DEV Community


Posted on

Reflecting on “Technical Leadership and Glue Work” / “Being Glue”

There is a talk by Tanya Reilly called “Technical leadership and glue work” and a blog post transcribing it called “Being Glue.” (From here on, I will refer to it as “the article” unless specifically mentioning the talk).

Being Glue — No Idea Blog

Slides and notes for the Being Glue talk.


Career as an Individual Contributor, not a Manager

Tanya Reilly, the author, is a former Staff Systems Engineer at Google and currently works as a Principal Software Engineer at Squarespace. As her job titles suggest, she has been successful in her career by advancing as an engineer rather than a manager.

There are several books on engineering management such as “The Manager’s Path” and “The Making of a Manager,” but there are not many books geared toward senior Individual Contributor (IC) positions. One such book is “Staff Engineer: Leadership beyond the management track.” And Tanya Reilly published her own book “The Staff Engineer’s Path” in 2022.

Glue Work and its dangers

“Glue Work” is the main topic of the article and refers to tasks like helping unblock other team members, reviewing design documents, and onboarding new members. These tasks may seem non-technical at first glance, but according to the author, they are part of “technical leadership” and are expected of senior developers. However, focusing too much on these tasks before reaching a senior level can harm one’s career, as it leaves less time for more “technical” tasks like coding and hinders the development of the technical skills required for promotion to senior positions.

In the article, a story of a female engineer is used to illustrate this point. It seems that many people can relate to her story. The author also mentions that women tend to be asked to do more of this type of work that doesn’t lead to promotions compared to men.

What should and shouldn’t I be doing?

So far, I have introduced the article. From here, I will share my own experience. I have spent a significant portion of my work hours on Glue Work throughout my career. I don’t dislike coding or lack interest in technology, but I tend to choose opportunities that allow me to contribute to projects and teams in ways other than coding.

I have made these choices because I felt that they were the most significant contributions I could make at the time, or because I found them the most interesting. However, upon reflection, I wonder if some aspects of my career choices have been less than optimal. For example, I consider my slowness in getting tasks done compared to other engineers around me to be a significant weakness as an engineer, and I believe that this is a result of my past choices.

I have been in the industry for six years now, and engineering management has become a popular topic in Japan since I entered the field. I have always thought that I might eventually move toward that direction, so I didn’t prioritize spending more time on “technical” tasks like coding. However, the article on Glue Work has made me reconsider the importance of the work I choose to do daily in shaping my career.

Lately, I have been thinking that continuing to work in the same way might not be the best for my team either. I would like to discuss my work and approach with my team members, manager, or even people outside my company to gain new perspectives.

Top comments (0)