I’ve learned a lot of cool things during my tenure at Google.

One of those things are snippets. Google (and from what I hear other Silicon Valley giants as well) utilizes a system of snippets: a transparent and widely accessible set of weekly notes. It’s not mandatory, and some groups use it more often then others. Sounds ordinary, but I think it’s a lot more interesting then that.

Communication and visibility is one of the major challenges in any paid creative work, but it’s especially important in software engineering. Engineers often settle on tasks they know nothing about: tasks are hard to measure and estimate. This makes it even harder to communicate progress broadly.

There are ways around this communication barrier – regular standups or periodic reviews come to mind. But there’s a better (although not necessarily exclusive), more asynchronous way to communicate and increase visibility. Enter snippets - a condensed list of what happened with you and your colleagues last week, delivered straight to your inbox.

Every Friday, an email notification reminds you to fill in weekly snippets. These snippets might look something like this:

  • Project X
    • Authored a design doc (link), sent for a review
    • Discussed roadmap with stakeholders A and B (notes)
    • Debugged issue Z, to no avail (link)
  • Project Y
    • Cleared backlog for the past 6 months
  • Attended a summit about G
  • Had 1:1s with C, D, E, and F

On Monday, an email goes out compiling our team’s snippets in a single digest. Skimming through snippets covers any communication gaps from the past week, and raises visibility on what everyone is working on.

This system has many benefits:

  • Transparency: you know what everyone around you (including higher ups) is up to.
  • You actually remember what you’ve done a month from now.
  • All the important documents, events, and notes are linked from snippets. Snippets are are time bound, which makes these documents easy to find.
  • Teammates and managers can always check snippets to get an idea of progress on certain efforts.
  • You manager (who’s hopefully your biggest ally when it comes to career development) has a great idea of what you’re up to.
  • It’s easy to find artifacts and proof during performance reviews.
  • Higher visibility of glue work (all the little things you do to keep the place running).

This doesn’t have to be a particularly complex system. A running doc with notes could suffice, although email notifications remove a lot of the overhead needed. Even if the organization doesn’t follow the model, I find it worthwhile to keep snippets, and to share them with my manager and team.