My Name Is Paul… And I’m a Build Engineer


Nathaniel Mott wrote an interesting piece on PandoDaily last week entitled Back-End Engineers Are the Unsung Heroes of the Tech Industry.

He argues that “Designers and front-end developers get all the credit,” despite the fact that the rest of the engineers supporting that whiz-bang device consumers want also make important contributions and have serious impacts on product quality and user experience.

It’s certainly a valid argument1. It can also a very demoralizing position to be in.

One of the core components of his argument is because technical topics like “wasted CPU cycles and their effect on battery life and “the costs of (effectively) Universal binaries” can be difficult to explain to end-users, this, in-part, is why back-end-engineers remain invisible.

To these things, I can only say: “come here and give us a hug! No, no… group-hug!”

In many organizations, those performing fundamental engineering support functions—QA, release engineering, and DevOps/TechOps—know exactly this feeling, and struggle every day to make sure what they do is visible without it being in such a manner that is associated with a disaster2.

The real trick is to find a way to not only make the case that these functions, which I fully agree support engineering, are critical and important in their own regard, but to try to find a way to make the fundamentals of what many of us do day-in and day-out more understandable, relatable, and heck… interesting.

I’m sure no one cares about gmake peculiarities, but “speeding the build up by 30%? Yes plz!

And everyone loves to bad-mouth capital-P process, but that’s what turns that twenty-step ThingTM involving four-people stepping on each other editing the same wiki page into a self-serve, two-step process3.

Build/Release, QA, and DevOps Engineers have stories from their every day they could tell you about these sorts of things. All they need is someone to listen4.

And to our newest generation of “unsung-heroes”: you’re always welcome at our Unsung Heroes Anonymous meetings.

The coffee’s free.

And the cookies usually aren’t too bad.

1 Those claiming “engineers’ paychecks are they ‘thanks’ they get, and they shouldn’t expect any more.” are really missing the point
2 Most notably, in my profession, the release engineering team “blocking a release”; long-time QA’ers have felt the brunt of this too, I’m sure
3 If you follow these three simple rules
4 And maybe sometimes read a lil’ between the lines…