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Highway Maintenance

In many ways, engineering is not unlike driving on a motorway.

Yes, I know it’s a geeky analogy, but it’s one worth making.

See, to run a successful engineering team, it can be useful to step back and imagine individual contributors as cars on a motorway, as part of a circuit. There are usually lots of different vehicles, and they all move at variable speeds, both individually and as a convoy.

Here at Seccl, we hire and develop Associate Engineers, Software Engineers, QA Engineers, Senior Engineers, Engineering Managers, Heads of Engineering and more.

Now, I’m not comparing our engineers to cars, but it’s fair to say they all perform differently and have varying engine capabilities, gears, brakes and components. (Okay, maybe I am comparing our engineers to cars.)

But looking at our engineering culture through a “motorway maintenance” lens can be helpful in terms of simplifying a complex working system.

Let’s look at why…

If you build it, they will come

Before you can put any cars on the road, you have to build your motorway. And it’s the responsibility of the entire group to ensure the road is suitable for the journey.

This means providing the road signs, rails and hard shoulder (think strategy, vision and goals if you’re taking this analogy literally). The Tarmac also needs to be smooth to ensure cars have low rolling resistance and can complete their journey efficiently.

Just like it’s important to build pit stops on the motorway, people need regular check-ins to ensure they have what they need and to evaluate the rest of the journey. In this example, management is the service station. We provide clear entry and exit ramps and want to support an engineer’s whole journey, while ensuring the system continues to run effectively and imposing a speed limit.

You’ve got to know when to switch lanes

Whether you’ve driven before or not, you’ll know that there are multiple lanes on the motorway, and in this example, the journey travels in a clockwise loop.

This tracks in engineering culture, too. Our Associate Engineers drive in lane one. It takes them a little longer to complete the circuit as they are learning the rules of the road and gaining confidence. Luckily, their lane is closer to the service stations, so they can pause regularly to check in.

In lane two, we have the regular Engineers. They are usually a little savvier on the road, but still need to spend some time in lane one from time to time – although they have slightly more confidence than Associate Engineers, and bigger engines. They navigate the road ahead well and will seek opportunities to move into lane three.

Lane three is where the Senior Engineers drive. They are very experienced on these roads, so they sometimes slow down to let a driver from lane two overtake and lead the convoy. Our senior engineers still need to visit the service station and check in regularly to ensure their vehicles are working at their best, like fine-tuning a well-oiled machine.

Situational awareness is crucial

As long as everybody works together from their different lanes, and communicates well, the cars will move forward smoothly and ensure an optimal journey for everyone.

However, if you have too many cars on the road, or a car from lane one tries to swing straight to lane three without warning and causes an accident, the overall journey will be held up. This is where situational awareness is vital – you need to be aware of what your fellow drivers are doing (as well as what you’re doing) and mind those potholes!

So, the general guidelines are the same for drivers as they are for engineers: stay in your lane until you’re ready to venture across, work as a team with others on the road, and take regular pitstops.

Oh, and don’t fall asleep at the wheel.

Published 17 March 2022, with 650 words.