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The Effective Engineer


  • Author: [[Edmond Lau]]


More engaged users drive more revenue, more venture capital, and higher startup valuations, and in recent years, teams dedicated to the art and science of user growth have proliferated. These teams focus on optimizing how users flow into and out of a product. — location: 599 ^ref-64921

To help us identify what’s high-leverage, we’ll discuss two simple heuristics: focusing on what directly produces value, and focusing on the important and non-urgent. — location: 630 ^ref-35677

It’s far easier and more efficient to compile a small number of goals that are important to complete, pick initial tasks toward those goals, and then make a pairwise comparison between what you’re currently doing and what else is on your to-do list. — location: 670 ^ref-54767

The goal isn’t to establish a total ordering of all your priorities, since any ordering you make will be based on imperfect information; instead, it’s to continuously shift your top priorities toward the ones with the highest leverage, given the information you have — location: 673 ^ref-20145

we systematically went through every idea and estimated its percentage impact (0.1%, 1%, 10%, or 100%) on our growth metrics as well as the time it would take to implement (hours, days, weeks, or months). Not only were many of these estimates quite off because we had limited data, but every task we tackled inspired new tasks — location: 666 ^ref-39518

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The next two sections present two heuristics that can help: focusing on what directly produces value, and focusing on the important and non-urgent. — location: 676 ^ref-1557

But make sure that the effort you invest is proportional to its expected impact. — location: 695 ^ref-38922

Prioritize the ones that produce the most value with the least amount of effort. Once you do this a few times, it becomes easier to recognize which tasks are the most valuable — location: 696 ^ref-47482

Don’t try to get everything done. Focus on what matters—and what matters is what produces value. — location: 703 ^ref-25888

Therefore, along with prioritizing the activities that directly produce value, we also need to prioritize the investments that increase our ability to be more effective and deliver more value in the future. Stated simply, the second heuristic is to focus on important and non-urgent activities — location: 707 ^ref-37625

He would label everything on his to-do list from 1 through 4, based on which quadrant the activity fell under — location: 725 ^ref-8328

Halvorson describes the if-then plan, in which we identify ahead of time a situation where we plan to do a certain task. Possible scenarios could be “if it’s after my 3pm meeting, then I’ll investigate this long-standing bug,” or “if it’s right after dinner, then I’ll watch a lecture on Android development.” Halvorson explains that the “planning creates a link between the situation or cue (the if) and the behavior that you should follow (the then).” When the cue triggers, the then behavior “follows automatically without any conscious intent.” 21 — location: 786 ^ref-32515

I save a list of short tasks that I need to get done and that don’t require a big chunk of uninterrupted time, and I use them to fill in the blank. Tasks that have worked well for me include finishing a code review, writing interview feedback, responding to emails, investigating a small bug, or writing an isolated unit test. — location: 802 ^ref-56296

David Allen, in Getting Things Done, suggests grouping to-do items by location-based contexts and then handling tasks based on your current context. — location: 817 ^ref-21290

in Personal Kanban, recommend creating a backlog of your work, transitioning tasks through various columns on a board (e.g., “backlog,” “ready,” “in progress,” and “done”), and limiting the amount of work-in-progress according to your own bandwidth as determined by trial and error — location: 819 ^ref-47834

author of Todoodlist, is an advocate of the old-fashioned pencil and paper to track what you need to get done. — location: 824 ^ref-51943

Francesco Cirillo uses a timer to track 25-minute focused sessions, called pomodoros; he works on a single task during each session. — location: 822 ^ref-62082

Key Takeaways Write down and review to-dos. Spend your mental energy on prioritizing and processing your tasks rather than on trying to remember them. Treat your brain as a processor, not as a memory bank. Work on what directly leads to value. Don’t try to do everything. Regularly ask yourself if there’s something higher-leverage that you could be doing. Work on the important and non-urgent. Prioritize long-term investments that increase your effectiveness, even if they don’t have a deadline. Reduce context switches. Protect large blocks of time for your creative output, and limit the number of ongoing projects so that you don’t spend your cognitive energy actively juggling tasks. Make if-then plans to combat procrastination. Binding an intention to do something to a trigger significantly increases the likelihood that you’ll get it done. Make prioritization a habit. Experiment to figure out a good workflow. Prioritize regularly, and it’ll get easier to focus on and complete your highest-leverage activities. — location: 880 ^ref-28804

We built tools to automatically version and package our code. We developed a testing framework that parallelized thousands of unit and integration tests across a tier of worker machines — location: 905 ^ref-11948

Or suppose you need to migrate an in-production database table from one schema to another. The standard process to change a live schema is: 1) create the new schema, 2) deploy code to write to both the old and new schemas, 3) copy existing data over from the old schema to the new schema, 4) deploy code to start reading from the new schema, and 5) remove the code that writes to the old schema. — location: 916 ^ref-64502

Just because changes are deployed incrementally, however, doesn’t mean that larger features aren’t possible or that users see half-finished features. A large feature gets gated behind a configuration flag, which is disabled until the feature is ready. — location: 924 ^ref-16696

The next time you find yourself repeatedly going through the same motions when you’re fixing a bug or iterating on a feature, pause. Take a moment to think through whether you might be able to tighten that testing loop. It could save you time in the long run. — location: 1096 ^ref-24240

Use testing tools that run only the subset of tests affected by your code. Even better, integrate the tool with your text editor or IDE so that you can invoke them with a few keystrokes — location: 1149 ^ref-35943

Find out where the biggest bottlenecks in your iteration cycle are, whether they’re in the engineering tools, cross-team dependencies, approvals from decision-makers, or organizational processes. Then, work to optimize them. — location: 1202 ^ref-14230

Key Takeaways The faster you can iterate, the more you can learn. Conversely, when you move too slowly trying to avoid mistakes, you lose opportunities. Invest in tooling. Faster compile times, faster deployment cycles, and faster turnaround times for development all provide time-saving benefits that compound the more you use them. Optimize your debugging workflow. Don’t underestimate how much time gets spent validating that your code works. Invest enough time to shorten those workflows. Master the fundamentals of your craft. Get comfortable and efficient with the development environment that you use on a daily basis. This will pay off dividends throughout your career. Take a holistic view of your iteration loop. Don’t ignore any organizational and team-related bottlenecks that may be within your circle of influence. — location: 1203 ^ref-9808

Good metrics accomplish a number of goals. First, they help you focus on the right things. They confirm that your product changes—and all the effort you’ve put into them—actually achieve your objectives — location: 1270 ^ref-26471

Second, when visualized over time, good metrics help guard against future regressions. Engineers know the value of writing a regression test while fixing bugs: it confirms that a patch actually fixes a bug and detects if the bug re-surfaces in the future. — location: 1276 ^ref-2875

Third, good metrics can drive forward progress — location: 1281 ^ref-18542

Fourth, a good metric lets you measure your effectiveness over time and compare the leverage of what you’re doing against other activities you could be doing instead. — location: 1290 ^ref-26507

Hours worked per week vs. productivity per week — location: 1306 ^ref-37925

Consider a few examples of how tracking different metrics can affect team behavior — location: 1306 ^ref-41389

Click-through rates vs. long click-through rates — location: 1314 ^ref-61282

Average response times vs. 95th or 99th percentile response times. — location: 1320 ^ref-3937

Bugs fixed vs. bugs outstanding. — location: 1330 ^ref-23094

Registered users vs. weekly growth rate of registered users. — location: 1334 ^ref-26124

Weekly active users vs. weekly active rate by age of cohort. — location: 1338 ^ref-20290

An actionable metric is one whose movements can be causally explained by the team’s efforts. In contrast, vanity metrics, as Eric Ries explains in The Lean Startup, — location: 1378 ^ref-20770