Friday, March 17, 2023

Learning and Growing in Tech

Photo of a welcome mat, with the word "Welcome" on it. Brown mat with black writing. There's a double square black border, and fancy black curving lines above and below.
Photo by Julie Kertesz

Welcome! Come Learn and Grow with me.

Today I am re-introducing my blog and what you can expect from it going forward. It will primarily focus on my experiences learning and growing in tech. It is aimed at anyone (new grad through distinguished engineer) who might benefit from my experiences and what I have learned along the way. Each post should take no more than 5 minutes to read. With the exception of length (earlier posts are longer), this is a refinement of focus, not a change in direction.

Let me also re-introduce myself to you: Hello, I’m David. I am currently a staff engineer at MongoDB, focused on server performance. Previously, I was a lead engineer (manager) for 2.5 years (it didn’t agree with me). In addition to my technical focus, I help build communities and find writing incredibly valuable.

The rest of this post goes into more detail on the changes to this blog and who I am. If you are interested in my theme, but not the details of these changes, please take a look at my blog archive instead. Also feel free to subscribe to my feed.

What to Expect From This Blog

Over the recent holidays, I spent a lot of time reflecting (as I always do). Some of that reflection was focused on improving my writing. I will write more about that reflection in the near future, but I wanted to share the results of the reflection first.

The first result was deciding to discuss my writing with others. I reviewed my thoughts with three people who were interested in helping me improve my writing (thank you Cian, Alex, Eoin!). Our discussions identified three key focus areas for me: determining a general theme for the blog, the target audience for the posts, and the length of the posts. All three tie together and I am making changes to each of them.


All of my recent writings share a theme of working and growing in technology, with a focus on my experiences. My backlog of ideas also fits within this theme. That’s a fairly broad theme, but hopefully by keeping it focused through the lens of my experiences it gives an interesting perspective to you, my reader. Here’s a short blurb to capture this theme:
I write about working in tech and growing professionally. It is based both on my personal experiences and what I have been able to learn from others. I hope that you may learn from my experiences and that I may in turn learn from you.


The target audience flows from the theme: anyone working in tech who wants to grow in their career, particularly along an individual contributor track. This should include people earlier in their careers as well as more experienced people trying to get to the next level. If you are not in this target audience, but find my content interesting, please reach out and let me know.

As this is a broad audience with varying needs, I am going to try to keep my writing as broad as possible, though occasionally delving deeper to address a more specific audience. When I go deeper, I will specifically call out the target audience for the post at the beginning of the post.


With a broad target audience and theme, I want to keep my posts accessible to many people. I’ve decided that each post should represent me asking you, the reader, for 5 minutes of your time (and no more).

I did a little research and found the average adult reads 238 words per minute. Rounding up to 240 words per minute gives a 1200 word upper target for a 5 minute post. I have arbitrarily decided to use 1300 words as a hard limit. Posts will target 1200 words. They will be shortened if they are 1301 or more.

In the past, some of my posts have been twice this length. If I have a long post that does not reasonably shorten to 1200 words, I will split the post into a series. However, I will make sure that each post in the series can stand on its own within my word budget.

Let Me Introduce Myself

To be interesting and relevant, a personalized tour of growth and learning through tech depends heavily on the person. Let me share the broad contours of my experiences, so you may see if they are relevant to you.

Presently I am a staff engineer at MongoDB, focused on server performance. Over time, this has varied from “testing all the things”, to building a performance testing infrastructure, to using that infrastructure to help us make MongoDB faster and more stable. I started as a senior engineer, was promoted to lead engineer (manager), and after 2.5 years, switched back to an IC role as a staff engineer. Along the way, I helped build our performance testing infrastructure and two new teams (all from scratch).

Before MongoDB, I spent 9 years at IBM (a company with 1000x more employees at the time) in their Research division. I worked on the POWER8 processor and memory subsystems, performance models, and much, much more. I joined IBM out of grad school after completing my Ph.D. in electrical engineering at UIUC. My Ph.D. was focused on performance and reliability models. I went to Syracuse University for my undergraduate degree in Computer Engineering (Go ‘Cuse!).

In addition to my technical focuses, I am involved and interested in professional communities and writing. I am active in organizing and fostering professional communities, such as the MongoDB Engineering Staff Plus Peer Group and MongoDB Cookie Club. Senior ICs are able to learn from each other and improve their craft in the Staff Plus Peer Group, while Cookie Club brings together home bakers to share their creations and incidentally create relationships throughout the company.

Finally, I have found I like to write and I derive a lot of value from that writing. That writing spans technical reports at work, scope and design docs, technical papers, and blog posts. I make it a point to spend some time writing every morning.

Why am I doing this? 

Thank you for making it this far. I hope that you will join me on my continuing journey. You may be wondering why I am making these changes. The short answer is that I hope to:
  1. Make my writing more accessible to a larger audience
  2. Practice writing with constraints in order to improve my writing
The longer answer is coming in my next post: Why I Write, which dives into the reasons I write and why I would like to improve my writing. I hope you join me there.

A special thank you to several people who have gone out of their way to help me on my writing journey. Rita and Eoin have given me editing and content feedback on several of my blog posts. I am a better writer for their feedback. Cian and Alex have jumped in with encouragement, support, and suggestions as I have reflected on my writing and focused on improving it. Many of the ideas in this post are originally theirs. Thank you Rita, Eoin, Cian, and Alex!

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