398 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
    • 5.0 • 1 Rating

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 397: Skunkworks and too much work/life balance

    Episode 397: Skunkworks and too much work/life balance

    In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions:




    Listener Davide says,


    I have a lot of ideas for significantly improving manufacturing processes, but management wants us to focus on business “priorities”. These are fun tasks such as making sure part numbers are replicated in two disconnected systems that have no way of talking to each other. Makes getting Master’s degree feel like time very well spent.


    I end up setting aside some time and doing the legwork for my improvements in secret, and showing my boss when the solution is 90% there. I have a fear that they think the solution appeared out of thin air and required no work, but also if I told them in advance I was going to spend time on it, I would get told off and forbidden from doing it.


    Am I alone in this? Am I stupid? Should I quit my job? Have I written too much? Is the world really relying on a handful of Excel spreadsheets which are keeping us one circular reference away from total annihilation?


    Thanks for reading this far, and greetings from a listener from some place in England.



    Sorry for the long question and thanks in advance for any help or advice :)


    I’ve been working for a small 20-year old B2B company. It makes money. The work-life balance is amazing. Our workdays are 6 hours, and we are remote. On busy days, I may work 3 hours a day. So everything is great.


    But I hate it. I have no interest in the product. Everyone picks one ticket and goes to their corner to fix it. No collaboration unless necessary, which is rare because there are no complex challenges. I feel no one in the company is ambitious technically. It feels like I’m not growing and learning.


    My previous company was the exact opposite. Brilliant invested colleagues. Lots to learn and I was always inspired to work with them and learn from them. I felt like the stupidest person in the room. They cared about technical decisions and problems a lot. It was as close to my ideal workplace as it could be (the product was meh, and the management sucked). But I got laid off after 5 months of being there.


    Now whenever I talk with anybody about how I feel demotivated, and lifeless, and want to move on from this company, they say I’m crazy. And if I’m looking to learn and grow I have all the time in the world. I want to be in an environment that challenges me, inspires me, and pushes me to learn during work hours at least. I fear that if I stay here for a few years, I will not have the experience and resume needed to move to a company like the one I was in before I got laid off.


    Am I wrong to want to move out of this company in this situation?

    • 25 min
    Episode 396: Enthusiastic scope creep and human search engine

    Episode 396: Enthusiastic scope creep and human search engine

    In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions:




    I’ve recently started a new Gig as a Senior Developer/Tech Lead at a company where we are our own clients, using the software we develop in-house.


    I’m encountering a bit of a hiccup, though. Our product owner, is primarily focused on support and doesn’t provide formal Acceptance Criteria. This means I spend a lot of time sending follow-up emails to confirm our discussions, drafting these criteria myself, and handling the management of boards and work items. Another challenge is our product owner’s enthusiasm. He’s full of ideas and tends to expand the project scope during our meetings, perhaps not fully realizing the additional development work and the impact on our timelines. I sometimes think that if he wrote down his thoughts, it might give him a clearer picture of the challenges we face in development in keeping up with these changes.


    I’m in a bit of a quandary here. How can I gently nudge him to take on some of these tasks, or should I discuss with my boss how this is taking up about 1 to 1.5 days of my week? While I’m more than willing to handle it, especially with the prospect of moving into a management role, I also don’t want to set a precedent that creating Acceptance Criteria and managing Work Items are part of a developer’s job scope – at least not to this extent. Any thoughts?



    Sean asks:


    Hi Soft Skills Engineering,


    I love your podcast and I have a question for you. I have a very good memory and I can recall details from a long time ago. This sounds like a great skill, but it also causes me some problems at work.


    Often, I get asked questions by my colleagues or my boss that are not related to my current tasks or responsibilities. For example, they might ask me about the content of an email that they sent or received a year ago, or the outcome of a meeting that I attended (but also did they). They ask me because they know I probably remember, and they want to avoid searching for the information themselves.


    This annoys me because it interrupts my work and makes me feel like a human search engine. I want to be helpful, but I also want to focus on my actual work. I can’t redirect them to my boss, because he has a very bad memory himself.


    How can I deal with this situation without being rude or lying about my memory? How can I set boundaries and expectations with my colleagues and my boss? And without gaslighting them into thinking I already answered their questions, of course.


    Thank you for your advice.

    • 35 min
    Episode 395: Super star teammate and Getting better with no financial incentives

    Episode 395: Super star teammate and Getting better with no financial incentives

    In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions:




    Listener Bobby ForgedRequest asks


    One of my coworker, who is the nicest, most humble person I’ve ever met, is about twice as productive as I am! They’re super-uber productive! They close about 2-3x as many tickets as I do during the same sprint. For reference, I’m a software eng II and they’re a senior dev. Their work is very solid too, and they’re not just selecting easy, 1 point tickets to pad their stats.


    How do you cope with a super star teammate like this? Do I direct more questions towards them to slow them down? Do I volunteer them for more design heavy projects? Jokes aside, I’m curious if this is something that you’ve seen in your career, and if you were a manager, would this make you feel like the other, not-super-uber-smart teammate, is just not doing enough? Is the answer as simple as “well, sometimes people are just very, very gifted”?



    In my previous job of 5 years, I worked only 3 hours a day due to a low workload. Seeking a change for career growth, I switched jobs a few months ago, exposing myself to new technologies. Initially stressful, the pace has slowed down, and there’s no external pressure to learn. Despite getting praise and raises for minimal effort, I aspire to be a smarter software engineer.


    How do I motivate myself to learn and step out of my comfort zone when there’s no apparent reward, considering I’ve easily found new jobs and advanced in my career without exerting much effort?

    • 31 min
    Episode 394: Scrum master, weapons master and minimum tenure to not look bad

    Episode 394: Scrum master, weapons master and minimum tenure to not look bad

    In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions:




    My team are about 4 months into transitioning from a scrum/kanban way of working to a more traditional scrum/sprint way of working.


    I feel like our scrum master is “weaponising” some of the scrum practices in order to show up weak points and failures in the team, rather than working with the team to ease us through the transition and make gradual improvements.


    In private conversations with me and some other trusted developers (lol jk I clearly shouldn’t be trusted as I’m writing in to Dave and Jamison) the scrum master speaks about how little refined work we have in our back log, and how they are looking forward to “exposing bottle necks” in the team. As they expect this will lead to pressure on our PO and Business Analyst and force them to step up their game.


    Whatever amount of work we bring into a sprint is law, and they forbid more tickets coming onto the board mid sprint (even if all the tickets are done half way through the sprint).


    If one single ticket is on the board they will try to block more tickets moving into ready for Dev as they believe we should all be focusing on getting the highest priority pieces of work into the done column. And they take no notice when I’ve expressed the issue with this too many cooks approach.


    They’re a nice enough person outside of a work context. But in work, it really feels like they’re setting us up to fail (and sort of releshing in it).


    Dissent is rising in the team, and everyone from all sides feels unhappy. Can you recommend any action I could take to prevent the failures that are inbound?


    For context, I am a junior developer working for a large company. Within my department we are split up into “SCRUM” teams made up of around 6 Developers, 2 testers, a scrum master, a Business Analyst and a Product Owner. The senior developers within the team have not taken any action other than to complain in secret about the SMs behaviour.



    Before the tech recession, I would recommend engineers stay at a job for 12 months before looking for a new job in order to avoid having the stigma of being a job hopper. But with the tech recession enabling employers to be more picky, is 12 months long enough? Or should engineers stay at a job for even longer than 12 months before looking for a new job?

    • 29 min
    Episode 393: Soft skills for interns and intern to QA

    Episode 393: Soft skills for interns and intern to QA

    In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions:




    NK:


    Hi, I am starting a SWE internship at big tech company in a few weeks. Given the current state of the market, getting a return offer has gotten harder. I have a few software internships under my belt at this point but I am looking to excel in this internship. My goal is to get a full time offer with high pay from this internship. What are the soft skills that are specifically important for interns? This is probably applicable to junior engineers as well.



    Hello Soft Skills, I’m a junior engineer who transitioned from an intern to a full-time role at my company a year ago. I anticipated training in development, but I’m stuck in a low-value automated QA role without proper leadership or team integration. My efforts to improve processes and change teams haven’t been successful, and I’m concerned about being pigeonholed early in my career. I need advice on how to initiate change with limited authority and create a competitive job application despite my limited traditional development experience.

    • 27 min
    Episode 392: Old code and choosing my annual reviewers

    Episode 392: Old code and choosing my annual reviewers

    In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions:




    We are a team of under 10 people who provide technical services to other departments of our organization. We use a tool that is built by my boss to supplement our work but it is crucial for the team to do actual work. The boss maintains it all by themselves and nobody is familiar with its code.


    The boss is going to retire in a year or two, nobody wants to learn the code of that tool and the team can’t do much without the boss as we are more or less just individual contributors writing standalone code and delivering it to other teams who asked for it. Only the boss attends the leadership meetings and the developers are completely unaware of the remaining processes that happen in the background, i.e., communicating with other departments to bring in work, and all that business stuff. I am afraid the team would break apart once the boss retires because nobody knows anything on how our team operates beyond within team level except for the boss. Shall I just plan for the job switch?



    It’s annual review season! When choosing reviewers, do I a) choose the reviewers that will make me look the best or 2) choose the reviewers who might actually give me actionable feedback?


    If it helps, I am on very good terms with my boss and his boss, as well as most of the C-Suite, and there is no way that I get either a promotion or fired in this review cycle. I have been a top performer in previous review cycles, but I expect that I won’t be reviewed so highly this time around.

    • 26 min

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