Aug. 29, 2022

#45 Brendan Humphreys | On Developing Your Engineering Career

Today's guest is a leader in his field. He has grown the engineering team at Canva from a startup to one of the best engineering workplaces in Australia.

This episode is an insight into managing and growing your engineering skills to a high level.  

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Brendan Humphreys is the Head Of Engineering at Canva.

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👇 Episode Takeaways

Management is a Skill (and you can learn it)

Brendan spent much of his career before Canva as an individual contributor. He eventually sold a tool that he build to Atlassian, and then moved to Canva.

He spoke about the switch from individual contributor to management, and how it was absolutely something that could be learned. In fact, being an IC first can make it even easier to be a manager.

if they've been individual contributors in the recent past, and they've stepped into engineering management, I think that gives them a high degree of empathy with the engineers that they are managing

  1. you can learn to be a great manager

  2. Having understanding of the tools makes this easier  

Understanding Context using First Principles

I asked Brendan about common mistakes that junior engineers make, and he spoke about thinking through problems from first principles.

it's a bit of an anti patent in an engineering to be in that mode of unconstrained ideation where you're just "what if we did this? And what if we did that?" And my answer is always, "you tell me what, what if we did that?" Spend the time to figure it out

One of the best things junior engineers can do is try to understand the context of what they are doing in the organisation.

Coming up with new suggestions and new tools is great, but an understanding of how they would fit into the organisation is critical.  

Empathy in Engineering

Brendan highlighted to me the importance of empathy in engineering

Being able to stongman an argument and have a robust, consderate and understanding conversation is very important in facilitating collaboration amongst teams.    

being able to see a problem from different viewpoints [...] is highly valuable in unlocking collaboration in teams.

As a way to practice this, Brendan suggested trying to "strongman" opposing arguments. Even if you disagree with something, try to present the argument in the best possible way, understanding it fully. Once this is done, consider the perspective and compare to your own.

This is an effective way to discuss difficult topics.

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📝 Content Timestamps

00:00 Intro

00:29 A Day in the Life

05:11 Designing a Promotion Structure

06:27 Did Brendan always want to be in management

08:51 Measuring engineering teams

12:51 What makes an effective manager

17:31 10x engineers

22:00 Skill improvement as an IC

25:15 Tips for Junior Engineers

34:58 Specialise vs Generalise

38:21 Engineering traits that are undervalued

43:01 Importance of startup journey

49:29 Failure that ended up being a success

51:45 Best investment of time or money

54:37 Advice for Graduates

57:25 Outro