Measuring Your Impact – How to reach half a billion dollars

What is your value to the company you work for? Do you know it at the top of your head? How often do you measure your performance? Only during performance evaluations? Let’s talk about the importance of measuring your impact.

We all work hard and I’m certain you value the work you do (If you don’t, maybe it’s time you should start looking for a new opportunity). Have you ever found yourself in a performance conversation with your manager where you had a hard time proving what you did actually mattered? Or you were trying to convince your coworkers to work on a project you really care about and they didn’t seem too interested? The problem isn’t that the work we do isn’t important, it is due to not spending enough time to measure it before, during and after the project.

As Engineers, we like solving hard problems. But how do you know if it’s the right problem to solve? This is easily achievable by starting with measuring before you put any heavy investment into it. Pull out metrics, start thinking about how your solution will fit into the big picture. Start documenting all the findings and share it around to increase visibility.

This was a game changer in my career. When I started my career, my manager would always ask me to come up with a number. Let it be a dollar amount, let it be performance metrics, let it be something else. But it had to be a measurable number so it’s easy to weigh the benefits of anything I do. It was hard at first. But the more you do it, the easier it gets and I can’t explain how much this makes your life easier in the long run.

Let’s talk about a few examples of this. My first ever project was to fix our coding pipeline. When we finished coding, we would run our tests which would take around ~30 minutes. 30 minutes where your CPU is too busy running tests that you can’t do anything else. We redesigned the pipeline to run all the tests in the cloud. All you need to do is click a button and everything would automatically run and commit it if no errors were detected. When my manager walked up to me and asked, “What’s the impact of this?”, my answer was it saves engineers’ time. But how can you compare this to other projects going around? Is saving developer time more important than working on a new product? Or fixing bugs affecting millions of users?

The answer is that it depends. If you were to fix a bug that’s causing your company millions of dollars and you only have ten engineers on your team, it’s a no-brainer that your time would be better spent fixing the bug. But if you have a thousand engineers in your company and you’re saving 30 minutes each time they make a change, can you even imagine the savings? Normally you’d look at the data but let’s make some assumptions for this example. If an engineer is making one commit a day and your company has 1,000 engineers and you’re saving 30 minutes:

30 minutes x 1000 engineers = 500 engineering hours saved a day

If you divide it into 8 work hours per day, you’re suddenly looking at 62.5 more engineers. You can either claim you’ve contributed 62.5 engineers to the company or multiply it with the average engineering salary and calculate the real dollar amount of your change. You can even go fancier and calculate extra saving since this will reduce frustration and increase engineers’ productivity, the sky is the limit. (Of course you also need to reduce the savings by some engineers just committing at the end of the day and not waiting in front of their machine)

Now which one sounds nicer to you? To say, I saved 30 minutes from commit time? Or to say your project saved ~$6M per year(Assuming the average salary is at $100k). It makes your life easier, your manager’s life easier and makes it super easy to know exactly what’s your impact and advertise yourself with it.

The best part of doing this practice? It teaches you how valuable your work is and helps you prioritize. Also it’s a life saver while you’re trying to sell your project to management or coworkers to work with you. We all have too much work to do and knowing which one is the most valuable is a game changer.

Our industry is twisted that how much you work doesn’t necessarily result to how much your impact is. For example I noticed that some paths in our web service weren’t protected by our defense mechanism. I worked with our data scientist to measure how much we’re losing to hacker traffic. The result was $19M per year. Want to guess how much work was it to save that money? Five minutes. All I had to do was open up our configuration file and update the rules to protect all the paths. This not only helped us get credit for saving all that money, but also helped engineers who built the defense mechanism in the first place. That one line change has been saving 19 million dollars every year ever since.

I hear you thinking that I got lucky that time. For a while, I thought so too. But I kept getting lucky time after time because I always kept measuring every idea and kept an eye out for where to bring the most impact from. As of today, projects I’ve worked on have generated over half a billion dollars.

Of course, your numbers might not total to such numbers if you aren’t working in giant corporations. But this exercise is even more important for smaller companies as each dollar you make/save will make a huge difference. If you’re curious about how you can start measuring your impact more precisely, I’ll talk about A/B testing in a later post. But if you’re not familiar with it, google it. A/B testing lets you run two versions at the same time and see which one performs better. And if you can prove your change makes x% of improvement in any metrics, you can easily calculate the total dollar impact. For ex. if your change increased session time by 10%, you can calculate how much money your company makes per session time spent and multiply it by 10% to see how much revenue increase you’ve achieved.

Knowing what to focus on and when to do so will always set you apart. Give it a try. Pick a few projects and see if you can find a way to measure the dollar amount. Don’t worry if you’re having a hard time or if your assumptions are wrong initially. It takes time to get used to it but you’ll benefit from it forever once you’re comfortable. If you’re working with data scientists, ask for their help to confirm your assumptions. Try asking your manager’s help. Try asking your coworkers’ opinions on your calculations. This will help you feel more confident in your projects, make it much easier to sell it to the management and your coworkers, and will help everyone working with you to claim the credit as well.

You’ll soon start seeing money flowing everywhere.