204 episodes

It takes more than great code to be a great engineer. Soft Skills Engineering is a weekly advice podcast for software developers about the non-technical stuff that goes into being a great software developer.

Soft Skills Engineering Jamison Dance and Dave Smith

    • Technology

It takes more than great code to be a great engineer. Soft Skills Engineering is a weekly advice podcast for software developers about the non-technical stuff that goes into being a great software developer.

    Episode 203: Downturns and conflict

    Episode 203: Downturns and conflict

    In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions:




    I am worried it is only a matter of time before the growing pandemic impacts the job market. I work for a young start up, and as of yet I am gainfully employed. But if this goes on as long as some folks say it will, I’m just not sure. I’ve heard there was a software job market crash after the dot com boom. What was that like ? What’s the best thing to do if you get laid off in a market downturn? Wait it out? Look for software jobs? Switch industries, temporarily?



    I’m a technical lead on a small team. Two of my teammates are constantly annoyed with each other and I need to know how to talk them down so we can be a better team. Let me introduce them:


    Alice (the names are made up), an experienced programmer, who is slower to catch on, keeps dragging old arguments and old ways of thinking in, works very slowly and in her own vacuum, and often comes across as difficult to work with. Alice constantly disagrees with the team on things like naming conventions and solutions to problems.


    In the other corner, Bob, a 2nd year coder, eager to follow leadership but still learning when to ask for help. He takes criticism constructively, but not from Alice because to him it sounds like fingernails on a chalkboard.


    Alice and Bob constantly bump heads. Yesterday, Bob rewrote Alice’s stored procedure because it was slow and he had some ideas with how to reuse some code. Today it was SQL formatting - Bob’s SQL is ugly, according to Alice, who wants to confront him on it. I suggested we create a style guide to settle that argument.


    This kind of thing has been going on since the team was formed. My question is, what can I do? They both look to me as the leader, and I don’t want to take sides, but we’ve had this problem for nearly two years.

    • 38 min
    Episode 202: Can't stand up and new team, new me

    Episode 202: Can't stand up and new team, new me

    In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions:




    Hey Dave and Jamison. Due to a chronic joint problem, I find it uncomfortable to stand for more than a couple of minutes. How do I talk to my boss about sitting during standup meetings? If I change workplaces, when do I talk about it to a new boss? I look and walk just fine, so people usually don’t realize that there is something wrong with me.
    I’ve already been to the doctors, and there is not much they can do, so I need to soft skill engineer my workplaces.



    Hello! I love your show! I am an entry level engineer that had graduated college with a B.S. in Computer Science in May of last year. I was on my previous team for about six months doing mostly documentation and asked for more development work because I didn’t have a lot of experience in hardcore dev work in my past internships. My manager, some of my team members, and the lead systems engineer gave me high props that helped me get onto a new team.


    I’ve been on the new team for two months but I am having a hard time finishing my tasks. I try to do things on my own before I ask for help, but it seems that I’m always stuck or can’t get the code to work in a reasonable time. My team has a strict deadline at the end of March. I have multiple tickets in Jira assigned to me before then.


    When I ask for help, it seems like my team members just finish my tickets for me. I feel like a fraud and it really doesn’t seem like I am delivering. People had praised me for my work to get on this new team, I don’t have anything to show for that praise. How did I even graduate from college with a Computer Science degree? Do you have any advice on my situation?

    • 28 min
    Episode 201: Too soon for a raise and management, masters, maybe?

    Episode 201: Too soon for a raise and management, masters, maybe?

    In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions:




    I started a new job 6 months back and a lot has happened since then. I signed on as a junior dev and have since been given more and more responsibility. Including (but not limited to) deploying and releasing after hours, shared responsibility with the resident senior devs for reviewing pull requests, and aiding in the creation of new processes and overall advancement of our company’s software development process and culture. How soon is too soon to ask for a raise after starting a new job?



    Listener Andrew asks,


    As a military veteran of 8 years, I have the opportunity to enroll in a masters program for little to no cost, but I’m not sure what kind of program to choose.
    I’m a web developer and also serve as my team’s ”Agile Owner” (kind of like a Scrum Master) which I really enjoy. In fact, before I got my first dev job, I trained in Scrum to try to get a leadership role in the software industry and use my bachelor’s in engineering management. It seems logical to continue in that vein and choose an engineering management masters program, but I enjoy being a direct contributor and applying my Agile training without any real responsibility as a manager would have.
    I sometimes think I should go for a masters in computer science and double down as a technical knowledge worker, but I fear I’d be in way over my head since I don’t have an institutional computer science background. On the opposite end of the spectrum, part of me thinks I should get an MBA like some friends from college to hedge my bets for climbing corporate ladders in the future. On top of that, lately I’ve been very interested in learning more about design.
    I’m just not sure what to do, and I have a habit of making big decisions with my head instead of my heart which sometimes leads to 8 years in military service which I don’t much enjoy, so I’d love any advice I can get. Thanks! Soft Skills Eng is my absolute favorite software industry podcast.

    • 36 min
    Episode 200: Crazy work work stories

    Episode 200: Crazy work work stories

    🎉🎉🎉 Celebrating 200 episodes! 🎉🎉🎉

    In this special episode, Dave and Jamison share crazy work stories contributed by listeners to celebrate 200 episodes of Soft Skills Engineering




    Right out of graduate school I was in the process of interviewing and got through two phone interviews to get the final in-person interview at a location-based startup. The office was mostly sales but also had a small dev team.


    The in-house recruiter gave me a rough itinerary two days before: get there at 8AM, have four hour-long interviews with the team, then possibly a coding “quiz.” I was skeptical of what the quiz was but all she said was that everyone who got through the other interviews wouldn’t have a problem, it was multiple-choice, and it would take less than half an hour. I get to the office 20 minutes early but have to wait 45 minutes more for my first round of interviews because an internal meeting went over; the recruiter apologizes and asks if I want breakfast, and I say I’ll take something small like a bagel; she says okay and disappears from the room never to return with food.


    I get through the culture interviews just fine, though I thought it was a bit odd that several of my interviewers (including a VP) brought in their catered breakfast/lunch into the room but never offered me to get some and I had to go find my recruiter so I could get a cup of water between interviews.


    The final interview was with who would have been my boss: the senior engineering lead. She proceeds to ask me the normal bank of engineering questions and then lets me ask anything. She starts sending me the vibe that the engineering team isn’t really respected and that as a junior I’d be expected to put in overtime and be on-call on weekends without comp-time and without being able to have a say in when I would be on-call. Then I get some seemingly weird questions: Do you work well with loud noises? How noise canceling are your headphones usually? Is it okay that I would develop on a Windows machine?


    The engineering lead takes me to the recruiter’s office so I can wrap up the day but the recruiter had left early and nobody knew where she had gone so I was escorted to the front door by a receptionist and left. I didn’t hear back for a week and got a call late in the evening saying they had moved on with other candidates. A few days later I got an email from the engineering lead apologizing for my experience and that they were revising their hiring process due to my experience.



    Hi Dave and Jamison,


    I have a crazy work story to share for your 200th show!


    In my first role as a developer I was working for a small agency building websites for clients. One day I was uploading a new site, which involved FTPing into the server and doing all the config myself. I didn’t really know what I was doing, all of this terminal stuff was pretty alien to me at the time. For some reason or another I needed to change the permissions on the files for this site, so I uploaded it to the server and ran a chmod, (which was a brand new concept to me - luckily Stack Overflow had my back. OR DID IT?) Anyway, when I ran the command, my terminal went crazy and way more files went flying up the screen than I had for my website, so I thought ““that doesn’t look right””, hit ctrl-c and went to lunch, thinking I’d fix it later.


    When I got back from lunch, everyone was rushing about like headless chickens. Everything was down. When I enquired, it turned out that for some reason everyone was locked out of the entire server. After several hours it turned out that all of the permissions for every file on the server had been changed and nobody had any access to anything. Also, every client site had been brought down in the process.


    To make matters slightly worse, when I enquired about bac

    • 29 min
    Episode 199: Offshore team influence and time zone fun

    Episode 199: Offshore team influence and time zone fun

    In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions:




    I work at a large public company. Two years ago, they hired a new CEO who immediately started a development center in a different country. Much of the knowledge transfer is complete and this new team outnumbers us by 3 to 1. It feels that we have lost much of our influence. They turn out decent work and cost less than 1/10th to employ. I am ramping up a job search but in the mean time what steps can we take to keep influence and control? Also, is this the future for the industry in the US?



    Hi Jamison and Dave.
    Your voices have been bringing sanity into my head for the last 2 years.
    I’d like to get your thoughts about something that’s driving me a little crazy.
    I work for a company based in Europe, and work in the Asian office. The Asian office, and only the Asian office, has a fixed time schedule. To overlap with Europe, the Asian team has to be at the office from 2PM to 11PM. However, the European team comes in at 10AM and leaves at 7PM.
    When our team mates in Europe decide to do overtime, we have to stay later to work with them, often very late in the night but I tolerate it because I love software development. However, whenever we have company “fun” events, the Asian managers schedule it in the morning so that our regular work schedule won’t be consumed. So we’ll do badminton or wall-climbing from 9AM to 12 and then have to do the 2PM to 11PM shift. This is very tiring. The events usually happen every two weeks, but our schedule makes me dread them. It’s even worse if the “fun” events happen on the same day as the overtime. At the end of work, I feel like a zombie! Is this reasonable?

    • 31 min
    Episode 198: Stinky manager and VP overhaul

    Episode 198: Stinky manager and VP overhaul

    In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions:




    My manager smells really bad! Sometimes so bad that I can’t bear to be in his proximity. I am not sure if it’s his breath, or body odour (probably both), but the smell is very foul on a daily basis. He has been with us for quite a few months now, but I am not sure if anybody has mentioned it to him, because the situation hasn’t gotten any better. I’ve also retrained from speaking about it with anyone else. He’s a good guy, and a very hard worker. I want to build a better relationship with him, but his smell is literally getting in the way. How can I help this situation? I can never tell him outright, but he’s the worst smelling person I’ve ever met, and have to work with. But I do want to work with him. Help.



    Hey friends, thanks for such an engaging and helpful show, it makes me happy to see every new episode pop up in my feed.


    My question relates to the politics and drama of a restructure and whether I should follow the time honoured tradition of ‘quit your job’ or stick this out.


    Six months ago our new VP of Engineering was hired to work remotely in a city across the country and decided that the first order of business was to restructure our three Engineering teams into one mega team with new management and a matrix structrure. This meant 15 Principals, Senior Engineers and Product Managers decided it was ‘time to move on to a new challenge’ and are now being replaced by the VPs ex-colleagues in the city across the country. All our processes are being thrown away to do things ‘their way’, new Jira boards, new Confluence pages, new file locations, new AWS accounts, new hiring processes, new everything. The new folks are getting the pick of the exciting and high profile projects while those of us who have been around for up to ten years and hold the institutional knowledge are left monitoring and maintaining the fragile work that could really do with some help from the Principals and Seniors.


    Is this all part of a standard restructure after six months? Should I carry on trying to put on a smile and fall in line or run away as fast as I can?

    • 27 min

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