Working at Twitter was a huge change for me – prior to working there, I had only worked at small-ish startups. Something that I didn’t appreciate as I made that switch was how important what team you join is.
There are a lot of things to consider in this decision — team culture, who you’d be working with, how the work you’ll be doing fits in with your broader career goals. Maybe there’s a technology you’re really excited about, or working on open source is really important.
Looking back, a factor I wished I paid more attention to when evaluating the work teams do is to what the team’s mission is, and how that relates to the broader mission of the org and company.
Why is this important? If you’re aiming to have a high impact in your career, and are looking to get promoted (again, these are not the only goals that one can have!), this will be much easier for you if you have a team where the value of your team’s work is super clear. Furthermore, while this might not be something you’re thinking about from the onset, having a very clear mission makes it much easier for you as an IC to have influence over your team’s roadmap.
Take these two mission statements:
“We own and operate [X], which is critical to the company’s operations and serves 20m QPS”
“We aim to reduce the number of developer hours needed to launch a service into production”
Looking at these, the first mission statement might be very enticing! By joining this team, you’ll likely learn a lot about distributed systems, and how to operate a massive service at scale! However, while this mission statement covers the scope of responsibility of the team, it does not imply anything about what the team does or is working towards. While this does not necessarily imply that there won’t be high impact work available, it means that there isn’t a built-in way to evaluate the success of projects, and that there isn’t a built-in way to prioritize different types of work. This also might make it harder to take initiative and pitch projects yourself, as there isn’t a clear north star the team is working towards.
The second mission statement, on the other hand, is very oriented towards a verb. The team has a metric that it is optimizing, where that metric is related to an objective of the organization. It’s easy to imagine, with this mission statement, how the team might go about designing its roadmap. It’s also easier to imagine that after ramping up on the domain, that ICs on the team might be able to pitch project ideas and actually contribute to the roadmap. This clear north star will make it a lot easier for you as an IC to be able to understand the value of the work that you do, and to continue building on that.
It’s sometimes easy when deciding between teams at a bigger company to get caught up in what types of technologies you might use – or what product or service would be exciting to work on. While these are also important factors, if you’re looking to have a big impact in your career, focus on the team’s mission!