2 Steady, 2 Diligent: How Engineers Can Maintain Speed Without Sacrificing Quality

Speed can come at a cost. But it doesn’t have to come at the expense of quality.

Written by Jeff Kirshman
Published on May. 04, 2022
2 Steady, 2 Diligent: How Engineers Can Maintain Speed Without Sacrificing Quality
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There are a lot of merits to working quickly in tech, an industry in which agility is often attributed to a company’s success.  

The faster an organization works, the thinking goes, the greater its advantage over slower competition. This climate favors optimization and efficiency: Stay ahead of the curve and adapt to trends without skipping a beat, and a business will deliver unparalleled customer value on a continuous basis. 

But speed can come at a cost — particularly when placing an undue burden on engineering teams to produce on accelerated timelines. Quality, after all, takes time. Repeatedly sacrifice QA guardrails at the expense of developer velocity, and companies run the risk of losing the credibility with customers their shortcuts were trying to attain. 

“Moving fast isn’t a good thing in and of itself,” explained Jack Maris, a tech lead at fintech company Atom Finance. “If your team values collaboration and minimizing bureaucracy, you’ll get a lot done. But if they set unrealistic standards and don’t have a proper QA process, you’ll ship a lot of buggy code at high velocity.”

Maris is right, but there’s another element at play: Working fast also wears people down, and mistakes can lead to burnout. Push engineers too hard for too long, and they won’t simply deliver an inferior product: They’ll also become exhausted.

“If you’re working too fast, you’ll usually see some of the following symptoms: burnout, bugs in production, mounting tech debt and team-wide mistrust,” Maris continued. “There’s one solution, which is to calibrate team output to capacity. An effective leader will monitor output over time and adjust expectations based upon that.”

To learn more about effective leadership and reducing pressure on engineers, Built In New York connected with three local tech professionals to ask how they balance quick execution with practices that minimize burnout and emphasize quality work in a stress-reduced work environment. 

 

Chris Korhonen | Nathan Stanton
CTO | CPO • Share Local Media

 

Share Local Media works with e-commerce companies to create targeted and trigger-based direct mail campaigns.

 

How does moving fast as an engineer benefit you, your skill set and your overall career?

Korhonen: As a software engineer, being able to move fast is a critical skill. By moving fast, you are able to iterate on your designs and prototypes quickly, which allows you to get feedback early and often. In addition, being able to move fast allows you to take advantage of opportunities as they arise. For example, if a new platform or technology becomes popular, you can quickly learn how to use it and add it to your skill set. As a result, being able to move fast is a key way to stay ahead of the curve and keep your skills up to date.

 

What strategies have you learned to work faster during your career?

Stanton: I’ve come to appreciate the “tracer bullet” approach, which entails rapid development of a prototype that demonstrates the desired functionality end-to-end, followed by incremental refinement based on feedback from users. 

The initial iterations may not look pretty, but this approach helps track the problem space, identifying potential problems with the solution, and helps get to a working solution faster. By building a more comprehensive understanding, you can more easily identify tasks and prioritize them.

Working with speed requires a strong culture of testing, both within the code and through quality assurance and monitoring.”

 

What are the potential drawbacks of working with speed, and how do you mitigate them?

Korhonen: While the speed and flexibility of rapid software development can be appealing, there are also some potential drawbacks to consider. One is that the quick turnaround time can sometimes result in lower quality code. Another is that because rapid software development is often more iterative in nature, it can be difficult to track progress and ensure that all features are being properly addressed.

Working with speed requires a strong culture of testing, both within the code and through quality assurance and monitoring. At Share Local Media, we spend time having a robust system of checks in place so that engineers can be confident when releasing. We also have automated release builds that help with quality control so product managers can iterate when needed. 

 

 

Jack Maris
Tech Lead Manager, B2B • Atom Finance

 

Atom Finance offers a collaborative software platform that leverages consensus estimates and SEC filings to help traders and market analysts track their investments. 

 

What strategies have you learned to work faster during your career?

An incomplete guide to working quickly: caffeine, maintaining healthy habits, sleeping well, using plain language and being comfortable saying when you don’t know something. If you think your team will judge you for expressing a lack of knowledge, find a different team.

Additionally, keep your mental state machine as simple as possible. People get the idea that great engineers are just preternatural geniuses. In my experience working at Atom Finance and elsewhere, everyone has the same mental capacity, more or less. Great engineers are people who have developed the habit of being extremely diligent about discarding extraneous information.

Great engineers are people who have developed the habit of being extremely diligent about discarding extraneous information.”

 

What are the potential drawbacks of working with speed, and how do you mitigate them?

Working with speed doesn’t have any pros or cons on its own. A team should work at the pace it’s capable of working at — and you see drawbacks when it’s working above or below capacity. 

 

 

Yieldstreet team members at a restaurant together
Yieldstreet

 

Alex Kharlamov
Senior Director of Engineering • Yieldstreet

 

YieldStreet is a technology platform that provides access to asset-based investments.

 

How does moving fast as an engineer benefit you, your skill set and your overall career?

Software is never built in a vacuum. In the real world, things always need to be done in a timely manner. There are external and internal deadlines, and it’s important to be able to move fast to meet them without sacrificing quality at the same time. Over the course of my career, including during my time with YieldStreet, I’ve found that knowing how to ship what’s needed, when it’s needed counts a lot more than elegant code and brilliant solutions to problems.

Knowing how to ship what’s needed, when it’s needed counts a lot more than elegant code and brilliant solutions to problems.”

 

What strategies have you learned to work faster during your career?

Understand not just how, but why something needs to be built, as well as knowing the business and product and being able to come up with ideas to cut the scope instead of cutting corners on quality. In other words, if the requirement is to build seven new features by a very aggressive deadline, it’s invaluable to know how to work with product and business to distill that to the three most important ones for your minimum viable product.

When you’re in a rush, there’s a natural tendency to cut corners.”

 

What are the potential drawbacks of working with speed, and how do you mitigate them?

When you’re in a rush, there’s a natural tendency to cut corners. This can manifest as not adding enough tests, skimping on documentation or not covering that last use case. This, of course, is a wrong and dangerous approach. It might save you some time in the short term, but it will negatively affect the user experience, and you’ll spend more time fixing things long term. Instead, the right thing to do is compromise on the scope: Learn how to build the true minimal viable product for the first version, and then improve and iterate in the following versions.

 

Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Images via listed companies and Shutterstock.

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