The importance of a strong engineering culture
Jelena Laketić, Distinguished Engineer
Strategy is essential for a company’s success. An effective business strategy is a long-term plan designed to give direction and help the company reach its vision. When defining the strategy, purpose needs to be taken into the equation as well. If one looks at the most successful companies today, they all have their purpose at the core of their strategy.
However, a company can’t be successful with just strategy and purpose alone — a healthy culture is essential.
Peter Drucker’s famous line, “culture eats strategy for breakfast,” is still very applicable. It reminds us that even the best strategies will fail if there is nobody engaged and interested in bringing them to life. To turn the strategy into success, the company needs employees fully on board to embrace and implement it. What makes people truly motivated to do so is the sharing of best practices and the fostering of positive attitudes and values within the company.
That is what your company’s culture is.
Compare your organization to a garden: even if you have a great vision for your garden and you supplied it with good quality seeds, if your soil is not hydrated and fertilized properly, your garden will not grow. Healthy soil is essential for healthy growth and for creating more resilient plants in case of natural disasters or pest attacks. With healthy soil, your plants will flourish and develop in ways you couldn’t even imagine in your original vision of the garden.
As soil is foundational for your garden, culture is foundational for your organization.
Nowadays — more than ever and for all the right reasons — companies are concerned about engineering culture. Engineering culture is not only important for tech companies. Every company today works with technology in one way or another, meaning that all companies need to focus on their engineering culture to succeed.
What is engineering culture and how can a strong one be established?
Like corporate culture, engineering culture is a shared set of behaviors, attitudes, values, and practices of engineers. They impact how your engineers act, make decisions, and how they feel. When we talk about engineering culture, the focus should be on the people, technologists, and the culture that is important to them.
A great engineering culture flourishes when engineers are encouraged to go beyond what they thought their limits were.
Personally, I experienced these breakthroughs in various stages of my career, both while I was a young software engineer and when I was an experienced leader. I still remember them vividly. These are the moments when the best work is produced and, more importantly, when a real difference is made. These moments will also keep the engineer going when they are experiencing challenges in their careers.
A strong engineering culture is established in an inclusive workplace where:
- Technologists are empowered to achieve and maintain excellence
- Senior technologists provide technical mentoring
- Organic, applied innovation from all roles is encouraged
- There are learning paths and communities of practice for every role and growth opportunities are available
Taken together, a great engineering culture provides purpose for the people in the technology organization and ultimately helps retain, grow, and attract talent.
In a constantly changing world, it is important to reassess your engineering culture continuously, making sure that you are listening to your technologists and that you are indeed maintaining the culture that is important to them.
Consequently, your engineering culture will be heard externally, not just through your leaders and branding campaigns, but organically, through your engineers, engineering communities, the buzz on social media, and all those channels that truly matter to the engineers.