How do you keep up as a senior SWE?

May 22, 2019 38 Comments

I’m not new to this as I have 5yoe, but am feeling really stressed out lately. I’ve joined a new project as basically the only senior SWE on the team and the amount of things to learn is simply staggering. Just to name a few things that came my way very recently:

- Java
- Groovy (for tests!)
- Many advanced (very advanced and complex to use!) mocking and testing libraries
- Protobufs
- gRPC
- Kafka
- Cassandra
- Gradle build system
- ...

Each of these technologies is massive in itself, and learning the proper way to do things in each of them literally requires reading hundreds of pages of documentation and internalizing the content, you can’t just get by reading the “getting started” tutorials or googling stack overflow.

Hell, the manual for Gradle is 1200 pages, a fucking build system! And I apparently need to learn a lot of it because we have a very complicated multi project setup with tons of tasks and weird parts so again, just basic steps won’t do.

Same thing for Kafka, gRPC and the other distributed components: we are operating at scale so just a basic understanding won’t do: I literally need to know all the best practices to structure the code as an expert would do, like properly tweaking the client driver and server settings to make sure we can handle load.

As a senior engineer I’m expected to be an expert in all these areas, how the hell do I do this?

In times like this I really regret not choosing another career path. I was even admitted to medical school but then decided to follow my true passion to get a CS degree.


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TOP 38 Comments
  • Facebook ⭕w⭕
    I got demoted from senior to junior after reading this.
    May 22, 2019 0
  • Facebook / Eng lkj630
    "I'm not new to this ... 5yoe" -> 🙄
    May 22, 2019 8
    • New / Eng QTdN03
      If you think you’re in way over your head, just imagine how the hiring manager feels!! A true Senior SWE would push back against unrealistic deadlines and quit if you don’t get what you need to be successful.
      May 22, 2019
    • Snapchat eeXB43
      I feel you! but it usually gets way better after several weeks. do not panic! Do not be afraid to ask the junior devs as well when stuck.
      May 22, 2019
  • Facebook qXly31
    It's pretty obvious you are not really a senior engineer. You either got lucky with promotion or your company has level inflation. Forget about your level/title, be humble.
    May 22, 2019 3
    • Comcast notbran
      OP where are you exactly? TC/yoe? Mind DM’ing if you’re not comfortable publishing publicly?
      May 22, 2019
    • OP
      I’m at a chaotic late stage startup in the Bay. Almost 6yoe, TC around 350 liquid, with more upside from illiquid stock options.

      FB offered a TC of ~390k, but as I said I wasn’t comfortable in taking it. I don’t think I’m good enough and would most likely get PIPed for underperforming, and this situation is proving it.
      May 22, 2019
  • Comcast notbran
    Who the fuck reads the whole 1200 page manual? Identify the core problem that needs to be solved, be really good at it, and Google/stackoverflow the non-critical tooling.
    May 22, 2019 2
    • OP
      In this case it’s an entire new system to build from scratch using these components. So the core problem is literally everything.
      May 22, 2019
    • Facebook / Eng lkj630
      Get an idea of what a good build system should contain, see how gradle handles the various components and put together. You don't have to start from first principles.
      May 22, 2019
  • Intel lichu
    I don’t believe I wasted 2 mins of my life reading this.
    May 22, 2019 3
    • Intel lichu
      Everyone faces these situations, and it’s tough for everyone the first time. We just have to keep up with it.
      May 22, 2019
    • Glassdoor mdcn
      I gave up after the first sentence and then read your comment! Thank you Intel!
      May 23, 2019
  • You should choose a stack and stick to it. You will gain the necessary knowledge over time. Don’t be scared or be impatient. Understanding the grain(as in wood grain) of the tool will help you gain intuition for the tool and predict what it will do in a new circumstance. Working for startups exacerbates the problem of being anxious about the unknown. Join a big company where things are stable and spend brain cycles on the problem that matters and not on the tools themselves. Tools come and go, but it is important that you choose a working subset and stick to it for longer periods of time. That way you are more concerned about the problem you are solving and that is what matters finally.
    May 22, 2019 0
  • Take a deep breath. Hopefully you took something away from your interview preps, esp design round.
    Identify components, how they interact with each other etc. Split the components to Junior engs. Or even better get the skeleton system in the pipeline down. Iteratively fill in. Replace with stubs, same input output etc. And then you can go back and flush it out.
    May 22, 2019 0
  • Google / Eng Akephalos
    Interviews and levels don't correlate to experience. And what you need to solve the problems you're facing is experience. I had a teammate that was promoted to L5 with 5 yoe, but it was very obvious to me that he was still super green, making junior mistakes still.
    You have a lot of shit on your plate so you have to prioritize correctly and find paths of least resistance, delegate as much as you can, and hope for the best. But it also sounds you're in a sinking ship and timelines need to be reevaluated. Good luck.
    May 22, 2019 0
  • F5 Networks / Eng

    F5 Networks Eng

    Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories
    Now add in DevOps...
    May 22, 2019 0
  • Google dCyj41
    We expect our L3s to know the equivalent of all of those things in ~6 months of on-boarding. And nobody is expecting you to be the master day 1. But as a more senior engineer you should ramp faster than the other members of your team
    May 22, 2019 0


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