business, and having the opportunity to build for the future.

Effective teams demand ability to execute. We care about how well you contribute to or accelerate the development of the rest of us. In return, we will take your growth seriously, and help you perform better for our benefit. By the time your time with us is up, our aim is that you will be able to leave at a higher level than when you came to us.

Here are some skills that would help you during your tenure here:

Debugging ability

Many things will break as Floating Cube grows. This includes code, modules during deployments, or processes (aka the way we do things) as we scale our company up. Your job as an engineer will include recognising when things are broken and pointing it out to us with the aim of fixing things.

Fearlessness to dive into something you don’t know

Being part of a small team means that you will get to grow faster. How this actually happens is that you’ll be exposed to other aspects of building product that most engineers in a larger company won’t. To experience this, you must be fearless to dive into things you don’t know.

Don’t be afraid to modify 3rd party software. Don’t be afraid to dive into your teammate’s code to fix something for a client. Don’t be afraid to call a client to ask for more information, or debug his problem, or even visit his shop in Singapore to see how your software runs. All these things will make you better at building product.

A pragmatic approach to decision making

It’s nice to sit down and talk about best practices, or the ideal ways to do development. But in a small organisation, pressing technical or business problems exist today. This may sometimes mean doing non-optimal technical, process, or people-related things.

A useful rule to use is to ask yourself “what action will increase the probability that the whole team succeeds?” when facing one of these decisions. Know when to get things done, but know also when to push back to make things better. Pick your battles for the benefit of the team.

A tool building mindset

By definition, a small but effective team means that we have to increase the productivity of every member of the team. Building tools is an engineer’s solution to get more done with the same number of people. Do your work with an eye towards automation, or streamlining processes to make everyone’s lives easier.

A strong generalist mindset

Floating Cube is at the stage where we’re building many new platforms for our future products. This may include using a new programming language, operating system, or framework tomorrow. All our engineers are expected to be able to pick up new things on the go. (We think this is the right attitude towards a career in our industry, anyway). Be prepared to move to a new platform tomorrow.

Be a player, not a victim

There are two responses to every event: we can either be victims and blame any problem (a slipped project deadline, a product launch that flops, or conflicts with teammates) as being due to external circumstances. Or, we can be players, and identify the aspects that are within our sphere of influence and focus our energy and efforts toward what we can actually affect and fix. Do the latter. Be a player. =)

Grit, combined with a willingness to learn and introspect

Grit is the ability to keep at something over a long period of time. Applying grit to self improvement will benefit everyone at the company, but most importantly yourself.

Floating Cube does reviews once every month. Use these sessions to reflect on the challenges you’ve faced in the past month. Focus on what you’ve learnt on your job, and what you’ve learnt about yourself while meeting your challenges. Then work with your manager on what you’d like to aim for in the coming month.

Featured image from Soreen D on Flickr, original content for this piece was by Edmund Lau on Quora, but adapted for FCS’s onboarding process.