Denise Yu Profile picture
Feb 5, 2021 11 tweets 2 min read
i saw a tweet a while back (will link it if i find it again) that the single most useful skill of any senior++ IC or engineering leader can be stated in simple terms:

In every conversation you're part of, create clarity and reduce chaos.

[thread]
i've been thinking about that for months, and trying to put it into practice, and you know what? I think it is actually working. i'm feeling more professionally challenged and learning to measure my impact in things other than lines of code. chaos reduction, in practice:
1. the art of the rollup

let's say your team uncovers a previously unknown complexity in the thing you're building. oh no! people start weighing in, problem-solution ID drifts all over the map, and oh god now the CTO is involved, how did this escalate

what can you do?
enter what i've been mentally noting as "the art of the rollup". read the backscroll, take a deep breath, wait 5 mins, and write to entire channel:

"To summarize: the problem is X. Possible paths forward are A, B, C. Sounds like we're leaning towards A. have I missed anything?"
i could end this entire thread here honestly. learning to do the "rollup" post is liquid gold. no one, NO ONE, wants to sift through a 90-msg long thread. if you've grossly misrepresented, someone will tell you, and you try again. the rollup becomes canon, and your name is on it
2. pay very close attention to scope expansion, and gently call this out

if you put more things into play, almost by the laws of physics, chaos and entropy will naturally increase. when things feel uncertain, odds are there are too many things in play. take players off the field
gentle-sounding phrases you can deploy for this:

"hmm that's a really interesting idea. maybe we can visit it after the first milestone?"

"let's limit this chat today to what we know we have to achieve, to be respectful of everyone's time"

"drop that into our team slack!"
3. have meta-chats about who will contribute to a decision, and how

this sounds obvi in retrospect, but not everyone needs to be in every meeting. at this stage in the pandemic, ppl are pretty good at self-selecting out (zoom fatigue, etc) but
i find it helpful to ask ppl explicitly:

"we're gonna chat about X and try to decide Y. do you want me to make sure i mention anything on your behalf?"

"do you want me to update you with the outcome?"

"do you want to be involved, should i look at your gcal for scheduling?"
there are group decision-making models that have been written about length, but my personal categories, from most to least involved, are:

- let me have input
- you can proxy for me
- keep me updated
- only ping me if there's a fire

being clear about this will save chaos!!
other misc behaviors that i think are good for clarity-building:

- agree on a canonical place to record decisions, and actually record decisions there
- always recap spoken agreements in a written place
- less is more. don't overly self-edit, but short = more likely to be read

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More from @deniseyu21

Mar 9
I've been the hiring manager for my dept for 9 months, and now that hiring is ramping back up... a quick thread on how to make your application stand out when you're applying via a public job listing (eg not via referral):
1. Write a cover letter. seriously!

Maybe 10% of all applications have a letter, and less than half of those letters are thoughtful. This is your only opportunity to explain (a) why you're interested in the company/role and (b) that you've actually read the job description
2. In said cover letter, *show* don't tell.

Esp if you don't meet all qualifications (apply anyway!) write 1-2 sentences on why you're still a great fit for the job, and provide detailed evidence on what you've achieved.
Read 6 tweets
Jun 8, 2021
when I did a brief stint as a PM, I learned a TON of useful skills that I still use as an engineer.

fellow engineers: have you ever heard of the "2x2" ("two by two") device for making decisions? if not. pull up a seat!

The 2x2 is a sorting tool that starts out like this: a coordinate plane with "high impact" and "lo
The axes can have different labels, depending on what you're trying to achieve, but "quick/slow" and "high/low impact" are good ones to start with.

The first thing you'll want to do is write down the inputs you want to analyze. Post-its are good, there are online tools too.
When PMs use 2x2s, typically their inputs are features that the team could build.

But outside of that context, the inputs can be lots of things: eng tasks you could do, initiatives you could get involved with, achievements that you want to highlight (eg. for self review)
Read 8 tweets
May 31, 2021
a big lesson I’ve repeatedly learned in the last year, about whether to proceed with building something or not, is to always stop and ask myself, “if we build more, could it directionally change what we learn from this experiment?”
That helped me a lot when weighing things that are hard to weigh, like last-mile UI polish vs bugs that I felt were more show-stopping but only affected a small number of users. In some cases, polishing is worth it because it’s actually part of the feature’s narrative.
I chopped off the final weeks of backlogs multiple times after realizing that we *could* build more stuff, and it’d be fun eng-wise, but it wouldn’t give us more information about whether we solved the fundamental user problems or not! So we moved on to other things.
Read 4 tweets
Oct 1, 2019
smol thread about some talks I've seen this year that seriously changed or expanded how I think critically about tech. (possibly will grow later!)

1. "Privilege Defines Performance" by @TatianaTMac:


seriously just WATCH THIS TALK.
2. "Don't Get Distracted" by @calebthompson:

This talk hits you right in the stomach about why technologists need to be critically thinking about our ethical impact.

3. "Designing Against Domestic Violence" by @epenzeymoog:

Read 4 tweets
Jun 8, 2019
Next up: "You can't bubblebath the burnout away", with the wonderful @jtu! (I've been wanting to see this talk forever!)

A few years ago, she found herself in a stressful job. She decided to set hard limits on when she would start/stop working, and invest in self-care. #SelfConf
"Why did I focus so hard on applying self care?"

Because work takes more from you than it fulfills you. Life throws stressful surprises our way. Self care can recharge our battery a little bit, but work and life tend act up again, and we can't seem to recharge fast enough.
"I had more responsibilities than any one person could do. But I tried to do it all anyway. And I felt terrible... no matter how much self care I applied, I couldn't recover from the stress that the job was causing me."

There is a limit to how much self care you can apply.
Read 11 tweets
May 25, 2019
From time to time I still think about a conversation I had years ago with a man who “debated” me on basic differences in how women and men experience workplaces, then insisted he was an “ally” and how dare I question his good intentions. So, a brief thread on allyship...
Allyship isn’t a cookie you give to yourself. It’s advocacy: a sustained set of actions that involves taking risks, in service of a longer term goal. @KimCrayton1 tweeted a while back that you have to earn your status as an ally from folks who are marginalized. 💯
“Ok, what do these actions look like? I’d like to grow in this area,” you might wonder.

Lots of little things. Call out people who interrupt URM folks in meetings. Make eye contact and assume technical expertise when asking questions to URMs. Assume we do technical work.
Read 8 tweets

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