What Differentiates Exceptional Software Engineers

Career advice from Timothy James, an instructor at Pitt and manager at Google.

What is the difference between an average software engineer and a exceptional sofware engineer? Communication is a good start, but there are many differentiators.

Intellectual Curiosity

  • An average software engineer is OK get what they need from an API and assume that what's underneath is magic.
  • An exceptional software engineer wants to know how and why it works and how those constraints and nuances affect the system.

Quality

  • An average software engineer is ok to use something like PHP that lets them get the job done quickly.
  • An exceptional software engineer wants to build something that will last and is willing to take a bit more time to do it.

Constructive

  • An average software engineer is critical.
  • An exceptional software engineer is constructive.

Role

  • An average software engineer thinks about their own part and delivers it.
  • An exceptional software engineer thinks about how it fits into the rest of the team's work and makes decisions on that basis.

Uplift Others

  • An average software engineer works the best they can to deliver their own work.
  • An exceptional software engineer works the best they can to make everyone around them better.

Product Sense

  • An average software engineer builds to the written requirements.
  • An exceptional software engineer builds to the actual needs.

Skillset

  • An average software works in code.
  • An exceptional software engineer works in code, design docs, collaboration, whiteboard, testing, monitoring, and other media.

Showing Up

  • An average software engineer does what they need to do.
  • An exceptional software engineer steps up when the team needs it.

Humility

  • An average software engineer hopes they don't get asked about something they don't know.
  • An exceptional software engineer takes ownership of what they don't know and therefore gets approached a lot.

Wisdom

  • An average software engineer wants to be an exceptional software engineer.
  • An exceptional software engineer knows when it's appropriate to be an average software engineer.

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Last updated: Feb 24th 2021