Engineering as Art: Embracing Creativity beyond Science

Essential Takeaways


  • Workers+ engineering roles differ in scope and obligation across organizations, usually using non-common abilities for academically properly trained computer software engineers.
  • &#13

  • Workers+ engineers generally need assist with the place to concentration their focus, how considerably palms-on perform is enough, and how to juggle all their obligations.
  • &#13

  • Though engineering is a scientific self-discipline by mother nature, we can seem at the lifetime of an artist and the difficulties they encounter to attract inspiration.
  • &#13

  • Artists normally experience worries like writer’s block and impostor syndrome, which are also usually professional by engineers.
  • &#13

  • Techniques these as enhancing recognition of your environment, becoming a far better listener, and continually building new associations are all solutions that can enable you grow to be a a lot more productive and compassionate team+ engineer.
  • &#13


Attaining a staff+ engineering position is a substantial accomplishment that numerous engineers find as the up coming move in their profession advancement. All workers+ positions are distinctive, and exactly what your job entails can often be murky.

Based on the dimensions of your business, you could be the only personnel+ engineer, or there may possibly be dozens or hundreds of other engineers in identical roles to you. The amount of personnel+ engineers, the kind of software package you are producing, and the administration construction all perform a element in shaping your function.

In this article, we’ll discuss the worries that employees+ engineers can deal with and how our struggles are identical to individuals of artists. Specially, we’ll glance at the parallels between developing artwork, developing computer software, and working with organizational dynamics.

We’ll concentration on these subjects as:


  • Main without having authority
  • &#13

  • Dealing with psychological discomfort and impostor syndrome
  • &#13

  • Getting and setting up interactions with your peers
  • &#13

  • Bringing tips from inception to completion
  • &#13

  • Embracing distress, even failure, to mature
  • &#13

Right before we dive into the worries that employees+ engineers encounter, let’s review what condition these roles commonly choose within an business and what the profession ladder may well seem like for specific contributors versus managers.

Staff members+ Archetypes

Will Larson’s Workers Engineer is a guideline for many of us getting into the position of workers engineer or searching for advice on how other specific contributors handle their professions. Larson identifies 4 widespread archetypes for employees engineers that he has encountered.


  • The Tech Guide guides the technique and execution of a particular team. They companion carefully with a solitary manager but at times with two or three managers in a targeted area.
  • &#13

  • The Architect is accountable for a essential area’s route, quality, and technique. They merge in-depth knowledge of complex constraints, consumer wants, and firm-degree leadership.
  • &#13

  • The Solver digs deep into arbitrarily complex complications and finds an proper route forward. Some aim on a provided space for long periods.
  • &#13

  • The Suitable Hand extends an executive’s consideration, borrowing their scope and authority to function specifically complicated businesses.
  • &#13

I have mostly operated in the Tech Guide part for my vocation, but I have also dabbled in Architect.

Exterior of these archetypes, I’ve located that our roles can be imprecise and formed by private practical experience and organizational dynamics. If you have grown at your organization about time from a senior placement to staff members+, you almost certainly are filling a different require/position than somebody employed from outside the organization. Particularly for older businesses with tech financial debt or legacy units, historical context plays a enormous aspect in how very well you can function and impact the corporation. Beginning a occupation where you’re hired as a employees+ engineer can be notably challenging. I’ll discuss a handful of strategies of overcoming these worries later in the write-up.

Parallels to Art

I lately browse a guide referred to as The Imaginative Act: A Way of Currently being by Rick Rubin. Some of you may perhaps have listened to of Rubin (he is an American history govt famous for his eclectic mix of artists across musical genres, this sort of as hip hop, large metal, alternate rock, etc.). He has generated albums for the Beastie Boys, Operate DMC, Metallica, and many others.

I picked up this e book because I was sensation a pull in direction of inventive pursuits in my daily life. Which, to be genuine, I’ve always struggled with as an engineer.


“To reside as an artist is a way of getting in the environment. A way of perceiving. A exercise of spending focus. Refining our sensitivity to tune in to the far more refined notes. Wanting for what attracts us in and what pushes us absent. Noticing what experience tones crop up and where they direct.” – Rick Rubin


Get rid of the strategy that you are not inventive or a creator. Everything we make in our life consists of creativity, from producing application to composing paperwork. We’re not just technicians. Art and engineering are each about experimentation. Embracing ambiguity, executing discovery, and crafting a resolution (possibly to a issue or crafting a masterpiece) is a process we all abide by when resolving problems or making art.

In between the guide and a handful of interviews I’ve listened to with Rubin, I’d like to draw on some of the lessons he shared and takeaways from a much more inventive daily life that I imagine we can use to encourage our careers as personnel+ engineers.

Remaining open to new tips

Rubin talks about this concept of creativeness/crystal clear contemplating coming to us far more effortlessly if you have a sensitive “antenna”. I want to contact on this and his dialogue on normally being curious and searching for clues/transmissions.

Have you at any time sat in a familiar space with absolutely nothing to do (no Television, cellphone, tablet, tunes, etc) and seen one thing you in no way observed right before? A thing on the ceiling or wall? Becoming bored is a thing we’ve missing, and with distractions constantly stealing our focus and attention, we’re not as attuned to notice subtleties in day-to-day daily life. This point out of recognition is some thing artists curate in buy to draw inspiration in their daily lives and the globe about them. How much extra attuned to our workforce and a much better listener could we be if we increased our awareness?

Check out meditation if you battle with keeping emphasis or come to feel pulled to several responsibilities at the same time. If mediation is not for you, consider leaving your cellular phone in a further place all through the workday or apply being bored. I know that sounds counterintuitive, but give it a opportunity. Go exterior and sit on a park bench for 20 minutes with no interruptions and soon after a couple minutes, you will understand how significantly extra attune to your surroundings you’ve turn into.

Cultivate a beginner’s mentality

The up coming topic I’d like to contact on is cultivating a beginner’s way of thinking. A beginner’s way of thinking can be summarized as approaching challenges as if you have no information or knowledge in the offered arena.

Paying out yrs attaining practical experience and refining techniques might constrain our creativeness, creativeness, and focus. Cultivating a “Beginner’s Head” suggests that embracing this frame of mind can direct to acquiring new abilities, producing wiser choices, and fostering empathy. The essence of a Beginner’s Thoughts lies in liberating ourselves from preconceived notions about the potential, as a result decreasing the danger of anxiety or disappointment.

Adopting a beginner’s frame of mind proves valuable for artists, letting them to conquer resourceful blocks, initiate refreshing tips, and split totally free from self-imposed constraints. Even so, this attitude is broader than artists engineers and much less artistic people today can also gain from it. Through several years of devoted apply and execution, our minds unconsciously develop recurring patterns, reworking them into psychological shortcuts, regulations, and ideal practices.

I have experienced achievement finding into a beginner’s mentality over the decades by averting pre-judgment when mastering new technologies and working with a novice in the domain. Taking part in physical exercises in which you are exterior your consolation zone, asking thoughts, and listening exhibits your desire in discovering but also allows you from jumping to conclusions about how you assume a thing really should operate dependent on experience.

Writer’s block

Do you generally struggle to make development on a challenging dilemma? Artists generally battle to crack through creative or psychological blocks, which we simply call writer’s block. In distinction, engineering troubles can acquire on a comparable form. I want to explore a handful of methods to deal with writer’s block head on.

Consider little measures

I usually truly feel confused by how significant a process looks at the start out. How I make progress and deal with the anxiousness is to crack up the function into workable chunks – even scheduling time for myself in my calendar to work on it. For this article for occasion, I knew how long I needed it to be and a tough outline, so I explained to myself, “publish 5 minutes of information a working day for five days up coming week”. Just publish down whichever comes into your head for every single subject matter and the adhering to week, edit.

As writers, we frequently get caught in the lure of striving to produce and edit concurrently, creating us feel stuck in the loop of writing and re-crafting. Having these tiny actions towards a bigger objective can give you a perception of accomplishment each individual day and make the extra sizeable job seem to be considerably less frustrating.

Remove interruptions / change your surroundings

I’m a massive supporter of the thought of Deep Work, popularized by Cal Newport. A story in his e book resonated with me about a novelist who flew round-excursion to Tokyo, composing through the total flight to Japan. After landing, he drank an espresso, turned all around, and flew again, once more writing the whole way, arriving back dwelling right after 30 hrs, now with a accomplished manuscript in tow.

This story resonated with me due to the fact I felt the same each individual time I flew. Becoming pressured to sit in a single position with minor distraction aids me obvious my head and target on a one activity. Generating a radical modify to your environment and investing significant effort and hard work or cash into supporting a deep get the job done activity can enhance the task’s perceived value.

One more thought exercising on this topic is how generally we superficially contemplate alternatives to a trouble. For occasion, we have a good concept in the shower but do not permit ourselves additional than a number of minutes to dig in. We deal with issues “on the floor” but don’t get at the meat of the challenge. Owning the place and time to do this is in which your finest thoughts glow.

Enjoy with alternate mediums

Another “trick” I like to use for myself and my groups is shifting how we connect or imagine about a trouble. Just one of the easiest and quickest means to do that is to draw alternatively of converse about an concern.

Visible interaction has gotten additional complicated with virtual conferences, but it is still useful. We are likely to believe issues about in our heads and not compose out a problem or draw it out. The two of these are fantastic strategies of forcing on your own to set down concepts to paper and perform out the particulars.

If you are common with the rubber duck paradigm in programming, you could also use this for drawing. Invite anyone to pay attention to your idea, even if you really do not want or aren’t prepared for feedback. Make absolutely sure to set the tone that this a secure house for concepts.

Be an anthropologist

Yet another location I normally see folks needing assistance with is understanding and figuring out organizational dynamics and lifestyle. It really is not stunning in huge companies (>few thousand engineers), but have also found it in more compact corporations (>100 but < 1k). As companies create management and corporate structures, engineers often need help with what happens above their immediate line manager.

To help folks understand better, I take on the task of being an anthropologist. An anthropologist’s job is to study the lives of humans in past and present societies worldwide. Parallel the world to your company and get exploring! Get to know people in other parts of the business, folks who’ve been at the company a while who can share context and give background. Most often, this happens serendipitously over time, but I find getting to it quicker, and intentionally, often helps. When I started at a new company recently, I set out to conduct 1:1s with at least 20% of the folks working in my organization in my first 30-60 days. The 1:1s helped me come up to speed quickly. It also was an opportunity to learn, through the interview questions I mention below, how engineers and managers feel about their roles and what struggles and challenges I need to develop.

Overcoming Staff+ Challenges

In this section, I’ll describe how approaching our role as an artist can help with some of the challenges of staff+ positions. We’ll touch on the parallels we drew to being an artist and how those can help navigate some of the challenges in your role.

Leading without authority

Many of you may have read a great book on this topic by Keith Ferazzi, called Leading Without Authority. The area I’d like to touch on here specifically is co-elevation.

Co-elevation is key

Co-elevation is a mission-driven approach to collaborative problem-solving through fluid partnerships and self-organizing teams. When we co-elevate with one or more of our associates, we turn them into teammates.

How do you establish relationships to build self-organizing teams and co-elevate? We talked earlier about being an anthropologist to learn your organization’s and various teams’ inner workings. Use this exercise to build relationships with different folks across the organization. Build trust and credibility with them.

Develop a set of questions you use to ask during the time you have with them. These questions will help set the tone for the interaction, but keep it light to not make it seem like an interview. Your goal here is to listen, not talk! Be an active listener.

Interview questions

Set the tone by first getting context from the interviewee. Ask them to give a talk about what they do at the company (team, job function), and if comfortable, a little about themselves on a personal level. Next, gather feedback on how they feel about their role at the company. What is working well for them and what is most frustrating. Lastly, ask for advice. What should I be aware of that I may be missing?

Use this set of questions to establish your relationships. For the ones you think are valuable, stay in touch with those folks every few months to keep the connection active. These interviews can help you understand a beginner’s mind, seeing problems from a perspective you are not the expert in.

Peer Relationships

Another challenge is building on leading without authority and establishing solid relationships with peers. If you happen to be in an organization that doesn’t have a ton of other folks in your role, you may struggle with this.

A few suggestions on how or where to build peer relationships:


  • Look outside your immediate team. If your company doesn’t have one, try to form a peer group of all the staff+ engineers in your organization.
  • &#13

  • Look outside your company. There are a few communities where staff+ engineers gather to discuss common topics and share feedback. Rand’s Leadership Slack is an excellent place to start if you’re looking for folks in the industry outside your company.
  • &#13

Be sure to maintain and nurture relationships with folks you used to work with who may have grown into a similar role. I have a peer group that I meet with regularly who now work across a few companies to keep this going. It’s a great resource for bouncing ideas, holding myself up to date with the challenges faced across companies and industries.

A few areas I think this can help in our staff+ roles:


  • Someone who compliments your skill set
  • &#13

  • Someone you can “rubber duck” ideas with
  • &#13

  • Someone who can commiserate with you on shared struggles
  • &#13

Impostor Syndrome

The topic of impostor syndrome comes up fairly often in our industry. I have often faced this, especially when starting a new company. Artists often feel impostors syndrome as well (look at all these famous artists I’m comparing myself too, how can I possibly create something new that would be as good as that?).

Despite outward success and a set of successful work, you still feel like a fraud. These feelings are natural and many people have them, so take some comfort in that. Allow yourself to fail and feel uncomfortable and exposed to the challenge. You can overcome self-doubt and this feeling by being open and authentic, and sharing your experience with others.

We often only see others’ successes, but know that in the background they have had setbacks too (rejected conference proposals, causing a production outage at work, etc.). Find colleagues you can celebrate success with and share each other’s failures. Remember to be open and authentic, no one is perfect.

Above all, find what works for you. Don’t assume that what someone else does will make you happy or help you overcome these feelings.

Embrace Discomfort

Artists, like us, suffer rejection quite often but you need to know you are good, your creation is worthwhile, and you will grow from experience.

For me, embracing discomfort is all about facing challenges you dislike and not taking the easy path. Tackle the complex problems, don’t “snack”. Avoid low-effort, low impact work where possible. These tasks may feel rewarding to check off your list, but never tackling something of substance will hurt in the long run. Often, high effort, high impact tasks are the most challenging, which may result in failure or humiliation. Public humiliation is not ideal and hopefully you work in an environment that embraces failure. Still, we need to be comfortable putting ourselves out there (like artists do with paintings), taking criticism, and using it to improve.

Don’t try something because you think you might fail. There are a lot of cliques about failing, but at the core of it, many of them are true. You learn from mistakes, big and small. Make time to try hard things, get your hands dirty, and put your creations out in the world.

Part of embracing this sort of work and discomfort is making time for it.  Let’s discuss that in the next section.

Time Management Myths

I read this book recently about time management, Four Thousand Weeks, by Oliver Burkeman. It wasn’t really about time management, as much as a philosophical look at how much time we have in our lives. Four thousand weeks (assuming you live to be 80)!

The book gets at the core of how we should value our time and less about trying to squeeze every last minute out of the day to be more productive. In some ways, our obsession with productivity is making us more miserable. Your to-do list will never be done. We think if we can finish this project, presentation, etc., then we’ll be done. You’re never done.

We need to give ourselves time to think, daydream, and use the skills I discussed earlier (being an active listener and increasing the sensitivity of your antenna).

Make time for unplanned work in your day. Most of us wake up with a to-do list, jump on meetings, and immediately get caught up in our workday with email and Slack messages. Try to set aside some time when you have nothing planned. In this unplanned time, think about a problem you may have been trying to solve recently that doesn’t need an immediate solution. We talked before about changing up your environment or medium use this time to do that. Go for a walk or draw, anything that could help you escape the usual trappings of your work day.


As we discussed, staff+ engineering roles vary in scope and responsibility across companies. Engineers in staff+ roles often struggle with where to focus their attention and how to juggle responsibilities. By comparing some of the struggles of a staff+ engineer to that of an artist, we’ve identified a few practices that can improve our focus, attention, and effectiveness as engineers.

Here are a few actionable things you can take away and try yourself:


  • Don’t try to micromanage every aspect of your day&#13

    • Set aside 1-2 hours in the morning or afternoon (block your calendars) at least twice a week for unplanned work
    • &#13


  • &#13

  • Build new relationships&#13

    • Try to meet at least one new person in your company once a month
    • &#13

    • Join (or start) some form of peer mentoring program
    • &#13


  • &#13

  • Work on improving active listening&#13

    • Mediation is not for everyone, but find something that works for you (walks, quiet time, etc.)
    • &#13

    • Commit to spending 30 minutes a few times a week exploring this space to improve
    • &#13


  • &#13