The Pragmatic Engineer in 2021
How the newsletter grew, most-read issues, and the numbers.
The Pragmatic Engineer in 2021: This issue is a recap of how the newsletter grew this year all the way to the #1 Technology newsletter on Substack. The post goes through the most-read issues, some highlights and the numbers and ends with plans for 2022 and an ask for your feedback on the newsletter.
This has been quite the year for The Pragmatic Engineer. During the first six months, I published articles on The Pragmatic Engineer blog, experimented with a YouTube channel and published a few books. Then in late August, The Pragmatic Engineer Newsletter launched and it really took off from there, making its way to the #1 paid technology newsletter on Substack.
The Pragmatic Engineer covers challenges at Big Tech and high-growth startups through the lens of engineering managers and senior engineers.
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How it started
Back In January it was only a few months since I had left my engineering manager job at Uber after four years, where I had grown from senior engineer to engineering manager and a manager of managers.
My plan was to spend a few months writing books, then in the second part of the year to found a startup related to platform engineering or developer tools.
The first part of my plan worked better than anticipated. I wrote three books, although I have yet to finish The Software Engineer’s Guidebook, which I did intend to publish during 2021.
Also, I didn’t found a startup. Instead, I kicked off The Pragmatic Engineer newsletter, writing a publication that I wish I’d had access to when I worked at Uber:
The response to the newsletter launch was more enthusiastic than I expected:
In only six weeks, the newsletter crossed 1,000 subscribers:
And as of today, close to 30,000 people are on the Pragmatic Engineer mailing list, and over 2,700 people pay for the weekly issues, plus the frequent bonus ones. The Pragmatic Engineer is today the #1 paid technology newsletter on Substack and one of the top Substacks globally, as the Substack team confirmed. This is incredible: thank you for your support!
Many people are expensing the newsletter, and several companies have signed up their engineering leadership team to a group subscription. Read details on expensing and group subscriptions.
When I started the newsletter, I was uncertain if this would or could be my main focus, in the long run. At the end of 2021, I’m a lot more clear about this. Yes, the newsletter is my main focus, along with activities to help make it even better in 2022.
I share below my plans for the newsletter next year. But first, a summary of standout posts from 2021.
29 newsletter issues went out in the first four months of publication.
17 were weekly long-form articles: 4 of these were free articles, the other 13 🔒subscriber-only ones.
12 bonus issues that included hiring market insights, the first guest article, the launch of the Real-world Engineering Challenges series and the start of The Scoop series. 4 of these were free bonus issues, the 8 other ones 🔒subscriber-only ones.
~250 pages worth of reading, given the average length of each edition is around 5,000 words (or 10-12 pages for the longform articles, and half the length for bonus issues). That’s roughly a book and a half’s book’s worth of reading in just four months!
Highest-rated newsletter issues
At the bottom of every newsletter, I ask how you liked the issue. Here are the five you enjoyed the most this year:
🔒 Onboarding to a new company. What great onboarding processes look like and strategies to onboard efficiently, as an engineer or a manager.
🔒 The perfect storm causing an insane tech hiring market and More follow-up on the tech hiring market. The challenge of hiring was a recurring theme in 2021 and I wrote several pieces that dived deeper into what is happening, and why.
🔒 Growing a junior-heavy team. Approaches to leveling up team members, and the realities for teams with fewer experienced engineers.
🔒 The Platform and Program Split at Uber. The change that shaped the company’s engineering culture for years to come, and my take on Platform teams.
🔒 Finding the next company to work at. Strategies for finding your next job in tech, and where those great opportunities are.
Most-read newsletter issues
The four most popular articles this year have been:
How Big Tech runs tech projects and the curious absence of Scrum. A survey of how tech projects run across the industry which highlights Scrum being surprisingly absent at Big Tech companies.
Incident review and postmortem best practices. A survey of how companies deal with incidents today, and a peek into the emerging best practices of the future.
The seniority rollercoaster. Handling down-levelling when switching jobs, and getting ahead of it as an engineering manager.
Hiring and retaining a diverse engineering team. Stories from six engineering leaders who succeeded in building and growing diverse teams.
Most-read blog posts
Before launching the newsletter in August, I published my long-form writing on The Pragmatic Engineer Blog. I still cross-post from it here, in the form of several free newsletter articles. The five most-read blog posts this year were:
The trimodal nature of software engineering salaries. The biggest “splash” of the year, that resulted in many companies re-evaluating how they think about compensation, and even more engineers realizing there’s a “hidden range” of software engineering compensation, and then seeking it out at companies in the Tier 2 and Tier 3 ranges.
What Silicon Valley “gets” about software engineers that traditional companies do not: the seven biggest differences.
Equity 101 for software engineers at Big Tech and startups. Why equity is important, types of it, and what you should be aware when negotiating for it.
Uber’s crazy YOLO app rewrite, from the front seat. The craziest project of my engineering career.
The Pragmatic Engineer Test: 12 questions on engineering culture.
Most-watched YouTube videos
I started the Pragmatic Engineer YouTube channel in late 2020, and did a few videos during 2021, with the channel growing to 36,000 subscribers. Five popular videos from the past 12 months:
Confessions from a Big Tech hiring manager: tips for software engineering interviews (365K views!)
The trimodal nature of software engineering compensation: why positions pay a (very) different salary.
Big Tech hiring is conservative - but why? Insights as a hiring manager.
Developing software engineers into leaders: my approach at Uber.
I’ve not created any videos since starting the newsletter, but I am planning to get back to YouTube and create videos at a less frequent cadence. However, my main focus will stay on the newsletter.
Other events in 2021
I published two books this spring, and made an update to my first published book:
Building Mobile Apps at Scale: 39 engineering challenges.
Growing as a Mobile Engineer: Reaching and breaking the mobile engineering glass ceiling.
The Tech Resume Inside Out is free, going forward for anyone in software engineering who does not (yet) have a job.
Angel investing is something I’ve started to do, investing in over 10 companies. I became an advisor at mobile.dev, which has also been my single biggest angel investment as well. Our mission is to set a new standard for mobile development, which empowers all companies to deliver high-quality mobile applications to their users.
Plans for 2022
My main focus for next year is to make the newsletter even more relevant for engineering leaders. My vision is for the publication to help engineers and engineering managers become better leaders, build better products and businesses, and have a more fulfilling career.
I’d greatly appreciate your feedback - please share your thoughts and suggestions on the newsletter. Thank you! 🙌
Publishing The Software Engineer’s Guidebook is my other goal for the year. This is a book I’ve been writing for more than two years, and in 2022 I plan to finally finish writing and publish it! Many of the topics of the book – like growing as a software engineer – overlap with newsletter topics.
If you’d like to help shape the book, you absolutely can. Please answer these seven questions on your experience of being a software engineer.
I will also keep experimenting with other ways to add value to the newsletter - expect industry-wide insights, bonus columns, guest posts and other experiments next year!
Many people have helped the newsletter with feedback, advice, and reviews. Thank you to everyone!
Additional thanks to those who have helped review newsletter issues: Adriaan Bloem, Alessandro Bahgat, Alex Treppass, Alexandra Moraru, Arun Nagarajan, Andreas Thienemann, Barry Frost, Charles-Axel Dein, Chris Zehner, Curtis Einsmann, David Golden, David Hatanian, Ebi Atawodi, Emili Parreño, Evelina Vrabie, Jacek Migdal, James Stanier, Jean Hsu, João Alves, John Szumski, Karthik Hariharan, Luciano Holanda, Marco Melas, Max Ischenko, Michał Węgrzyn, Mustafa Ali, Nicky Wrightson, Pavel Tcholakov, Piotr Kafel, Ross McNairn, Rodrigo Pimentel, Sarmad Bokhari, Sophia Li, Steve Hill, Uma Chingunde, Viktor Vojnovski, Yahya Bayramoglu, Yohan Hartanto, Zeke Arany-Lucas and Zsombor Erdődy-Nagy. And to my editor, Dominic Gover!
🤔 Feedback on the newsletter
Please share your feedback on the newsletter. This will help make the publication even better in 2022.
Please consider sharing the newsletter with friends and colleagues, and subscribing, if you’ve not already.
Thank you 🙌 - and Happy New Year!
Thanks for this write up and surfacing the most popular content. This post spur me on to be an annual paid subscriber!
Tony Tam, Sr. Manager of Productivity