Recently I helped doing some renovations in my daughter's kindergarten. It was a fun weekend project with some fellow moms and dads, and one of the other parents really stood out. While we were all somewhat equally motivated, he brought a very interesting skill to the table: improvising solutions that made problems go away. It was an absolute joy to watch someone look at some situation and just wait for a spark or an idea - and then seeing an idea being put to action.

Well, it got me thinking that this is actually both a transferrable skill set and the one true superpower great engineers have. Making problems go away. Mind you, I'm not saying building awesome solutions - that often comes as part of the "making problems go away". The crucial part here is that the most impactful people on any team are those that can reduce the number of things to work on, and to worry about. Make problems go away.

Naturally, that sounds crazy simple. And indeed there's some traits I've seen in the few engineers that I've seen excel in making problems go away. Let's talk through them.

The first universal trait is some form of curiosity. You will not gather enough critical context, be it business or technological, if you're not naturally curious about the organisation, environment and surrounding you're finding yourself in. If you only look at the ticket straight in front of you, chances are that this is exactly what you'll be working on. Highly impactful people I've worked with had a habit of listening in on important conversations, reading through channels that they're not directly involved with and generally, going the extra mile on gathering context. Having more knowledge is super helpful in problem solving.

The next trait is being connected. And I don't mean networking for the sake of it, but creating trusting and positive relationships to their peers. It's those relationships that are critical for both learning more and enabling fast problem solving. It's not what you do, but with whom you're working on something that sometimes decides on whether an approach works or not.

Moving on, one of the more critical tactics is to focus on getting the right work done, and ignoring or discarding the right process at times. I witnessed outstanding folks disabling every merge check in the book to get something to production in a few minutes. That fix was understood by one person, and at the end of the day saved a ton of money - especially because it was deployed fast. While that situation should've never happened in the first place, it was the right call to not involve half the company to get consensus on a path forward, but to prioritise doing the right and necessary thing. You all heard the famous saying that it's easier to apologise than to ask for permission. That's the right spirit.

The last, and probably most defining behaviour that I've witnessed in those having the superpower is that everything that needs to be done will get done, regardless of stack, functional area or skillset. What I mean by that is that exceptional people that are mostly working on backend topics will find a way to do a small frontend change if that unblocks the team. Or frontend folks doing small backend adjustments. Feeling constraint and locked-in to a certain realm is the most limiting mindset you can adopt, and one that will reduce your impact for no good reason. We live in a time where it's easy to figure out how to do most things in most common languages and environments - leverage that to make problems go away. It's important to get the work done, it's not important what job title the person who got the work done has.

Be curious, be connected, don't be afraid and do what needs to be done.