Rule #17: Think for yourself

Unwritten Rule of Engineering #17: Do not be too anxious to defer to or embrace your manager’s instructions.

This is the other side of the matter covered by the preceding rule. An undue subservience or deference to any manager’s wishes is fairly common among young engineers. Employees with this kind of philosophy may:

  • plague their managers incessantly for minute directions and approvals,
  • surrender all initiative and depend on their supervisor to do all the thinking for a project,
  • persist with a design or a project even after new evidence has proven the original plan to be infeasible.

In general, a program laid down by the department, the project leader, or the design team is a proposal, rather than an edict.

Rule #16: Do as you promised

Unwritten Rule of Engineering #16: Whenever you are asked by your manager to do something, you are expected to do exactly that.

Whenever your supervisor sends you off to perform a specific task, you have two possible responses: (1) you do it exactly as requested, or (2) you come back and talk it over some more. (Take special note of this law, for it applies not only as regards your supervisor, but also to anyone with whom you have agreed on a task to be done or a course of action to be taken.) It is simply unacceptable either not to do it, or to do something different instead.

Of course, a good manager will define the boundaries of the task as loosely as possible to achieve the desired results. If your manager creates too many overly detailed constraints, perhaps you should work at New Relic instead.

Rule #14: Choose your boss carefully

Unwritten Rule of Engineering #14: Be as particular as you can in the selection of your supervisor.

Long before the days of universities and [the internet], master craftsmen absorbed their skills by apprenticing to master craftsmen. Likewise, you will do well to use those with more experience, especially a well-selected supervisor, as your … mentor.

And a little quote from rule #13:

As a rule, you can service all other ends to best advantage by assuming your supervisor is approximately the right person for that job.

Rule #12: Infoflow up

Unwritten Rule of Engineering #12: One of the first things you owe your supervisor is to keep him or her informed of all significant developments.

Bear in mind that your manager is constantly called upon to account for, defend, and explain your activities to others, as well as to coordinate these activities into a larger plan. Compel yourself to provide all the information that is needed for these purposes. … No manager [likes] being surprised …

Rule #11: Know your domain

Unwritten Rule of Engineering #11: Every manager must know what goes on in his or her domain.

This principle is so elementary and fundamental as to be axiomatic. It follows very obviously that a manager cannot possibly manage a department successfully without knowing what’s going on in it. This applies as well to project managers with specific responsibilities but without direct subordinates as it does to department heads.

Rule #10: Be accurate

Unwritten Rule of Engineering #10: Be extremely careful of the accuracy of your statements.

This seems almost trite, and yet many engineers lose the confidence of their superiors and associates by habitually guessing when they do not know the answer to a direct question. … If you are not certain, indicate the exact degree of certainty or approximation upon which your answer is based. A reputation for dependability and reliability can be one of your most valuable assets.

Rule #9: Be concise

Unwritten Rule of Engineering #9: Strive for conciseness and clarity in oral or written reports.

The trick is convey the maximum of significant information in the minimum time, a valuable asset to anyone. … Start at the beginning, with the most important fact, the one the audience must know before learning more. Often this is the conclusion itself. Progressively broaden the pyramid by constructing each sentence upon its predecessor.

One of my favorite sources on how to present more effectively is Presentation Zen; another is any book by Edward Tufte.

Rule #8: Speak up

Unwritten Rule of Engineering #8: Don’t be timid — speak up — express yourself and promote your ideas.

Too many new employees seem to think that their job is simply to do what they are told. Of course there are times when it is wise and prudent to keep silent, but, as a rule, it pays to express your point of view whenever you can contribute something. … If you do not want the job, say nothing and you’ll be overlooked, but you’ll also be overlooked when it comes time to assign large responsibilities.

Rule #7: Avoid waffling

Unwritten Rule of Engineering #7: Avoid the very appearance of vacillating.

One of the gravest personal indictments is to have it said that an engineer’s opinion at any time depends merely upon the last person with whom he or she has spoken.

Rule #6: Examine the reality

Unwritten Rule of Engineering #6: Develop a “let’s go see!” attitude.

It is seldom adequate to remain at one’s desk and speculate about causes and solutions, or to retreat to … specifications, and reports and hope to sort it all out. Before ever being able to solve a problem, you will need abundant insight, insight that can only be developed by observing first-hand what might be at once too subtle and complex only to imagine.

What happened to rule #5? Well, the numbers are from the original book and I’m only blogging the most software psychologist-relevant rules, so sometimes I’ll skip a rule or two and thus a number or two.