All the best engineering advice I stole from non-technical people

Marianne Bellotti
13 min readAug 5, 2019
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As I focus on becoming a better manager of engineers, I have been reflecting more and more on the advice that produced a 10X boost in my abilities at that same stage. More often than not the best advice, the things that stuck with me, came from people who had no background at all in software.

I have been blessed (or cursed depending on your viewpoint I guess) with the privilege of high impact work on critical systems. This is work that naturally brings out a lot of self-doubt and anxiety. Over time I have found myself facing the same challenges, writing down the same thoughts and retelling the same stories in response. It’s intriguing that the stuff that really seems to make a difference in the quality of software never seems to be about software.

These are five of my favorites.

1. “People like us make our money in the seams of things”

Who said it: a Senior Official at the National Security Agency (NSA)

Context: There’s a long story about how I ended up in a State Department conference room with the NSA, but suffice to say it was a pretty crazy meeting in which a lot of very important people with impressive titles said a lot of stupid things about computer security. This would be the first of…



Marianne Bellotti

Author of Kill It with Fire Manage Aging Computer Systems (and Future Proof Modern Ones)