I’m going to say something incredibly controversial here, so, be forewarned.
I believe that good “glue” (people, not code) are absolutely essential for high performing companies.
You can skate by if you are few people but communication overheads, understanding business needs and so forth grow exponentially difficult the more heads involved.
We try to paper over the cracks with hierarchy and responsibility domains, I would even go so far as to say microservices architectures (as originally envisaged) are a response to this too.
Now the controversial part I promised: In the Google Memo that James Damore famously wrote, part of why he asserted that women were not enjoying the tech industry was because women in general and on average tended to get more enjoyment and fulfilment from empathic stimuli.
He backed this up with evidence that when women are given free choice (in more free societies) the bell curve shifted towards higher personable roles.
The issue; he surmised, was that we as an industry do -not- respect empathic people. We respect code, and features and the people who make them.
But Damore, Myself and seemingly the author of this post, think this is a wrong thing to promote/respect exclusively, and while it’s hard to promote or respect a “team” because teams don’t have a face, having “glue” in your team is essentially a superpower. I wholly believe that a team that can empathise with the rest of the business to understand human and material needs will outperform even the most high performing “rockstar” team, because a team that can relieve pain-points in a targeted way will deliver enormous amounts of business value and savings, even in the short term.
But the big question remains: how do we measure that, how do we promote that, and how do we emphasise that it’s valued?
For whatever it’s worth I’m not saying that only women can show empathy I’m pointing out that “lack of value in empathic pursuits” was one of the citations in the Damore paper. Men have a lot to gain from this too as I’m certain that many men are held back because they value empathy and the industry does not.
Glue is immensely important to a smoothly-functioning engineering culture, full stop.
Unfortunately, the pathologies I’ve seen develop w.r.t. glue are (some covered already in the OP):
Basically, the big problem I have with glue work is that it screws up the heartless calculus at the center of any business. If the opex (tangible and intangible) of keeping employees happy and productive never shows up on the balance sheet–because some well-meaning person is handling it and subsidizing the company’s ignorance–then it will never get fixed, and will only get worse as the firm scales.
Yeah. These pathologies can only be addressed by extending that calculus to account for more of the true conditions of employee and business success. It’s probably not a good idea to require engineers to do glue work, but there should be some way to acknowledge and (correctly!) reward those who shoulder that burden.
The problem with Being Glue is not that it isn’t a good role. A TL on a team should be doing that. The problem, as the author points out is that it won’t get you promoted. Given the biases that exist in our jobs it’s even less likely that a woman in this role will get recognized and promoted for the work they’re doing.
It’s interesting to me how this story runs contrary to my own experiences: people who are present in a lot of meetings and email discussions are very visible, and pushing for practices and team/company-wide improvements seemed to be more readily recognized by management than coding gruntwork.
On the other hand, I’ve mostly worked for small (by FAANG standards) companies with non-technical (again in comparison with FAANG) management.