The View from the Bottom of the Pile

An observation from work.

I’m a senior developer, but I’m still a developer. I’m the “bottom of the pile”. I don’t pass work to others. They pass it to me. My job is really to shut up and do what I’m told.

I might do technical architecture and have technical opinions about HOW to do the things that I’m told. But I’m not supposed to do strategy and planning and determine WHAT to do.

Previously I was in a similar job working with IT systems at a low-level. Working with the bottom of the pile in a technical stack.

But there’s this weird thing about being bottom of the pile; about being the place that the work ends up at: you get to see a lot of things!

It seem backwards, or upside-down. But I keep finding myself in roles where I seem to have a much wider view than others above me.

When everyone needs something done on your system, you get a sometimes-uniquely-broad view of what’s going on. A bunch of different plans and strategies that can’t necessarily see each other all end up with actions that arrive at the bottom of the pile – with you!

So here’s the opportunity that you have as a bottom-of-the-pile developer: making connections!!!

It sounds odd because it’s a people thing, not a technology thing. And it may not be your strength. But there’s a chance that you are one of the few people who can see both “that thing up there” and “that thing over there”. So here’s my tip for levelling up and being a great developer:

Take responsibility for making connections! At the very least, ask the question: “I see that you want to me do ‘This’… but it might conflict with ‘That’. Are you aware of ‘That’?

This relates to another thought of mine. I remember hearing on a podcast once that a senior person should be faster at their work. This is why senior people get paid more – they get more done.

I don’t necessarily agree with this.

I mean, yes: if I know my task, and if I have focus time, I should … I will … be quicker at getting the job done.

But if you come to me with a request rather than a defined task, I say that a senior digs in; asks questions; finds out more; challenges assumptions; takes steps back to look at the broader picture; and does some “systems thinking”, before knuckling down.

That might slow you down. Possibly a LOT. But the difference is that it gets you the right a better result.

So: maybe you too are in a bottom-of-the-pile developer role? If so, don’t think you are unimportant. You might see things that no one else does. So take in the view; ask questions; make connections; think about the broader picture that you – and maybe only you – can see.

It could slow you down, but honestly, for the sake of asking a few questions about what you can see, you could also end up being a hero!