How I spent my time in 2019

December 20, 2019

(Adapted from my original Twitter thread)

I get this question a lot: “What exactly does a Principal Engineer do at AWS?”

Every principal engineer I know plays a mix of roles unique to them, so I put together this rough estimate of how I personally spent my time in 2019, broken down into a few buckets:

When I put the data into a quarterly view, I found the results to be pretty interesting. The data turned out to be very aligned to the annual AWS calendar. Q1 and Q3 is when we do org-level career discussions and talent reviews, so it makes sense that I spent a lot of time during those quarters on the “Team” category. Annual roadmap planning/brainstorming is mostly done in Q2, and so I spent a lot of time during that quarter on the “Product” category. The AWS reInvent conference in Q4 means I spent a lot of time on the “Project” and “External” categories in that quarter, trying to get things shipped and working on my reInvent talks.

I took a “low tech” approach to collecting this data at the end of the year: I spent about an hour crawling through the past year’s meetings on my calendar, categorized them, and guess-timated how I spent my time during the empty time blocks in my calendar. I then used one of my favorite tools Infogram to visualize the data. You can see the full infographic here:

Below is how I defined the set of activities that fall into each bucket. Again, every PE is unique; these are the activities that I personally spent most of my time on in 2019:


  • Writing and reviewing code & technical designs
  • Service operations


  • Discussions and writing docs related to roadmap and product ideas
  • Meeting with customers and partners


  • “Glue” work
  • Project planning
  • Getting new features and products shipped
  • Keeping teams on track
  • Aligning with other teams


  • Team meetings
  • One-on-ones
  • Mentoring
  • Interviewing
  • Recruiting
  • Promotion reviews and other talent reviews
  • Internal public speaking


  • Public speaking at conferences
  • Working with open source groups
  • Marketing discussions
  • Creating content for Twitter and blogs