Engineers Must Understand Human Dynamics

The common trait among senior engineering leaders at Facebook.

Senior engineering leaders not only need to have the technical expertise, but they also need to have the right people skills. People are the driving force behind any tech product, so these leaders must also be able to understand human dynamics within the company and use it to their advantage to achieve objectives.

In the following excerpt from Move Fast: How Facebook Builds Software, coming out July 6, I discuss this with Pete Hunt, a former Facebook Engineer.

One of Facebook’s keepers of cultural history is Arturo Bejar.

Arturo Bejar is a widely celebrated former engineering director at Facebook. Empathetic, goateed, and deeply reflective, Arturo speaks with a placid tone of voice, a calmness that comes from fifteen years of managing engineers who could be both brilliant and extremely difficult to work with.

In the world of software, the most creative people are often opinionated and mercurial.

Software engineers spend lots of time in their own heads, and sometimes their trains of thought run wild. Like cloistered artists, these engineers can create abstractions of true beauty but can also have erratic ill-conceived ideas. Arturo has learned to counterbalance the extreme personalities he manages by embodying a warm, even-keeled impartiality.

Arturo spent his early career at Yahoo, working on security engineering. At Facebook, he worked on internal tools that helped deal with suicide prevention, online bullying, and other difficult parts of online life. Facebook users open their hearts and minds across the social network, and Arturo’s projects helped keep users safe.

During his six years at the company, he also started the Product Infrastructure team, which created React and GraphQL, two of the most influential open source technologies to come out of Facebook.

Despite his deeply technical background, my conversation with Arturo had almost nothing to do with software. Arturo is fascinated by the human characteristics of what makes a company successful.

This focus on human dynamics is shared among other senior engineering leaders with whom I have spoken.

There seems to be a level of enlightenment reached by the most sophisticated engineering managers, at which point the technical challenges fade into the background, and the primary concern becomes how to lead engineers towards success.

“Facebook has a very healthy social fabric,” says Arturo. “Everybody that Facebook hires is socially intelligent. You can see it at lunchtime, in how people eat together. You can see it in the way teams relate to each other. And it is very important because it’s hard to build a social product if you are not a social person.”

Arturo emphasizes that Facebook’s culture is deliberate. “I think it’s important to be cautious and clear about the culture you want to create. You have to be decisive because you cannot be all things to all people.”

Facebook’s stringent hiring and onboarding process ensures a kind of social quality control, says Arturo. “Getting hired at Facebook is hard. If you make it in, we assume that you have something to contribute. And that makes everyone curious about your perspective. We want to find out what you have to offer. If you are a Facebook engineer, you are trusted.”

Whilst you are waiting for Move Fast: How Facebook Builds Software, learn more about how modern data infrastructure works.