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Communications of the ACM


Delegation as Art

Delegation as Art, illustrative photo

Credit: megaflopp

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When I started my career as a junior engineer, I could not wait to be senior. I would regularly review our promotion guidelines and assess my progress and contributions against them. Of course, at the time I did not really understand what being senior meant.

Being a senior engineer means having strong technical skills, the ability to communicate well and navigate ambiguous situations, and most important of all, the ability to grow and lead other people.


CACM Administrator

The following letter was published in the Letters to the Editor of the July 2016 CACM (
--CACM Administrator

I commend Kate Matsudaira's wonderful article "Delegation as Art" (May 2016), with its spot-on guidance for addressing challenges in mentoring and delegating our co-workers and students; like Matsudaira, I love to imagine my teammates asking themselves, "What would Geoff say?" Matsudaira also did a superb job explaining her suggestions in ways that make them applicable to disciplines well beyond engineering.

However, one key challenge in managing software engineers Matsudaira did not address is that senior engineers are often expected to mentor team members while simultaneously being responsible for delivering the very projects on which the mentees are working. Matsudaira did say mentoring and delegation require letting people find their own way and make mistakes, even as project success is often measured by speed of delivery and perfection. As a result, mentoring success sometimes comes at the expense of project success, and vice versa.

It would benefit us all if our managers and project managers had a better understanding of the value and process of mentoring. To this end, I will be sharing the article with fellow leaders in my organization and recommend you share it with yours as well.

Geoffrey A. Lowney
Issaquah, WA

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