410 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
    • 4.8 • 253 Ratings

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 409: Fancy title to IC and CRUD is crud

    Episode 409: Fancy title to IC and CRUD is crud

    In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions:

    Listener Shayne asks,

    I’m about to start a new gig after 8+ years at a company. I was an early employee at the current company and have accumulated a lot of responsibility, influence, and a fancy title.

    I’ll be an IC at my new company (also very early stage) but the most senior engineer second only to the CTO.

    What are some tips for this transition? How can I onboard well? How do I live up to my “seniorness” in the midst of learning a new code base, tech stack, and product sector?

    I managed to stay close to the code despite adding managerial responsibilities in my current role, so I’m not worried about the IC work. I really want to make sure that I gel with my new teammates, that I’m able to add valuable contributions ASAP, and that folks learn that they can rely on my judgement when making tradeoffs in the code or the product. Halp!

    I got into software development to become a game developer. Once I became a software developer, I found out I really enjoyed the work. My wife and I joined a game jam (lasting 10 days) over the weekend. I very quickly have realized how passionate and excited I get about game development again! But this has led to a problem - I would much rather be doing that. I find myself moving buttons around or making another CRUD end point a means to an end now, thinking about how I much rather be creating exciting experiences. How can I handle this? Quitting my job to pursue a pipe dream just isn’t feasible.

    • 28 min
    Episode 408: Terrible retrospectives and "hard to work with"

    Episode 408: Terrible retrospectives and "hard to work with"

    In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions:

    I am an electrical engineer working on and off with software for about 15 years. From mainframe applications with Cobol and PL/1 to plant floor supervisory systems with SCADA and some.Net along the way. 6 years ago my husband got an offer to move to Europe and I came along. Had to reinvent myself amidst the chaos of juggling life with a toddler, learning a new language and a new social tissue. After some time I landed a pretty nice job as a DevOps engineer at a pretty cool company. However, I have never really worked with scrum or agile methodologies before and, oh boy…I found out I HATE retrospectives. Like really hate them. They bring me down every time and I anticipate them with dreadful anxiety. I feel they’re just a way to blame other people for what’s not going so well and I don’t see ownership or any improvements actually being made. Action items are frequently just finger pointing and generally about people that are not even present in the retros. In order to improve engagement my boss said every team member is now responsible for the moderation of this dreadful thing and, surprise, surprise : I am next. How can I moderate something I just don’t believe in? I believe in improvement and learning from mistakes and I genuinely believe that we shouldn’t focus on people but processes. I also have to say my colleagues don’t feel the same way as they seem to love retros (yikes!). I think I’m too old/too skeptical for this. Please help!!! Ps.: I love your show and the episode on “that guy” changed my life. I’m forever grateful for the question asker and your answer.

    The Letter J:

    Can you please talk about the PIE theory (performance, image, exposure) and its importance, especially in highly political orgs? I lost my leadership role at a large GSI due to what I believe was a poor image. I felt I could not achieve targets without some level of collaboration (which became conflict once others didnt want to actually collaborate) We hit out targets, but unfortunately, by the time I realized I was labeled “hard to work with”, it was too late. Also, I hereby declare that Jamison is the Norm MacDonald of podcast, which is my highest compliment. Dave is some other comedian, also good. Seriously thank you both for all the humor and advice over the years, it’s been helpful and validating.

    • 33 min
    Episode 407: I'm too territorial and should I quiet quit?

    Episode 407: I'm too territorial and should I quiet quit?

    In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions:

    I am a data scientist and have been at my company for 2 years. Each of the data scientists on my team specialize in a different area of the business (growth, marketing, etc). I have developed a reputation for being the expert in my area and have worked really hard to understand my domain.

    I have a new data science team member who works in an adjacent area and has expressed interest in learning more about “my” area. But every time I talk to him I find myself getting defensive and possessive (on the inside). I don’t want to share my area, and I like being known as the expert, and I don’t want him working on stuff in my domain. Any advice on how to be less territorial here?

    Should I quiet quit?

    I’m a year in to a new job, and am doing well. I work for a large consulting company, and have been doing a decent amount of unpaid overtime by volunteering for internal projects that we can’t bill to our clients! The extra 5-10 hours a week have been adding up, and I feel overwhelmed. I don’t think the extra work is as appreciated as it should be. I’ve received lots of positive feedback, and my performance reviews have been fine.

    Am I getting taken advantage of?

    Will people notice if I step back and just do the bare minimum expected for my job?

    I like being useful, and do genuinely enjoy some of the projects I’ve volunteered for. They’ve probably also been good for my internal visibility, as I’ve gotten to have my name on some large internal announcements and have had some good face time with very senior people. If I end up sticking around here, it’ll probably be good, and I wouldn’t mind a promotion.

    But I’m exhausted, and it’s starting to get in the way of my personal life, hobbies, and even client work sometimes. I’m also wondering if that time would be better spent on upskilling or open source or something outside the company. How far can I cut back without repercussions?

    • 25 min
    Episode 406: Acquired taste and limited mentorship

    Episode 406: Acquired taste and limited mentorship

    In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions:

    Listener Brad asks,

    I am currently a Senior Engineer with a small software company. I have been developing software for more than 20 years. We were recently acquired by another mid sized company. Since the acquisition, things have been going downhill. It feels like they’re trying to nickel and dime their employees to death.

    They moved from a bi-monthly to bi- weekly pay, from accrued PTO to Flex PTO, they sat on merit raises for over 2 months , and have paused all promotions unless you are getting a promotion to management. We have a number of engineers who are deserving, but broaching the subject with HR results in excuses, pushback or silence.

    I have about a year and a half to be in a position to retire but I love what I do and plan to continue for many more years in the right environment. I’m really on the fence as to whether I quit for a new role or hope that they somehow become more efficient. I’ve been doing this long enough to know they will probably not change. So would you quit?

    Hello Dave and Jamison,

    My name is Angelo, and I’m writing to you from Italy. I’ve been enjoying your podcast for quite some time.

    I’m reaching out because I’ve been working for four years at a small company with 11 people in the cultural heritage sector. Although the company produces software, there are only 2 programmers (myself included), while the rest are roles like graphic designers, art historians, and archaeologists.

    It’s a rather unique company in its field, and for that reason, I’m happy to work there, also because I have many responsibilities related to the company’s performance, probably more than I would have in a multinational corporation.

    However, there’s a catch. The fact that there are only two programmers, and in this case, I am the more experienced one, often makes me feel that I don’t have the opportunity to interact with more experienced individuals, and this might hinder my growth as a professional as opposed to being in a team with more programmers.

    My question is: what can I do to compensate for the lack of work interactions with other developers and to keep myself updated?

    I’ve always read that the best growth happens in a company where you’re surrounded by more experienced people, but in this particular case, I find myself in the opposite situation.

    I participate in Telegram groups and often read software development books to stay updated, but it’s also true that the hours outside of work are meant for rest and leisure, so they only go so far. How can I keep pace with those working in larger teams on bigger projects? I don’t intend to change companies at the moment.

    Warm regards from Italy,

    • 27 min
    Episode 405: Scaled agile pain and top-heavy team

    Episode 405: Scaled agile pain and top-heavy team

    In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions:

    One and a half year ago, I joined my current team as a tech lead, in an organisation that uses ‘Scaled Agile’. This was my first time joining an organisation that employed dedicated Scrum masters. In previous organisations, the role of Scrum master would usually fall upon a team member that felt comfortable doing so, and the last couple of years that ended up being me. I feel this worked out well and I managed to create teams that were communicating well and constantly iterating and improving.

    Upon joining the team, I noticed that despite having a dedicated Scrum master, the team was not doing sprint reviews or retrospectives, and it felt like every team member was on an island of their own. In the months that followed I tried to reinstate these and improve teamwork and communication, but often felt blocked by the Scrum master’s inertia.

    Eventually, they were let go and a new Scrum master was hired. This new collaboration did also not work out. They didn’t have enough of a technical background to engage with impediments, were trying to micromanage team members during Standups, and would continually try to skip or shorten retrospectives. If retrospectives were to occur at my insistence, they would try to determine actions without the team’s input, only to not do them and never look back at the outcome.

    Two months ago the new Scrum master was let go and I was asked to take over their duties in the meantime. Ever since, it feels like the team finally owns their own Scrum process. Our collaboration is not perfect, but we’re finally tracking measurements, evaluating retrospective actions, and iterating as a team. However, the organisation wants us to go back to having a dedicated Scrum master. I’m not against this, but I’m afraid the next Scrum master might undo our efforts. How do we as a team navigate this situation to get an optimal outcome?

    A listener named Max asks,

    I’ve been working in a Data Engineering department at a mid-size product company for over 5 years. When I joined, we had a well-balanced team in terms of average proficiency - some juniors, some middles, and a few seniors. Over these years, we’ve developed a great internal culture where people can grow to a senior level pretty easily. The company itself is wonderful to work for, and we have a pretty low “churn rate” - most of my colleagues are highly motivated and don’t want to leave.

    As a result, we now have only senior and staff engineers in the team. This is well-deserved - they all are great professionals, highly productive, and invaluable for the company, having domain knowledge and understanding of how all our systems work. Management wants them to take on only senior-plus-level tasks, which are usually larger projects and initiatives that involve a lot of collaboration with other departments, process changes or technical initiatives affecting our engineering practices. They have two reasons for this: 1) management doesn’t want to waste the time of such skilled professionals on smaller tasks; 2) management cares a lot about people’s morale, because losing them would be very harmful for the whole company, so they don’t want people to take on small and boring tasks.

    At the same time, we have a HUGE backlog of tech debt, small improvements and refactoring initiatives. Ideally, we would hire 3-4 additional middle and junior engineers to share all backlogs with them, but we now have a hiring freeze. The amount of tech debt is starting to damage team morale on its own, and I feel like we have an unspoken deadline to deal with this problem, which could be someone’s burnout and departure, or a major outage in some vital services we support caused by ignoring tech debt.

    How would you approach the problem of overseniority? I appreciate any advice, and thanks again for the show.

    • 34 min
    Episode 404: Interview comedy and talking pay while new

    Episode 404: Interview comedy and talking pay while new

    In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions:

    Is it considered ok to be a bit funny during an interview?
    To give more context:
    In a recent interview, I progressed up to the final cultural-fit round after clearing all technical rounds at a well-known company.
    One of my interviewer asked how I would deal with conflicts with a peer. In a effort to lighten the mood, I jokingly said I would snitch on them to my manager. I saw the faces go pale on the zoom call. So I backed-up and explained I was just joking and gave them an example of an instance where I had to deal with a conflict. The story didn’t help much to make my case, as there was some “snitching” involved in it.
    But in all seriousness, if I had a conflict in the past and have reached out to my manager to help diffuse the conflict, is it considered a bad thing. How do I make it sound like a good thing during culture-fit interviews?
    By the way I didn’t get an offer from them. Can’t help but think I goofed-up the culture interview.
    Thanks for your time and help.”

    I recently started my first full-time job out of college. I earned an engineering degree but took a job with a company in a more management/ business development/ leadership track. Now I’m the only person in a department with an engineering degree.I’ll be here for a couple of years before they move me into the next role in my track.

    In a casual conversation about going back to school, one of my coworkers jokingly mentioned they would get free school at a local university because they made less than X dollars. This threw me off, as I (having started less than 3 weeks ago), make more than X dollars despite us having the same position and them having worked in the department for almost a year.

    Should I say anything, or just assume that the difference in pay is due to the fact that I have a technical degree and am on a leadership track while they are in neither? I’ve been told it’s mutually beneficial to discuss salary with your coworkers, but I’m afraid to shake things up at my very traditionally run company in my first month here. My pay corresponds directly to the starting pay that an engineer in a design role in my company would be making and I think I was given this pay so not to discourage me from taking a role in the company in favor of an engineering job with engineering pay elsewhere.

    • 28 min

Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5
253 Ratings

253 Ratings

Lauren1850 ,

Totally moreish

I’ve been blazing through these episodes - one after the next. It’s really unlike any other coding podcast I’ve heard. I appreciate that there is some technical talk, but the focus is really on how to deal with the day to day workload, interactions with coworkers, and how to make the best decisions for your career.

This podcast is perfect listening for walking the dogs, doing the dishes, driving, or waiting for your project to spin up. It’s light, but informative.

These guys are funny, goofy, and don’t take things too seriously. But I think they balance out those traits by giving thoughtful and fair advice to the listeners.

Kkellylynne ,

Good content, atrocious audio

I’m a few episodes in and I love the content. I physically cannot listen to these horrible audio levels anymore. It ranges wildly from speaking voices that are barely audible, to laughter or utterance that nearly blows out my speakers. I really hope they get this leveled out in future episodes because I can’t listen to this much more.

gus ostow ,

Good advice

They give thoughtful advice that is clearly drawn from years of experience.

I just wish they would cut to the chase more quickly because there’s a lot of dead time due to slow moving banter.

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