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4 types of engineers

Austin King (he/him)
Helping on-calls be superheroes. Creating OpsDrill.com. Previously Sr Software Engineer at Amazon and AWS.
・1 min read

There are 4 types of engineers: Starters, Maintainers, Optimizers, and Operators. I've found this to be a super helpful model for understanding different my work life. Which is your dominant trait?

The Starter loves to start new projects. They can rapidly build an MVP. They are great with ambiguity and design. They are customer obsessed.

The Maintainer is reliable, loves structure, and is a work horse. Every day they are carving the stones that build the multi-generational cathedral that will last for centuries.

The Optimizer loves puzzles, algorithms, and are often competitive. They know how to load test the software, profile the code, and get satisfaction out of shipping highly performant code.

The Operator loves to learn the ins and outs of an existing system. They know how to deploy it. They love operational readiness. They are experts on the infrastructure. They gleefully find bugs and know everything about the software.

If you put a Maintainer on a greenfield project to build a prototype, they will be miserable. The Starter thrives on a blank canvas and evaluating cutting edge technologies. The maintainer will be frustrated with the lack of focus and craves incremental progress as a SME.

What do you think of this idea?

Discussion (3)

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Austin King (he/him) Author

Talking to a friend recently during their job search, they have been using this framework to ask dev managers which type of engineer they are looking to hire. They have found this really speeds up the conversation and helps filter opportunities quickly.

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Hossein Kazemi

Do you consider Finishers as the fifth type?

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Austin King (he/him) Author

Ha! I think a criticism against Starters is that they never "finish" anything and are always onto the next project. This is true in a way, but doesn't value their super power of working on a blank canvas.