Graeme Thompson


May 2019

Q: What's your spirit animal?


Q: In old tradition: what is your spirit animal?

What *is* a spirit animal?

What *is* a spirit animal?

Johnny Cash guest stars

Trickster spirit

Deceptively hard to pronounce

Q: Is there anything about becoming an engineering manager that you didn't expect? Alternatively, what do you think developers might not realize about management?

This might sound stupid:

Not really?

It's never pretty

...but neither is making software

Q: How's your health and happiness?


Happy as a basket of kittens


Unhealthy as a mac and cheese pizza

Q: Why did you leave Sortable?

Did you know that you can feel bad...
without knowing why you feel bad?
...or even really knowing that you feel bad?
...and still blame yourself for everything?

Well you can

Q: As a manager and an individual contributor, what are the top three leadership lessons that you've learned?

Leadership lessons

  • People are basically reasonable
    • Don't work with anyone who isn't
  • Force multipliers require trust
    • Practice letting go
  • You can't engineer away humanity
    • Corollary: You definitely shouldn't try
A leader is best when people barely know he exists;
When his work is done,
His aim fulfilled,
They will say:
"We did it ourselves"
-Lao Tzu

Q: How many pairs of pants do you own?

What *is* a pair of pants?

What *is* a pair of pants?

Pants Count 2019

4 pairs of jeans
3 pairs of dress pants
1 pair of khaki pants
3 pairs of pyjama pants
3 pairs of shorts

Well prepared for pants-related emergencies

Q: What's your favorite way to wind down when you get stressed?

The truth hurts

"Cheap Dopamine"



"Real Dopamine"

Anti-stressor: Exercise

Q: What is your advice for those who want to change their career path from a developer to a manager?

Management is a kind of engineering

Management is People Engineering

My advice: Be ready for an engineering challenge

Q: How many times a week do you shave your head? What kind of razor do you use?

Not a great shave

A better shave

How often?

A good week: 2-3 times
Most weeks: <1

Q: What does good feedback look like?

Good feedback is:

  • Honest
  • Respectful
  • Hard to misinterpret
Key is clear next steps

Q: Would you ever work in Ad Tech again?


Q: What is your favourite video game?

Oh man.

Will you settle for an eight-way tie?

Smash Brothers (any version)

Portal/Portal 2


Stardew Valley

Fallout 3

Half-Life 2


The Witness

Braid by a hair!

What a Cinderella story!

Q: What are the worst and best things about working at Sortable?

Best things:

  • A moral approach in a sometimes immoral industry
  • Serving people who need help and normally don't get it
  • Working with smart people

Worst thing:

At the mercy of a fickle industry

Q: I received a job offer from Amazon. What advice would you give me to have a successful career there?


Suggestion 1:

Ask someone who has a successful career there

Suggestion 2:

Get your hands dirty

  • Put your nose in everything
  • Learn everything you can
  • Help everyone you can find

Q: Can I submit a question after the deadline?!


Absolutely not

Q: After working as an engineer and engineering manager which do you prefer? What new perspective have you gained after experiencing both sides of the relationship.


Q: After Sortable, what do you want to do next? Do you want to come back to software development or to keep managing people?

Being a developer

You get to make things and solve hard problems
...but you are limited by your time

Being a manager

Act as a force multiplier by working indirectly
...but deal with politics, meeting overload, emotional labour and being unable to work directly

Which do I prefer?

Faced with a choice, do both.
-Dieter Roth

Q: Which do you prefer: working in a small startup or in a large company?

Would you rather...

play soccer with a ping-pong ball?


Or play ping-pong with a soccer ball?


Obvious answer:

Both sound like fun

Can't do both?
Do whatever makes sense at the time

Q: Which superhero do you identify with most?

DC superheroes: Invincible

Inhuman, unrelatable

Marvel superheroes: Flawed

But still hard to relate

Alan Moore heroes: Trainwreck

Not role models

But easy to identify with

Q: The citizens of Rendezvous *demand* to know, what is the best hiding place you've ever hidden in.

In plain sight

In plain sight

Q: What are you planning to do now that you quit your job?

The three Rs:

  • Writing
  • Reading
  • Relaxing

The three Cs:

  • Coding
  • Consulting
  • Contracting

The three Gs:

  • Getting in shape
  • Going to interesting events
  • Getting a job

Q: Have you gotten easier on yourself with age?


Now I know that the voice in my head is a liar

The Dunning-Kruger effect

Q: What are the the most important aspects that you look for when hiring a new developer?

What about a software manager?

Developer qualities wishlist:

  • Can read other people's code
  • Can figure out why something isn't working (and knows when to ask for help)
  • Is able to make changes to a complex system
  • Is able to design and write a complex system which is easy to read, make changes to, and figure out when something isn't working that order

Software Manager qualities wishlist:

  • High-level tech literacy
  • Recognizes and can debug process failures
  • Idealistic but practical
  • Unusually good at dealing with people

Every coworker wishlist:

  • Demonstrates empathy
  • Can carry on a productive discussion about something vague that they don't fully understand
  • Takes it well when you disagree with them
  • Is not an asshole

Graeme's Universal interview template:

Graeme's Universal interview template:

Free Preview edition!

  1. Describe a vague scenario which is related to the job you're interviewing for
  2. Pay attention to what happens next
  3. Repeat until you know what to do

Q: What is your advice for starting a new software product in a small company (<50)?

Very simple.

  1. Ask some people what they think of the idea
  2. Make it
  3. Don't get too attached

Q: If you could master one animal-related skill, what would it be, & with which animal?

Animal-related skills I can think of

  • Zookeeper
  • Horse jockey
  • Dog whisperer
  • Person who feeds ingrate cats

Jockey by a nose

...but with which animal?

The noble hippopotamus

Thanks for asking!