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Engineering Principles

A recent internal realignment to the Trulia Engineering organization provided us with an opportunity to express the values that influence our day-to-day interactions and goal setting. We wanted to establish a set of guiding principles that empower teams to make decentralized decisions while preserving organizational alignment. For example, we knew it would be significantly easier for teams to rally around a concept like ownership if we all shared a common understanding of what ownership means.

The Process

We approached this process the only way engineers know, by diving into the details and becoming intimately familiar with the problem we set out to solve. In March of this year, approximately 70 engineers, spread out across seven 90-minute sessions, met to accomplish two goals:

Goal 1: Vote on predefined themes for our principles, let’s call them EPICS (borrowed from JIRA parlance), to bootstrap the process.

Goal 2: And capture the specific issues our principles would address. You could call them STORIES. This approach allowed us to stay focused on the big picture without losing sight of the actual issues we needed to address.

After the EPIC and STORY identification meetings, a group of volunteers formed the Engineering Principles Working Group. The group met every week to review, discuss, and debate the findings from the initial meetings. STORIES were grouped into common EPICS, while the EPICS were refined until we distilled a set of six, overarching themes that became a rough version of our Engineering Principles.

The next step in our process was to write a common definition for each principle in a way that was relatable and addressed the STORIES, or issues we set out to solve. We took the comments around each of the main themes from our initial meetings and channeled those thoughts into principles the team could aspire to. This required balancing the often conflicting needs of the various sub-groups the members of the working group represented.

With a working definition for each principle in place, we enlisted the help of a copywriter from the marketing team to help us finetune our messaging. Having someone outside of engineering that brought a fresh perspective helped us eliminate some of our assumptions and unstated connections to draft more explicit definitions for each principle.

True to engineering character we went back to the larger team to test our findings. The survey yielded a 95.5% approval rating and a couple of minor tweaks that made the final cut. The resulting 6 engineering principles (pictured below) have already become a part of our culture and the day-to-day operations at Trulia.

We unveiled our principles at a recent engineering all-hands meeting and decided to hang them on the walls of every floor of our San Francisco headquarters as a constant source of inspiration and guidance. We discuss the principles in team meetings, during one-on-ones, and have begun looking for engineering candidates that display the traits outlined by the principles during the recruitment process.

Long-term, we believe the new Engineering Principles will help us scale our organization by setting a base of knowledge that reduces the amount of coordination required to deliver compatible results and work patterns across all teams.

The Trulia Engineering Principles