W6D4 - The engineer's guide to career growth


Learning about compilers has been fun. We started with a stack-based virtual machine that executes bytecode, just completed the scanner (converts source code into tokens), and now getting into the compiler (converts tokens into bytecode).

Right now things still feel a little removed from the Fitzgerald vs Egorov post. The optimization that stood out to me was inlining, where the compilation process replaces a function call with the body of the function itself (since you don't have functions in machine code). Egorov achieved this in JavaScript by stringifying a function to get its source text; Fitzgerald noted in Rust this simply involves annotating the function with #[inline].

Stack-based VMs are simple yet can elegantly do a lot! Register-based VMs, in contrast, are more complex but can achieve better performance. I amuse myself thinking about the time I reviewed my notes on MIPS (register) thinking it could help me understand WebAssembly (stack). Bob Nystrom's all-time favourite CS paper is actually on this topic, on Lua moving from a stack-based to a register-based instruction set.

Professional services

Paul Graham's essay described how the 1980s saw a shift from large corporations being the most desirable employers, to professional services. I think of this topic fondly. My very first job was in finance, which was the default of sorts for college graduates then.

The progression in most professional services roles has junior employees executing what the client asks for, and senior employees managing client relationships. I liked the execution part, and always wondered, "What if I'm not into golf?" (cue Mad Men episode). It's curious how for some cases this model is flipped - Google ICs goes all the way up to Senior Fellow i.e. Level 11.

Content: Engineering management

We've covered data science, product management, design, dev ops and data engineering so far. I've saved this one for last - engineering management. I love Julia Evanszine on the topic, as well as this excellent post by Raylene Yung.


I wouldn't say I have a burning desire to be a manager. That said, I do feel (1) there are lots of soft skills that get honed when you're responsible for your team's success, and (2) having that experience helps you empathize with your own manager. Plus think of all of the books that now become more interesting...