It takes more than great code to be a great engineer.

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Soft Skills Engineering is a weekly advice podcast for software developers. We answer questions about all the stuff you didn't realize you needed to know about being an engineer:

  • pay raises
  • hiring
  • going into management
  • annoying co-workers
  • quitting your job
  • meetings
  • micromanagers
  • installing a ball pit in your office
  • and much much more...

For answers to these and other questions, our hosts Dave Smith and Jamison Dance are here to help.

Why should you listen?

Soft Skills Engineering listeners are awesome. Here's what they are saying about the podcast.

Jack says:

Not only did Soft Skills Engineering help me land my first gig, I also used your advice to negotiate a $10,000 raise! I love your podcast and will continue to heartily recommend you to everyone I know!

Hdennen says:

Facing a 9 hour drive, I grabbed a bunch of podcasts to listen to. I don't even know what the other ones are. Seriously, this podcast is full of massively helpful and relevant content from two people who are experienced, funny, and insightful.

Saad says:

Listening to Soft Skills Engineering has completely shifted my thoughts on what it means to be an engineer. It’s probably one of the more useful things I’ve gained during my time at Amazon. It definitely helped me grow, and I’m totally indebted to you for that.

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Recent Episodes:

Episode 141: A Rampant Rewriter and Dealing with an Overexplainer (rerun of episode 73)

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This is a re-broadcast of episode 73 from August 2017. We’ll be back next week with a new episode!

In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions:

  1. A developer on my team has been rewriting my code under the guise of “code cleanup” without saying anything to me. Is this normal? What should I do?
  2. How do you deal with co-workers who over-explain unimportant issues?

Episode 140: Should I apologize for my bugs after I quit and should I become a project manager

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In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions:

  1. Shan writes:

    “Awesome podcast! I’ve used your advice to better communicate with my employers which has been super helpful.

    I recently was working as an intern at a company where I did quite a bit of significant work. I left to pursue a Master’s in CS. I set the expectation that I would be available for questions, but not bug fixes during at least the beginning part of grad school. The company said that was totally fine and they would take any amount of work I could give them.

    I’ve noticed some bugs that have to do with what I was working on. I feel really bad for my team having to work on those bugs while I’m not. It is getting to the point that it is distracting me during the day as I see emails or Slack messages about them. I want to help them, but I just don’t have the time. I am also worried that the reputation I built up of being a solid engineer is damaged.

    Should I apologize to my teammates that have to work on my now legacy code?

    I have this feeling of having abandoned my team. Any thoughts on how to mitigate those feelings?

  2. I work as software engineer at a ~10 person software agency. During my last review my manager rejected my salary raise proposal arguing that I reached the top level for my current position. He said to get a raise, I would have to act as project manager to get commissions for new projects I acquire. I feel conflicted, since even though I like the idea of upping my game, I do not know much about handling this kind of situations with clients. What is your recommendation for developers getting out of the world of code and into the world of people? Bonus question: Ideas on how to get new projects from clients?

Episode 139: How to deal with badmouthing and how to survive in a loud open office

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In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions:

  1. My boss is fairly new to management and has recently made some decisions which had a negative impact on my squad. While this was annoying, it didn’t cause any major problems - we worked around the issues and recovered and everyone including my boss learned from the experience. However, my squad has started criticising him pretty harshly in standups and retrospectives and it’s making me really uncomfortable. Often their criticisms are for things that he has very little influence over and it seems like they’re scapegoating him for the general dysfunction within the company. He’s a nice guy who is trying his best and I wouldn’t want him to think I’m taking part in these badmouthing sessions if word ever gets back to him. He doesn’t manage any of the other squad members. What should I do?

  2. I work at a big software company and sit in a room with about 20 people. Not all of them are on my project, and lots of them are REALLY loud. You know like in a stock market or something. I use headphones to listen to your podcast (well, not only yours to be honest) but usually that’s no help. I turn on music - still can hear every word. These guys somehow think it’s ok to discuss their work in our room instead of a meeting room (which we have plenty of), and do it loudly, while me and my team always go somewhere else to talk.

    I talked to these guys a couple of times about it. They laughed and said they would try to be a little bit more quiet, but forgot this promise 5 minutes later. How else can I handle this situation? I have good relationships with all of them (probably that’s why I had not been taken seriously), but I don’t want to lose them.

Episode 138: Should I ask for a raise before my annual review and how to keep up with young, single, overtime-working co-workers

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In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions:

  1. Hi Dave and Jamison, love the show and your advice, there’s no podcast quite like yours out there in the audiosphere.

    I’m a long time listener, first time question asker.

    “I’ve been doing a really good job lately. I’ve had feedback from my manager and my managers-manager that I’ve exceeded expectations and gone above and beyond over the last year. While the compliments are great to hear, I’d like to approach my manager about a raise to go along with it. Do I wait until performance review time in three months and hope that I get a what I’m hoping for, or bring it up now? How do I approach this conversation without sounding greedy, braggy and potentially asking for too much, leaving a bad impression when I’m on such a roll?

  2. I don’t feel like I can keep up at work, 😬, my team is super clever, young and all singles. They spend weekends, evenings and spare time learning. We are introducing a new tool or framework every couple weeks and it is exhausting. I am constantly learning a lot from them and the projects always go really well. 🤷‍♂️ - I’m not sure how to have a good conversation about it as they all love the learning culture. Any tips?

Episode 137: How to get answers to technical questions and Should managers also be technical

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In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions:

  1. What’s the best approach to connecting with people who know about specific technologies that could help me if I have a question? And what’s the best way to cast a net via co-workers, friends, & family?

    The details of my situation are that I’m trying to build a PostgreSQL database from scratch, and I’m running into lots of problems. I spent 2 hours digging through the Postgres documentation, I asked questions on my University Slack channel, and even the PostgreSQL team Slack with no answers. I also reached out to my boss. But I still have no answers.

    In any case, I’m just happy I had the wherewithal to walk away after 2 hours instead of spiraling into an absolute rage and wasting my night cursing PostgreSQL.

  2. Should a team lead do technical work or restrict himself to people management? What are the pros and cons from each approach?

    HR in my company wants to change from a unified model of team and tech leads (single person performing both roles) to a split model (one team lead with multiple tech leads that hold no people management responsibilities) and I’m not sure what to think about this. I feel not having the team leads ““on the ground”” will make them less effective in the people management aspect.

Episode 136: My family thinks I'm over paid and Is a 10% raise good

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In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions:

  1. I am a software developer and as such, i get paid nicely. My family doesn’t think I work hard enough or deserve the money. Any advice?

  2. I am a software developer that was promoted earlier this year. I received a 10% raise with this promotion. Since working for this company for some time, this is the first substantial raise I have received. Previous raises ranged from nothing to sub-inflation raises.

    Today, my manager informed me that at my annual review I would not be receiving a raise. My manager said this has nothing to do with my performance but more with the fact that I was given a raise with my promotion earlier this year. I was caught off guard by this and did not really know how to feel about this information.

    Does this seem reasonable? Is this something worth following up on with my manager? If so, what are good questions to ask?

Episode 135: Publicly Correcting Speakers and Forced Into a Dev Role as a Product Manager

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In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions:

  1. I went to an internal company developer meetup recently. The speaker was really new at the topic they were presenting and shared some incorrect information. I didn’t want to correct the speaker in front of a bunch of people, but I also didn’t want everyone at the meetup to leave with incorrect information.

    How can I be respectful to the speaker while making sure attendees aren’t misinformed?

    Thanks for doing the podcast! I think it’s great!

  2. I recently joined a new company as a Product Manager, this is my first non-development role after 5 years of development. It took me a lot of time to get to this role. During the interview they said I would be involved in development at the beginning of my role to get to know the system and not implementing my own features. After ramping up a bit, I was able to define a bunch of features, but management kept telling me that they are finding it hard to find people and they want me to implement the features myself. I have no problem doing it for my first project but I feel this is going to continue and 6 months from now I will still be working a as developer again. I can leave and get another Dev role but I am really excited about product and I want to continue in this career transition.

Episode 134: Boredom vs Money and Agile vs Long-Term Schedules

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This episode is sponsored by Pluralsight. Pluralsight is hiring data scientists, machine learning engineers, and software engineers. Check out the jobs at https://pluralsight.com/softskills

In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions:

  1. I’m current doing nearly nothing at work (not by choice) and getting paid a king’s ransom for it, just to stay on the roster. I’ve never been in this situation before. Would I be foolish to give it all up just to not be miserably bored? I’m pretty sure this isn’t sustainable, and I’d get laid off in the next economic downturn before you guys might get to my question, but just curious what your insights are.

  2. How to deal with teams that are run as “Agile”, but management who want timelines and deadlines to steer the business?

    I’m at my second large software development company that’s following the agile/scrum ceremonies with weekly sprints that entail grooming/planning/retro meetings. Management keeps track of progress to align the efforts of multiple teams spread across the organization. I’ve noticed over the past year an increased desire for estimated timelines for when each team will be done with their portion of the project. This forces the team to groom and size stories months out ahead. These estimates end up becoming deadlines that need justification to be pushed back, which is common since as you get into the work you find more stories need to be added.

    I had a very similar experience at my last company. Both have 5-10k employees.

    I understand the needs of the business to plan ahead. So saying “it’ll be ready when it’s done” is not a good answer. However, it feels like we’re constantly falling behind arbitrary deadlines and in a constant frenzy to catch up.

    So….what do?

Episode 133: Herding Linter Cats and Surviving Until Severance Time

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In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions:

  1. How can I make my team be more proactive and go out of their comfort zone more?

    I recently started a new job as the team lead for a team of four developers. Each developer has their own pet things that they keep themselves busy with; one likes to configure linters, another has a long-running project they keeps to themselves, and so on.

    We have been tasked with a new, high-priority project which involves new technology and would require everyone to pitch in. So far, though, that has only happened when I’ve directly asked someone to do something.

    I absolutely do not want to end up in a position where I have to tell people what to do. How can I make them realize that this new thing should be their top priority, even if that means going out of their comfort zone?

  2. TLDR: My role and product are moving to a different country. I don’t want to relocate.

    I have to stick around at least another 3-4 months to get my redundancy package. In some ways this is great as I’m pretty unprepared for interviewing right now. On the other hand, this is terrible because I’m pretty unprepared for interviewing right now.

    How do I keep morale up, for me personally and the wider team during this period?

Episode 132: Should I tell my boss I'm planning to quit and keeping tech talks going

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In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions:

  1. Recently I was approached by a manager and informed that I needed to decide if I wanted to stay at the company or not. I initially said I would like to stay, and was told there was some negative feedback from coworkers I’d need to work on to do so. I agree that these were issues I need to work on to become a better engineer, so I’ve engaged in something like a performance plan with her over the last few weeks. But I’ve decided that I don’t want to stay after all, and I’ve started sending out applications.

    I don’t want to burn bridges when I do end up putting in notice, but I also would like to continue working with her on these issues, and I’m worried if I declare I am leaving that will end. So my question is: should I tell my manager I’ve changed my mind, or stay quiet?

  2. We used to have regular “tech talks” in the office - opportunities for people to share something they find interesting that doesn’t have to be work related but usually is tech/development focused.

    The talks were 30-45 minutes in length, and there used to be free food (at a place that doesn’t normally do that kind of thing)

    I wasn’t here at the time when it last fizzled out, but used to give similar talks at my last company and I’m interested in starting them up again here. People say they’re interested now but the novelty of free food eventually wears off - do you have any suggestions as to how to sustain people’s interest in attending giving talks?

    I might be able to convince a few people I work more closely with but there’s 60+ or so technical people in this office I’m still getting to know.