The effective engineer – Conclusion

I started reading this book “The Effective Engineer” by Edmond Lau. I noted down these points while reading so that it can be kind of cheat-sheet for myself and others too. I strongly recommend buying the book and reading it at-least once.

The book is divided into 3 parts and my idea here is to write 3 blog posts one for each. So here is the second part of the series. You can read the Part-I here and Part-II here.

For Part-III, there are 3 parts. You can get a summary of first chapter and second chapter and third chapter of Part-III here.

This is concluding post of this series listing best books and blogs that can be helpful for effective engineers

10 Books Every Effective Engineer Should Read

  1. Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams by software consultants Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister
  2. Team Geek: A Software Developer’s Guide to Working Well with Others by Brian W. Fitzpatrick and Ben Collins-Sussman.
  3. High Output Management by Andrew S. Grove. Grove, the former CEO of Intel
  4. Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen
  5. The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich by Timothy Ferriss
  6. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change by Stephen R. Covey
  7. Conscious Business: How to Build Value Through Values by Fred Kofman
  8. Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long by David Rock
  9. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi. In this book, Csíkszentmihályi
  10. Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals by Heidi Grant Halvorson

Recommended Blogs To Follow

A huge thanks to Edmond Lau for this book and all the recommendations. I urge all my readers to buy this book and read it without missing any points.


The effective engineer – (Part-IIIc)

Again I started reading this book “The Effective Engineer” by Edmond Lau. I noted down these points while reading so that it can be kind of cheat-sheet for myself and others too. I strongly recommend buying the book and reading it at-least once.

The book is divided into 3 parts and my idea here is to write 3 blog posts one for each. So here is the second part of the series. You can read the Part-I here and Part-II here.

For Part-III, I am going to do a little different. The third part of this book is considerably a lengthy part especially the second chapter of this part. So I felt to break the final part into 3 sections each for a chapter in the book. You can get a summary of first chapter and second chapter of Part-III.

Continuing from where we left here’s the 3rd part on Building long-term values…

Invest in your team’s growth

“Sink or swim”

– Investing in onboarding is just one way to invest in your team’s growth.
– If you want to increase your effectiveness, it’s important to recognize that building a strong team and a positive culture has a considerable amount of leverage.
– The higher you climb up the engineering ladder, the more your effectiveness will be measured not by your individual contributions but by your impact on the people around you.
– Your career success depends largely on your company and team’s success, and the success of your company or team depends on more than just your individual contributions.
– You’ll accomplish much more if those around you are aligned with you rather than against you, and you can do that by investing in their success.

Make hiring everyone’s responsibility

– A good interview process achieves two goals.
– First, it screens for the type of people likely to do well on the team.
– Second, it gets candidates excited about the team, the mission, and the culture.
– Even if a candidate goes home without an offer, they still leave with a good impression of the team and refer their friends to interview
– As an interviewer, your goal is to optimize for questions with high signal-to-noise ratios
– questions that reveal a large amount of useful information (signal) about the candidate per minute spent
– with little irrelevant or useless data (noise).
– Good, well-executed questions let you confidently differentiate among candidates of varying abilities; bad, poorly managed questions leave you unsure whether to hire the candidate.

engineering candidates to answer algorithm and coding questions on a whiteboard. These textbook-style questions evaluate a candidate’s computer science knowledge, but they can often fall short in gauging whether an engineer actually gets things done in a work environment.

Shift toward interviews that include a hands-on programming component. Augment a suite of whiteboard interviews with a practical coding exercise on a laptop.

– Problems included designing and implementing a small end-to-end system, squashing bugs in a popular open-source codebase, refactoring a poorly organized application, and pair programming on a self-contained project.
– Task candidates with implementing and demoing a functional Tetris game to test their ability to manage a project and trade off different technical choices under time constraints.
– Incorporate hands-on or even take-home programming exercises into their interviews.
These interview questions do require a larger upfront investment to design and calibrate, but their growing adoption indicates that many teams find the payoffs to be well worth it.

High leverage strategies to keep in mind:
– Discuss with your team to identify qualities of a potential team member
– Evaluate and refine your interview process periodically
– Design interview problems with multiple layers of difficulty
– Control the interview pace to maintain a high signal-to-noise ratio.
– Look for red flags by rapidly firing short answer questions
– Shadow or pair program
– Check for culture fit

Design a good Onboarding process

– Ramp up new engineers as quickly as possible
– Impart the team’s culture and values.
– What are the key things that every engineer should know?
– What valuable tips and tricks have you learned since joining the team?
– A key part of a good onboarding program is ensuring that everyone starts on a consistent, solid foundation.
– Socially integrate new engineers onto the team.

4 pillars of on-boarding program:
– Codelabs
– Onboarding talks
– Mentorship
– Starter tasks

Share ownership of the code – to avoid being bottleneck.

Here are some strategies:
– Avoid one-person teams
– Review each other’s code and software designs
– Rotate different types of tasks and responsibilities across the team
– Keep code readable and code quality high
– Present tech talks on software decisions and architecture
– Document your software, either through high-level design documents or in code-level comments
– Document the complex workflows or non-obvious workarounds necessary for you to get things done
– Invest time in teaching and mentoring other team members

Build collective wisdom by post-mortems

– Flight rules – write down every important event happened or decision taken and reason behind it
– Five why(s)
– Compile team lessons on honest (even though uncomfortable) conversations
– Be receptive
– Start instilling the culture with small projects in the organisation

Build a Great Engineering Culture
– Great engineering cultures:
– Optimize for iteration speed.
– Push relentlessly towards automation.
– Build the right software abstractions.
– Focus on high code quality by using code reviews.
– Maintain a respectful work environment.
– Build shared ownership of code.
– Invest in automated testing.
– Allot experimentation time, either through 20% time or hackathons.
– Foster a culture of learning and continuous improvement.
– Hire the best.

In the end, the author quotes:

“A great engineering culture isn’t built in a day; nor is it already in place when a company first starts. It begins with the values of the initial team members, and it’s a continual work-in-progress that every engineer helps to shape. It evolves over time with the decisions we make, the stories we tell, and the habits we adopt. It helps us make better decisions, adapt more quickly, and attract stronger talent. And when we focus on high-leverage activities, we not only become more effective engineers, we also lay the groundwork for a more effective engineering culture.”

There is one more post in the series where I will share what the author thinks are good books for an engineer and what blogs to follow.



The effective engineer (Part-IIIb)

Again I started reading this book “The Effective Engineer” by Edmond Lau. I noted down these points while reading so that it can be kind of cheat-sheet for myself and others too. I strongly recommend buying the book and reading it at-least once.

The book is divided into 3 parts and my idea here is to write 3 blog posts one for each. So here is the second part of the series. You can read the Part-I here and Part-II here.

For Part-III, I am going to do a little different. The third part of this book is considerably a lengthy part especially the second chapter of this part. So I felt to break the final part into 3 sections each for a chapter in the book. You can get a summary of first chapter of Part-III.

Continuing from where we left here’s the 2nd part on Building long-term values…

Minimize operational burden

Embrace Operational Simplicity – Do simple things first

Complex architectures impose a maintenance cost in a few ways:
– Engineering expertise gets splintered across multiple systems.
– Increased complexity introduces more potential single points of failure.
– New engineers face a steeper learning curve when learning and understanding the new systems.
– Effort towards improving abstractions, libraries, and tools gets diluted across the different systems.

Build systems to fail fast – Fail fast to pinpoint the source of errors

Examples of failing fast include:
– Crashing at startup time when encountering configuration errors
– Validating software inputs, particularly if they won’t be consumed until much later
– Bubbling up an error from an external service that you don’t know how to handle, rather than swallowing it
– Throwing an exception as soon as possible when certain modifications to a data structure, like a collection, would render dependent data structures, like an iterator, unusable
– Throwing an exception if key data structures have been corrupted rather than propagating that corruption further within the system
– Asserting that key invariants hold before or after complex logic flows and attaching sufficiently descriptive failure messages
– Alerting engineers about any invalid or inconsistent program state as early as possible

Relentlessly Automate Mechanical Tasks – Automate mechanics over decision making

Ask yourself: Will I save more time overall by manually doing a particular task or by paying the upfront cost of automating the process?

– Time is our most valuable resource. Pushing relentlessly toward automation”
– Do not stop automating for following reasons:
– Don’t have time right now
– Tragedy of commons – not interested in automating (self interest over groups long term interest)
– Lack of familiarity on automation tools
– Underestimate the future frequency of the task
– Not internalising the time savings over a long time horizon
– Activities where automation can help include:
– Validating that a piece of code, an interaction, or a system behaves as expected
– Extracting, transforming, and summarizing data
– Detecting spikes in the error rate
– Building and deploying software to new machines
– Capturing and restoring database snapshots
– Periodically running batch computations
– Restarting a web service
– Checking code to ensure it conforms to style guidelines
– Training a machine learning model
– Managing user accounts or user data
– Adding or removing a server to or from a group of services

Important: Automation can produce diminishing returns as you move from automating mechanics to automating decision-making. Given your finite time, focus first on automating mechanics. Simplify a complicated chain of 12 commands into a single script that unambiguously does what you want. Only after you’ve picked all the low-hanging fruit should you try to address the much harder problem of automating smart decisions.
Make your batch process idempotent – Aim for idempotence and reentrancy
“Scripts executing a sequence of actions without human intervention is known as batch processes.”
“An idempotent process produces the same results regardless of whether it’s run once or multiple times.”

– The ability to run infrequent processes at a more frequent rate than strictly necessary, to expose problems sooner
– When idempotence isn’t possible, structuring a batch process so that it’s at least retryable or reentrant can still help.
– A retryable or reentrant process is able to complete successfully after a previous interrupted call.
– A process that’s not reentrant typically leaves side effects on some global state that prevents it from successfully completing on a retry.

Running batch processes more frequently also allows you to handle assorted glitches transparently. A system check that runs every 5 to 10 minutes might raise spurious alarms because a temporary network glitch causes it to fail, but running the check every 60 seconds and only raising an alarm on consecutive failures dramatically decreases the chances of false positives. Many temporary failures might resolve themselves within a minute, reducing the need for manual intervention.
Hone your ability to respond and recover quickly – Plan and practice failure modes

– Netflix, Google, and Dropbox all assume that the unexpected and the undesired will happen.
– They practice their failure scenarios to strengthen their ability to recover quickly.
– They believe that it’s better to proactively plan and script for those scenarios when things are calm, rather than scramble for solutions during circumstances outside of their control.
– Ask “what if” questions and work through contingency plans for handling different situations:
– What if a critical bug gets deployed as part of a release? How quickly can we roll it back or respond with a fix, and can we shorten that window?
– What if a database server fails? How do we fail over to another machine and recover any lost data?
– What if our servers get overloaded? How can we scale up to handle the increased traffic or shed load so that we respond correctly to at least some of the requests?
– What if our testing or staging environments get corrupted? How would we bring up a new one?
– What if a customer reports an urgent issue? How long would it take customer support to notify engineering? How long for engineering to follow up with a fix?
– Practicing our failure scenarios so that we can recover quickly applies more generally to other aspects of software engineering, as well:
– What if a manager or other stakeholder at an infrequent review meeting raises objections about the product plan? What questions might they ask, and how might we respond?
– What if a critical team member gets sick or injured, or leaves? How can we share knowledge so that the team continues to function?
– What if users revolt over a new and controversial feature? What is our stance and how quickly can we respond?
– What if a project slips past a promised deadline? How might we predict the slippage early, recover, and respond?


The effective engineer (Part-II)

Again I started reading this book “The Effective Engineer” by Edmond Lau. I noted down these points while reading so that it can be kind of cheat-sheet for myself and others too. I strongly recommend buying the book and reading it at-least once.

The book is divided into 3 parts and my idea here is to write 3 blog posts one for each. So here is the second part of the series. You can read the Part-I here.

Execute, Execute, Execute

Invest in Iterate Speed

  1. Why invest?
    1. CI /CD – automated tests and delivery
    2. Tools to evaluate metrics – to improve quality, process and speed
    3. Small chunks delivered faster
    4. Config flag for larger features
    5. Elective deployment
  2. Move fast learn fast
    1. Faster you iterate faster you learn what works and what not
    2. Remove bottlenecks
  3. Invest in time saving tools
    1. Write a tool if you need to do a thing more than 2 times
    2. Reduction in compile time
    3. Incremental change adoption
    4. Use 20% of time on optimising
    5. Switch to efficient tools even if switching takes time – compounds later
    6. Start small, build it, showcase and improve
  4. Shorten your debugging and validation loop
    1. Minimal workflow – start small
  5. Master your programming environment
    1. Fine tune simple actions even if saves a second here or there
    2. Get proficient with your text editor
    3. Learn at least one productive high level programming language
    4. Get familiar with commands
    5. Prefer keyboard over mouse
    6. Automate your manual workflows
    7. Test out ideas on a interactive interpreter
    8. Make it fast and easy to run unit test cases for only the changes
  6. Don’t ignore the non-engineering bottlenecks
    1. Personally address the bottlenecks
    2. Communication is important for people related bottlenecks
    3. Prioritize build prototypes get feedback from decision makers
    4. Get the ball rolling in your launch checklist
  7. Take a holistic view of your iteration loop

Premature optimization is the root of all evil

Measure what you want to improve

When deciding which metrics to use, choose ones that:

  1. Maximize impact
  2. Are actionable
  3. Are responsive yet robust

Instrument everything what’s going on – helps in diagnosing the problems

  1. Monitor your software
  2. Determine how its used
  3. Measure anything and everything
  4. Analytics
  5. Project all instrumented values on a Dashboard

Internalize useful numbers – Knowing useful numbers like these enables you:

  1. With a few back-of-the-envelope calculations
  2. To quickly estimate the performance properties of a design without actually having to build it
  3. help you spot anomalies in data measurements
  4. clarifies both the areas and scope for improvement

Be skeptical about Data Integrity

  1. Using data to support your arguments is powerful
  2. The right metric can slice through philosophical biases, and product arguments
  3. Quickly resolving discussions
  4. Unfortunately, the wrong metric can do the same thing—with disastrous results. We have to be careful how we use data.
  5. Strategies to increase confidence in your data integrity:
    1. Log data liberally, in case it turns out to be useful later on.
    2. Build tools to iterate on data accuracy sooner. Real-time analytics is useful
    3. Write end-to-end integration tests to validate your entire analytics pipeline
    4. Examine collected data sooner
    5. Cross-validate data accuracy by computing the same metric in multiple ways
    6. When a number does look off, dig in to it early


Validate your ideas early and often

  1. Optimising for feedback as soon as possible
  2. Understanding what customers actually want and then iterating on that feedback
  3. Get the right things done
  4. Build MVP and get beta out for feedback
  5. 10% effort to be spent on small informative prototype
  6. Fake the full implementation of an idea to validate whether it will work is extremely powerful
  7. Validate product changes with A/B testing
    1. Use available tools instead of writing it yourself
    2. Results in understandable and actionable knowledge
    3. Reduce risk of large implementations with small validations
  8. Beware of one person team
    1. No feedback & validation
    2. Code reviews
    3. Monotonous work
    4. Dependency on the person
    5. Achievement celebration will not be there
    6. Strategies for feedback channel
      1. Be open and receptive to feedback
      2. Commit code early and often
      3. Request code reviews from thorough critics\
      4. Ask to bounce ideas off your teammates
      5. Design the interface or API of a new system first
      6. Send out a design document before devoting your energy to your code
      7. If possible, structure ongoing projects so that there is some shared context with your teammates
      8. Solicit buy-in for controversial features before investing too much time
  9. Build feedback loops for your decisions

Improve your project estimation skills

Use accurate estimates to drive projects

  1. Decompose the project into granular task
  2. Estimate based on how long the task takes, not a person takes to finish
  3. Person who takes up the task must give an estimate
  4. Avoid casual guesses
  5. Use multiple approach to estimate – granular to full project, historical data of previous work
  6. Avoid mythical man-month / person-days – nine women can’t give birth to a baby in one month
  7. Use time boxing to avoid growing scope of the tasks
  8. Allow others to challenge the estimates

Budget for unknown – build buffer time and have room for possible calamities
Define specific project goals and measurable milestones

  1.  Must haves and nice to haves differentiation
  2. Clarity and alignment across key stakeholders

Reduce risk early – Tackle risky areas first, build e2e scaffold and do system test early.

Approach rewrite projects with almost caution – incremental rewrites are effective or phases.

Don’t sprint in the middle of a marathon – avoid burnout by working extra hours, be realistic and keep informed.

If you are a Gumroad user then here’s your link

–Some points or sections are collected from internet to make more sense to the context–

What is Pomodoro?

Pomodoro is basically a time management technique used to accomplish your day’s work by dividing and executing them into smaller chunks with regular breaks.

Underlying principles

Steps involved in the technique:

  1. List out all the tasks to be done
  2. Set the timer to 25 minutes – set alarm to ring after 25 minutes
  3. Work on the task till the timer rings
  4. Stop the work and update the task list
  5. Take a short break say 5 minutes
  6. Repeat from step 2 – This concludes 1 chunk of pomodoro
  7. After every 4 chunks take a long break say 30 minutes


The rationale behind this technique is to plan, track, record, process and visualize your work.

While planning – tasks are prioritized by recording them in the task list. This enables users to estimate the effort tasks require – How many chunks of pomodoro is required for this task.

One way to use this technique efficiently is any time remaining in the chunk is devoted to learning. Short breaks are taken to avoid burnout. A short rest separates consecutive chunks. Four chunks form a set. A longer rest is taken between sets.

A pomodoro chunk is indivisible; when interrupted during the chunk. If interrupted either the activity must be recorded and postponed (using the inform – negotiate – schedule – call back strategy) or the chunk must be abandoned.

  1. Inform the other person you’re working on something right now
  2. Negotiate a time when you can get back
  3. Schedule follow-up immediately
  4. Call back when your pomodoro chunk is complete

A goal of the technique is to focus and flow reducing the impact of internal and external interruptions.

Pomodoro is an italian word for Tomato.


The effective engineer series (part-I)

I started reading this great book “The Effective Engineer” by Edmond Lau. While reading through the book after around 50 pages realized its good to note down the points while reading so that it can be kind of cheat-sheet for myself and others too. I strongly recommend buying the book and reading it at-least once.

The book is divided into 3 parts and my idea here is to write 3 blog posts one for each. So here is the first part of the series. The Part-II is now published here.

Adopt right mindsets

Practice: High leverage activities

  1. How can I complete this activity in a shorter amount of time?
  2. How can I increase the value produced by this activity?
  3. Leverage = impact produced / time invested
  4. Is there something else that I could spend my time on that would produce more value?”
  5. Meetings
    1. Keep it less than 30mins meeting
    2. Have clear agenda and goals
    3. Circulate before hand
    4. In case in-person is not required then email discussion


Optimize yourself for learning

  1. Growth mindset vs fixed mindset – Always improve, keep learning, Accept responsibility, own your story
  2. Invest in your Rate of learning – compound effects – exponential curve
  3. Seek work environment conducive of learning
    1. Fast growth
    2. Training
    3. Openness
    4. Pace
    5. People
    6. Autonomy
  4. Dedicate time on the job to develop new skills
    1. Study the code for core abstractions written by best engineers at your company
    2. Write more code
    3. Go through any technical training materials available internally
    4. Master the programming language you use
    5. Send your code to harshest critics
    6. Enroll in classes and areas you need to improve
    7. Participate in design discussions in the projects you are interested
    8. Work on diversity of projects
    9. Make sure your are on a team with at least few senior engineers
    10. Jump fearlessly in to the code you don’t know
  5. Always be learning – locate learning opportunities outside of work
    1. Learn new programming languages and frameworks
    2. Invest in high demand skills
    3. Read more books
    4. Join discussion groups
    5. Attend talks and conferences
    6. Build and maintain strong network of relationships
    7. Follow bloggers who teach
    8. Write to teach
    9. Tinker on side projects
    10. Pursue what you love


Practice to Prioritize Regularly

1. Maintain only a single To-Do list – Track To-Dos in a Single, Easily Accessible List
2. Focus on What Directly Produces Value
3. Focus on Important but not urgent – Is this the most important task I should be working on?
4. Protect your maker’s schedule
5. Limit amount of work in progress – Cost of context switching is high
6. Fight procrastination with if-then plans
7. Make a routine of prioritisation
[4],[2],[1],[6] – are Pomodoro chunks

If you are a Gumroad user then here’s your link

Behavioral Patterns – Thumb Rules

This post is directly copied from sourcemaking, just to make it easy for readers to access this piece of knowledge.

Rules for how and when to apply:

  1. Behavioral patterns are concerned with the assignment of responsibilities between objects, or, encapsulating behavior in an object and delegating requests to it.
  2. Chain of responsibility, Command, Mediator, and Observer, address how you can decouple senders and receivers, but with different trade-offs. Chain of responsibility passes a sender request along a chain of potential receivers.
  3. Command normally specifies a sender-receiver connection with a subclass.
  4. Mediator has senders and receivers reference each other indirectly. Observer defines a very decoupled interface that allows for multiple receivers to be configured at run-time.
  5. Chain of responsibility can use Command to represent requests as objects.
  6. Chain of responsibility is often applied in conjunction with Composite. There, a component’s parent can act as its successor.
  7. Command and Memento act as magic tokens to be passed around and invoked at a later time. In Command, the token represents a request; in Memento, it represents the internal state of an object at a particular time. Polymorphism is important to Command, but not to Memento because its interface is so narrow that a memento can only be passed as a value.
  8. Command can use Memento to maintain the state required for an undo operation.
  9. MacroCommands can be implemented with Composite.
  10. A Command that must be copied before being placed on a history list acts as a Prototype.
  11. Interpreter can use State to define parsing contexts.
  12. The abstract syntax tree of Interpreter is a Composite (therefore Iterator and Visitor are also applicable).
  13. Terminal symbols within Interpreter’s abstract syntax tree can be shared with Flyweight.
  14. Iterator can traverse a Composite. Visitor can apply an operation over a Composite.
  15. Polymorphic Iterators rely on Factory Methods to instantiate the appropriate Iterator subclass.
  16. Mediator and Observer are competing patterns. The difference between them is that Observer distributes communication by introducing “observer” and “subject” objects, whereas a Mediator object encapsulates the communication between other objects. We’ve found it easier to make reusable Observers and Subjects than to make reusable Mediators.
  17. On the other hand, Mediator can leverage Observer for dynamically registering colleagues and communicating with them.
  18. Mediator is similar to Facade in that it abstracts functionality of existing classes.
  19. Mediator abstracts/centralizes arbitrary communication between colleague objects, it routinely “adds value”, and it is known/referenced by the colleague objects (i.e. it defines a multidirectional protocol). In contrast, Facade defines a simpler interface to a subsystem, it doesn’t add new functionality, and it is not known by the subsystem classes (i.e. it defines a unidirectional protocol where it makes requests of the subsystem classes but not vice versa).
  20. Memento is often used in conjunction with Iterator. An Iterator can use a Memento to capture the state of an iteration. The Iterator stores the Memento internally.
    State is like Strategy except in its intent.
  21. Flyweight explains when and how State objects can be shared.
  22. State objects are often Singletons.
  23. Strategy lets you change the guts of an object. Decorator lets you change the skin.
  24. Strategy is to algorithm. as Builder is to creation.
  25. Strategy has 2 different implementations, the first is similar to State. The difference is in binding times (Strategy is a bind-once pattern, whereas State is more dynamic).
  26. Strategy objects often make good Flyweights.
  27. Strategy is like Template method except in its granularity.
  28. Template method uses inheritance to vary part of an algorithm. Strategy uses delegation to vary the entire algorithm.
  29. The Visitor pattern is like a more powerful Command pattern because the visitor may initiate whatever is appropriate for the kind of object it encounters.