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How NOT to build a software engineering team

Technology is running the show in most industries these days, and financial services is no exception. Sometimes, the finance culture can be at odds with programmers, making it vital to build teams right.

David Tate, a lead engineer at investment solutions fintech Orion, recently channeled his inner Andrew Tate as he wrote about the toxic traits that can stifle productivity in engineers from the foundation upwards. Tate's primary principles for creating a toxic team are:

  • Create inconsistent and often unattainable goals, punishing engineers for not achieving them and refusing to praise them when they do. Make sure they believe they aren't Kenough
  • Become an absent leader and refuse to be clear about your and the team's direction if you do appear.
  • Assert authority to shame others in any case of failure so as to stifle creativity.

Fellow software engineers also weighed in on what engineering managers do that irks them profusely.  One paraphrased Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, saying, “Happy development teams are all alike; every unhappy development team is unhappy in their own unique way.” These are some of the many other ways they can be toxic:

Micromanaging Code

Creating a rigid structure in the code, from the functions used to the number of lines of code, stifles both creativity and productivity.

One engineering manager regaled a story of his director comparing a more productive android engineer and less productive IOS engineer, demanding the latter "write his code exactly like the Android guy, down to function and var names, classes, logic, etc." despite the two workflows operating completely differently.

A point of contention in this regard was daily stand-ups. One engineer said they "focus on the grind to ensure meaningful change can never occur" while another said "both the best and worst teams I worked on as a developer had identical daily stand-ups." While they can be a source of micromanagement, the engineer notes that removing them means a poor manager is "just going to micromanage you though a different medium."

Eliminate Job Security

Having a team where turnover is high will prevent them from forming meaningful relationships and working collaboratively. One engineer advises toxic leaders to "always be in hiring mode, and be vocal about it, so your employees know you're ready to replace them."

One engineer said their most toxic environment was when "the CEO had one product in mind, and then tasked 3 teams with working on a version of the product." While not as prevalent an issue anymore, competing teams was once a common trend in finance, particularly on the buy-side.

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AUTHORAlex McMurray Reporter

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