Let junior engineers speak


Imagine a team meeting. It is attended by a diverse group: folks of different experience, skills, age, background, culture, work title, and time on the team.

I experienced hundreds of such meetings in my career. These meetings are usually dominated by:

  1. Extroverts

  2. More experienced colleagues (Senior engineers, leads, managers, and higher)

  3. Folks that are on the team for a long time

  4. Top performers

(a single person can match all 4 :)

Completely unrelated picture I took in Austria

This makes sense: if I know something well, I can:

  • provide good feedback

  • guide the team

  • bring the best ideas

  • do the right thing

Sounds great: the project is taken care of well.

Now let’s talk about junior members of the team. Can they grow well in such an environment?

Collaboration for everyone

Collaboration is the core part of software engineering: one cannot succeed without the help of others.

In order to collaborate, we need to interact with each other. It’s a skill. The more we practice collaboration and communication, the better we do it. No surprise here.

So, if juniors get overrun in the team meetings: it’s hard for them to improve their collaborative skills. And this can be frustrating. Hearing their ideas may produce even better solutions!

Here are 5 tips

Provide a way for ALL your team members to give feedback, discuss topics, and take responsibility.

  1. Give everyone an opportunity to lead a meeting. Yes, everyone! Rotate that role. All members now get a chance to speak.

  2. Before switching topics in a meeting, ask everyone if there are any further questions. Someone may still have an idea in their mind. If they are shy, allow them to contribute it offline after the meeting in chat, issue tracker, or a mailing list. As an example, you may say: “Thank you for the fruitful discussion. If there are no further questions. «Pause» Ricardo, please provide a brief summary in the ticket. If anyone has more ideas, write them in that ticket.”

  3. Involve people who already have experience in the discussed topic. Those who worked in that area in the past. You can ask: “Lisa, you touched this feature last, does the proposal look good to you?”, alternatively, “Andy, as our infrastructure expert, I’d be curious hearing your opinion on this matter.”

  4. Provide a platform where everyone can bring ideas to discuss as a team. This can be a mailing list, team chat, weekly meeting, or a discussion board (e.g. discourse). Make sure that everyone is subscribed and participating regularly. All the discussions and decisions are then made “as a team”. Even adding a 👍 emoji as a reaction to a post is a valuable contribution.

  5. If you are the experienced one, think before you speak. Can others solve the discussed issue without me? If I stay silent, will someone else speak up? Will my words contribute to the discussion with something that no one else can provide? These are the questions that run through my head before I speak up in a meeting.

This article is not meant to offend anyone. I do not blame people for being too vocal in meetings. If anything, I write the article for myself. I started noticing these patterns on me when I realized I take away opportunities from my peers. I was frustrated in my junior days when I had hard time speaking up in meetings. It was an epiphany to see that I do the same to juniors now what I perceived in the past as a junior engineer.

Some ideas above are implemented in our team, Packit, and they work very well for us.

Thank you, Jirka, for peer-review of this article.

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