Friday, July 28, 2017

Software Engineering Maxim #16: Spreading knowledge makes it thicker

(This is one of a series of Software Engineering Maxims Which May or May Not Be True, developed over the last few years of working at Google. Your mileage may vary. Use only as directed. Past performance is not a predictor of future results. Etc.)

Pigeonholing is rampant in software engineering, engineers who have become experts in a particular area and always end up being assigned tasks in that area.

There are occasions where that is optimal, where becoming a subject matter expert takes substantial time and effort, but these situations are rare. In most cases it is not the expense of becoming an expert that keeps an engineer doing similar work over and over, it is just complacency.

Areas of the product where the team needs to continue to expend effort over a long time period should move around to different members of the team. Multiple people familiar with an area will reinforce each other. Additionally, teaching the next person is a very effective way to get a better understanding for oneself.