Urban Airship’s Operations Team has had great luck in hiring talented engineers who either start at the top, or have climbed their way up very fast. According to our tech ladder we may even be considered a bit “top-heavy.” Sure, experience is valuable, but what about the more junior roles? They're needed too. They are just as important as more senior roles, and without them, teams may face an uneven distribution of roles and encounter issues.
Here are a few observations I've noticed over the past year as a Senior Operations Engineer working directly with my more junior colleagues:
There will always be “mundane” tasks for a senior engineer…
that a junior would consider new and exciting challenges. It may be something that the senior has done many times and therefore, they have enough context or technical skills to easily complete the task. But if a junior is there to take on the task, two parts of the situation change: the junior now has the ability to learn how to complete a task without the pressure of performance, knowing that the senior is there at any time to give aid, and the senior now has a different task at hand — the ability to educate the junior.
A task completely changes in terms of goals when it goes from simply being about completion to the sharing of knowledge about the subject matter. A senior focuses on individual steps taken, transferring of tribal knowledge to a more sustainable platform, while exercising their ability to communicate with their teammates as a teacher.
There will always be questions asked by another team…
that require an answer, not an expert. For the Urban Airship operations team, a daytime person is designated to answer these questions and act as a representative for those who need to focus on other projects. If the daytime person is a junior, it gives them the ability to interact with co-workers outside their team, and learn while doing.
Sometimes a question requires an expert, and in those situations, an expert can explain either for the junior to parrot, or to both the junior and the asker as an audience. It gives the junior the ability to learn the wide array of tasks that their team is responsible for, establish relationships outside of their team and utilize their more senior teammates when they lack the resources they need to answer questions. It also gives seniors the ability to focus on their projects and it will also take less time extracting the context needed to respond to a question if the junior collects it first.
There will always be a junior who advances quickly…
because of their ability to learn. I was fortunate enough to join Urban Airship one month after graduating, so I was still in full-on learning mode when I started.
The situations I ended up in felt natural to me, and I later found myself taking on roles as if I had been there for much longer. While some may view it as a round-a-bout way of hiring a senior, graduating a junior into a senior role gives an employer the benefit of hiring an experienced engineer while skipping the onboarding period. During that elongated onboarding period in which the junior is present, they have the ability to excel in both of the above situations.
It’s almost like a trial period for a senior role. If it works out, you gain an ambitious senior engineer who already has established relationships and company context. If it doesn’t, you’ve given your senior engineers the ability to work uninterrupted, and the always-beneficial exercise in inter-company education.
Would I always prefer hiring a junior instead of a senior into a role?
Absolutely not. There are always spots that need to be filled quickly, and expertise that one cannot gain through time alone. Would I prefer to hire juniors during general expansion of a company? Most definitely. It separates the roles and responsibilities of your current team, and gives your senior engineers a different perspective on the tasks that usually bore them. It gives new talent a chance to prove themselves, and will ultimately lead towards the chance of hiring an engineer that will graduate into seniority.
Interested in working for Urban Airship? Take a look at our Careers page to see our open positions.
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