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WebDevStudios: Day in the Life of a Senior Engineer

Aubrey Portwood, Senior Engineer
Aubrey Portwood, Senior Engineer

Aubrey Portwood

JOB TITLE: Senior Engineer
YEARS AT WEBDEVSTUDIOS: 6+

Six years ago I landed my dream job, yep, right here at WebDevStudios.

I actually started off as a Frontend Engineer, but less than a year later I switched to being a full-time Backend Engineer. I was then promoted to Senior Engineer, and it wasn’t long until I eventually made it to Lead Engineer!

That’s when my story got interesting.

You see, I wasn’t cut out to be a lead. It was not because I wasn’t capable but simply because my heart wasn’t in management. I wanted to be a leader on projects, but I wanted to keep my hands dirty, do the work, and write the code.

💡 If you’re dying to do more, want to keep your hands dirty, but stay out of management, being a Senior Engineer might be the right calling for you. Pay attention to these points throughout this blog for tips on making the move.

WebDevStudios (WDS) understands what it means to love your work; and so when I went back to being a Senior Engineer, I found my sweet spot. Being a Senior Engineer is seriously the most fun position at WDS, if you ask me. Keep your eye out for WDS Senior Engineer job postings here.

So what does a Senior Engineer at WebDevStudios do anyway?

Leads from the Middle

I had never heard of this concept until our Engineering Manager, Justin Foell, defined it for me. Just because I didn’t want to be a Lead Engineer didn’t mean I didn’t want to lead—quite the opposite.

I just didn’t want to manage.

I wanted to be in the trenches and get my hands dirty with my friends. Being in the senior position for the second time gave me an opportunity to learn what it means to lead from the middle. Leading from the middle is made up of a few ingredients:

  • Experience
  • Willingness
  • Awareness

On any given project, you can count on a Senior Engineer to know just about what everyone’s thinking: from the client, to the Project Manager, to the rest of the engineers, to the Lead, and up. A Senior Engineer has their ear to the ground and is intently invested in knowing what’s going on at all times in the group. That’s what makes them leaders from the middle.

💡 Lead by doing (don’t just wait to be told what to do—call your shots), and help keep projects on track. 

Helps Pave the Path

I am a natural organizer and communicator—whether that’s code, Slack, my office layout, or a Jira board. I’m the type of person who gains comfort from executing a clear and well-defined plan. Therefore, part of my time is spent helping my favorite people at WebDevStudios: Project Managers (PM). 

Not all PMs know node from git; so as a Senior Engineer, I’m often helping PMs get a technical grasp of the engineering side of a project. This usually involves helping a PM understand the technical details of a bug, plan out a new feature, organize a small team of engineers, or asset ways to keep a project thriving for our clients. I’ve also helped out on a project plan or two.

💡 When a Project Manager has a question, have a helpful answer.

Senior Engineers have been around the block a few times.

This is fine [GIF]

If you’re a senior, there’s probably one single fact that can be said about you: you’ve been around the block a few times.

You’ve seen things crash and burn, and you’ve seen things flourish and thrive! You were once upon a time a really stressed out individual, but have since learned how to find perspective, keep calm, and march on.

At some point along the road, you’ll simply reach a level where you start to notice the patterns from project to project, the seasons of a year, and connect with the ebb and flow of working in the field we do. Time helps define and refine a senior engineer. So, take a walk around the block a few times before jumping into this role.

💡 Learn from your past, give it time, and be open to new and challenging experiences.

You Stuck?

I like to think I’ve mastered the art of smashing the blocking pattern. Is WP-Rocket’s API not able to access the site because we have to keep basic auth enabled? Well, can we maybe allowlist WP-Rocket’s IP’s so it can get through? Let’s open up WP Engine chat and figure that out. Can’t get an ACF field to work the way you want? Can we inject some JavaScript to stop its default behavior and hack it to do what we want? Something important come up and can’t get connected to the right person?

I think you get the point.

A big part of how a Senior Engineer helps out is putting their experience to good use helping others get unblocked and back to rocking!

💡 Have a nothing is impossible attitude and help others find answers and their confidence.

Makes Noise

I have been accused of being an over-communicator—and I’m fine with that.

I believe communication is the oxygen of a successful project and company. I think an important part of being a Senior Engineer comes from your willingness to make (and put up with) some noise. Whether that’s pulling someone out of their comfort zone (usually yourself), the zillions of pings in Slack, documenting “all-the-thingz,” saying what everyone is thinking on a Zoom call, or asking for accountability from others—as a Senior you’re going to have to make some noise.

💡 Be the one to speak up when everyone else is silent, and remember the squeaky wheel gets the grease.

Mentors Others

I remember a time when I was always anxious and nervous about what to do next, whether my code was good enough, or whether I even belong here. Again, I’ve been around the block… not everyone has.

Often other engineers need a different mirror to look at themselves in, as a Senior, you’re that mirror. The best cure to imposter syndrome is a Senior Engineer who can relate to their fellow engineers and let them know it’s okay. Mentoring (or just being an experienced friend, as I like to call it) is one of my favorite roles as a senior-level engineer.

I have built many of my strongest friendships at WDS mentoring (or being mentored by) others.

💡 Relate to others more; judge them less.

Does the Hard Stuff

If you thought you were going to get away with learning only about the cool things of being a Senior Engineer, you’re reading this blog post wrong!

Being a senior requires a great deal of courage, strength, and endurance as you are often called in to do the hard things. Remember, though: it’s because you can!

Being willing to drudge through the dirt and mud is all part of being a Senior Engineer. However, you know there’s light at the end of tunnel (remember, we’ve been around the block a few times), and you have the experience to know you will get through hard times and come out the other side alive. (With scars to show off when it’s all said and done.)

💡 Volunteer to do more hard stuff (don’t worry; you’ll come out alive).

Turns Things Around

The most rewarding part of being a senior is being able to turn things around.

Nothing is better than seeing something going south turn around for the better, and often Senior Engineers are at the heart of helping that happen. No one wants things to go wrong, but when they do, you need to turn things around—and usually quickly!

Getting a project back in balance, or fixing a critical time-sensitive bug can be nerve-wrecking, sure, but seeing it all turn around makes it all worth it. The super power of a Senior Engineer is the ability to turn things around.

💡 Find valuable goals on projects and help others focus on them.

If you’re a Senior Engineer I’d love to hear what you think being one is all about. What did I miss, or what do you think I got wrong? Please leave a comment.

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