The Engineer Exchange Program

Posted by on September 10, 2012


Your first week at any new job is (at least if you chose a good job!) filled with tons to learn, new ways of doing things, and working models that you might have considered unattainable in the job you just left. How great would it be to have that experience more than once per new job you take? Twitter and Etsy are working together on a new project to help our engineers learn from each others’ practices, with the idea of making both of our engineering teams better as a result.  We hope to learn what makes each other tick, how we celebrate our successes and learn from our failures, and how we can each be better in the end.

This week, one of Etsy’s Staff Engineers is traveling to San Francisco to spend a week at Twitter, observing and helping out, learning what Twitter does particularly well, and seeing differences that may reinforce or refute beliefs we’ve held as core. Likewise, a Twitter Platform Engineer is traveling to Brooklyn for the week, and watching what Etsy does well and poorly, all while helping out (and, of course, deploying on her first day).

New engineers at Etsy go through a several-week bootcamp, working with different teams to learn the codebase, meet people across the group, and take on small tasks. Likewise, new engineers at Twitter go through a “new hire orientation” process where they learn about the Twitter architecture, see first hand Twitter’s raw scale, and play with the back-end technologies.  These engineers will go through these same steps for the week (albiet, a bit accelerated), contributing code and pushing to production, not just observing from a distance.

It takes a level of trust to let an unknown engineer into the fold, let them sit in on meetings and make changes to code. Of course some people would be uncomfortable with letting this happen; companies we’ve both worked for would have fits before allowing it. But we believe the value of cross-pollination of ideas and practices is far too high to be blocked by these concerns. While this is an experiment, we’re hopeful it makes both teams stronger, and we’ll be looking for other exchanges to do soon.

Posted by on September 10, 2012
Category: engineering, people, philosophy


This is genius. Seriously I hope more companies will do this.

Very cool idea. This is much more efficiently than would be courses, conferences, and other useful things.

That is fantastic, I’d love to learn more about the process and if possible get us involved too! Great idea!

Sounds interesting. How do you address concerns of business confidentiality and the like?

[…] “trading” employees. The two companies made a joint announcement about this initiative on the Etsy blog, explaining that one employee from each company would be traveling to the other for a week at a […]

[…] The Engineer Exchange Program (Code as Craft) […]

Really great idea – taking something of the collaborative feel that seems common in the craft beer industry, and applying it to code. I’d love to see more companies do this, nothing beats hands-on experience in this realm. Wish I could work somewhere so forward-thinking!

[…] a post on the program, Etsy engineering VP Marc Hedlund (pictured above) said the swap will help all […]

Reblogged this on More Mind Spew-age from Harold Spencer Jr. and commented:
This is really slick. Thought leadership done through “Engineering Bootcamps”. Great blog post! Thanks for sharing.

[…] It’s also true in the world of developers. Realizing the benefits of variety, Twitter and Etsy have entered into an engineering exchange program. Here’s a quick explanation from the Etsy engineering blog: […]

[…] a post on the program, Etsy engineering VP Marc Hedlund (pictured above) said the swap will help all […]

Great idea! 🙂

We are doing this since two years ago in Spain. Check (in Spanish) when we register companies and experiences from people.

It is really amazing how much you can learn from others in one week.

Cheers! 😉

I’m the VP of Engineering at Benetech – we are a 501c(3) nonprofit software company that develops products targeted at improving access to literacy, human rights and environmental conservation. We launched a program last year called SocialCoding4Good to create skills-based volunteering opportunities for software industry professionals at organizations, such as Benetech, Wikimedia Foundation, Code for America, The Guardian Project, Universal Subtitles and FrontlineSMS. We are also working with a handful of the Corporate Social Responsibility teams at large Silicon Valley companies, such as VMware and Cisco. Some companies are considering offering sabaticals for their employees to volunteer longer periods of time. What you are suggesting is a bit of an extension of this and it would be interesting to have my staff developers also spend a week at for profit companies to get new perspective, learn new things and evangelize the role technology has in creating positive social change.

[…] two companies made a joint announcement about this initiative on the Etsy blog, explaining that one employee from each company would be traveling to the other for a week at a […]

Corporate Relationships That Bring Mutual Benefit…

I read a fascinating blog post about the engineer exchange program between Etsy and Twitter and wanted…

IANAL, but for public companies this would probably be unadvisable. Their shareholders would not appreciate confidential information or intellectual property to be shared with a competitor, friend, enemy or frenemy.

[…] The once sparse staff has grown to 160, and social-media watchers are scrutinizing their moves. Recently, executives at Twitter and Etsy announced The Engineer Exchange Program, where members of each staff will ingratiate themselves into the other for the benefit of both. […]