Why I'm saying farewell to EngineerBetter

Feb 26, 2020| Dan Young

Photo by Evie S on Unsplash

What’s happening?

This month I will be stepping down as CEO of EngineerBetter and leaving things in the capable hands of Daniel Jones, Ivana Scott and the rest of our amazing team of engineers. Over the coming months I’ll be working on new ideas, closer to where I live in Bristol. I’ll stay a close friend and partner of the company.

Wait, what?

Yep. It’s true.

You may not have seen this one coming, so I’ve written down some reflections to help explain things a little better.

I’ve often likened my experience of running EngineerBetter to gardening. I percieved my job as helping to create and nurture contexts in which people and ideas can grow, and also looking after the things that do take root. These contexts are founded in relationships, so creating and maintaining these relationships is an important part of the job.

There are a number of reasons why now is the right time for me to step back from this gardening role and allow it to be filled by other folks in EngineerBetter.

More time working locally

Whilst EngineerBetter has a preference for colocation in its DNA, we also had to develop good distributed working habits in order to work with international customers. Virtual meeting spaces create new possibilites but impose new constraints. There are many contexts, such as pair programming, in which video can provide a straightforward substitute for co-location. In other contexts - such as working in the space between groups of people, reflecting, exploring ideas or planning activities - much more work is needed to create a useful online experience.

Humans have had thousands of years of practice at in-person interaction but only 15 years learning about video and other remote working methods. Because of this I’ve found that physically being there is still a necessity to do the full range of work required to run EngineerBetter. We’ve always been a London-centric organisation, but my home is in Bristol, which has made travel a defining aspect of my life at work.

Achieving the state of being physically present in order to do my role has always been a choice between either 5.30am starts with late returns or staying away from home. I always felt tension in my “inbetween” state and this tension increased over the last year. The arrival of my third child eight months ago made it even harder to spend meaningful time in London.

Now feels like the right time to resolve this issue of geographic balance.

Time to wear a different hat

When Daniel Jones and I founded the company we aspired to change not just engineering, but all the things that led to organisational dysfunction. During the last 4 years I’ve been exploring what that means.

EngineerBetter’s amazing success in technology consulting work now has real gravity. The commercial momentum is based on certain types of conversations and customer relationships. Most relationships centre around the development of point solutions, to which EngineerBetter, as the consultants and experts, are rightly expected to have the answers.

I’ve discovered I’m most happy working with our customers when I’m helping them unravel their deeper systemic challenges beyond the technology. This kind of work depends on a different flavour of business relationship and power dynamic with the client. It requires a coach-like approach, or what Ed Schein calls ‘humble consulting’. In this context the client understands that they have the answers and, although they’re seeking help to find them, they take ownership and responsibility for the change.

I’d like to do much more of this kind of work, creating space to build these new kinds of relationships in-person over weeks and months, closer to where I live, but also taking time to improve my skills and experience of doing this in virtual contexts.

What will I take with me? What will I leave behind?

I’m grateful for the all the experiences I’ve had at EngineerBetter and to everyone who’s been part of my story.

I’ll be taking a lot of memories with me. I’ll certainly treasure the hours I spent crying into my keyboard trying to make CSS work properly on our first website, wondering if we’d land a customer before my savings evaporated. I’ll also remember the stories of the folks whose lives became better as a result of working with us, or using the things we built (like Control Tower).

The EngineerBetter values have been an important part of my experience. In pursuit of these values I’ve had to do difficult things like turn down work, or fire customers - or be fired by customers - but I’ve also found like-minded people with whom to grow the company and found joy working in the Cloud Foundry ecosystem, which is also one of the most inclusive tech communities around.

It’s been a genuine delight seeing people join EngineerBetter and then thrive in their careers; becoming better software engineers, leaders and speakers. I hope I’ve been a good steward in my role as “Continuous Enablement Officer” and left behind some useful contributions of my own. I know the team will keep learning, growing, and improving the world around them.

Daniel Jones will continue to lead EngineerBetter into 2020 and beyond. I’ll continue to stay a close friend and partner and I’m looking forward to seeing the team be wildly successful in the future.

If you have any questions, just drop us a line at contact@engineerbetter.com.

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