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 150: How to fight imposter syndrome as a technical lead and Getting in to meetups

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In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions:

  1. I worked for four years doing web development for a company while I got my degree, and loved it. I eventually became the lead developer because I had been on the team the longest.

    I thought it was really cool. I worked with the team to make organizational tech decisions, trained new hires, held regular meetings to discuss projects. After about 6 months, though, imposter syndrome started sneaking in and I felt like I was making things worse, not better. I figured the team needed someone who actually had senior level experience, and the pressure was getting to me. So I bailed.

    I’ve since had a few people approach me and say they want me to join their early-stage startup in a technical leadership position. I haven’t outright declined, but I’m nervous about being put in a position where the stakes are even higher.

    My question is if the pressure of being responsible for everything ever lessens. Is it something that gets better as you get more experience? Is everyone in technical leadership feeling this pressure and doing a good job to hide it? What can I do to gain the confidence to eventually lead another team?

  2. How do you step into the meetup scene? I have not attended one before, but the idea of them is interesting. However, there is this feeling that I would not fit in due to inexperience.

Episode 149: How to get my engineering career back on track and how to thrive in a heavy process environment

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Joining us this episode is special guest Nedda Amini!

In this episode, Nedda, Dave, and Jamison answer these questions:

  1. My engineering career started out pretty promising. But along the way, I took a couple of unfortunate decisions and jobs, that instead of helping me grow as an engineer, were a big setback. When you career takes a few too many bad turns, how do you steer it back to where you want it to go?

  2. I work on product development with ~25 other developers, and management recently had us all embark on a journey to gain some level of CMMI appraisal. The goal is to deliver higher quality software at a more predictable pace. In practice this means that we got more processes to follow, more meetings to attend and more time-tracking fuss.

    I’m trying to keep an open mind because I, as a programmer, also have high standards for the product and it’s development. I’m scared that programmers are being turned in to factory workers stripped of any autonomy. These new processes don’t allow me to do anything without my product owner’s approval. I’m afraid that it will limit my creativity and ultimately cause my work and the product to suffer.

    In this kind of scenario, what’s your advice for a programmer who often gets inspired to remove tech debt, tinker with our dev environment, and otherwise make small improvements and refactorings that shouldn’t require management approval?

    What’s your opinion on the level of freedom that programmers should be provided in order to do their job well?

Episode 148: In the orbit of a Rock Star Programmer and Should I share my salary with my coworkers?

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In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions:

  1. I’ve been an engineer for about 5 years and in the last two jobs, rock-star programmers have made my life very difficult. I define rock star programmers as ones with ability to produce lots of code and implement features at a pace that dwarfs my own. In my last job, the RSP would constantly rewrite core libraries and I would have to figure out his design and rewrite my code to adapt to the new design multiple times.

    In the current job, the RSP is very uncommunicative but with his sheer productivity steers the project into wild directions that are always coming as a surprise. Half the time my work then becomes throw-away because I was working based on the previous design. Am I a slowpoke and I’m seeing a normal programmer as a rock star or are these programmers just slightly above normal programmers but creating lots of work for everyone else?

    Managers are completely starry eyed at RSP and so talking to managers seems like a bad idea. What should I do?

  2. How do you feel about sharing salaries amongst your co-workers? I’m about to have my yearly review and I get the sense that my raise (which has already been promised to me) will be underwhelming given how stingy the company has been previously. That is simply a hunch based on previous experience and the fact that our team budgets have tightened up in the past 6 months. Recently a co-worker let it slip what his salary is, and though I don’t like playing the comparison game, it made me feel underappreciated. I discovered that he was making the same salary I was, but for lower quality of work and less contributions to the team. I’ve heard some devs in other companies advocate for sharing salaries amongst their peers, but I’m not sure if it’s a good idea. Will sharing my salary and encouraging my co-workers to do the same, allow for myself and my co-workers to better understand our value and help us negotiate raises? Or will it simply foster resentment and division?

Episode 147: How to grow in a flat organization and how to get references when job hunting in stealth mode?

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In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions:

  1. I work in a flat organization. There aren’t really any titles, and very few managers. There is no common “climbing the ladder” here. What are options for career growth that will help me feel confident that I am progressing in my career?

  2. How do references work? I’m starting to look for a new job which means potential employers are going to be asking me for references. I’m not ready to let my boss know I’m thinking of leaving and aside from my current coworkers I don’t know who would attest to my ability as an engineer. I work for a small company (under 50) in an even smaller firmware department (about half a dozen). What am I to do?

Episode 146: What to do with sick co-workers who come into the office and dealing with weird performance review feedback

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In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions:

  1. Hi guys! I was faced with quite a dilemma recently.

    A few days ago one of my co-workers said he was sick and worked from home. But the next day he came to office, constantly sneezing and looking terrible, and for some reason finished the day in the office. The same happened the day after that. I didn’t want to be rude and I felt for this guy, but I didn’t want to get sick either cause I have some important tasks this week.

    What could have I done? I could not just tell him “go home you fool, you’re contagious!” I could say “Hey! I noticed you’re not feeling very well, why don’t you come to the manager and ask to work from home this week?” But I didn’t have the guts to do this. Besides, what if he couldn’t work from home for some reason?

    I solved this by lying to my manager that I’m ill too, and worked from home. What is the best solution here?

  2. Hi, I recently went through my company’s annual review process. The review went pretty much as expected, with things that I was doing well and things that I could improve on. However, I received some negative feedback which I disagreed with. I asked for additional detail and examples of this, but neither my manager, or his manager (our site lead) could give me any concrete examples.

    After some further discussion they agreed to remove the comment from my review, but I’m now left wondering why this feedback was added in the first place if there were no examples they could give me. Their explanation for this was that it was feedback for our team, am I wrong or is an annual performance review the wrong place for that kind of feedback?

    Should I be concerned that they actually do have feedback for me, but were unwilling to do so given my reaction? Is this enough of a red flag to maybe consider looking for a new job?

Episode 145: What to do with a bad manager who is loved by upper management and should I include detecting major security vulnerabilities on my resume?

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In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions:

  1. How do I deal with the manager on my team who is both not very technical and positions himself as the “boss” spending almost no time with the team (except dragging everyone into more and more meetings! 😡) .

    My manager upsets and demotivates the team but not upper management and is clearly trying to climb the career ladders as fast as possible.

    Obviously everyone wants the team to succeed but the friction is growing. Some team members already left with (maybe too subtle) hints at the problem.

    Should one stage a coup and take over? Silently manipulate people to go to into “the right” direction? Switch teams/jobs and see it burn from the sidelines 🍿?

  2. While testing my system at work, I was shocked how little security there was. Two issues exposed the entire system’s data by just changing the query string. Also every API call had no backend check on the user making the call. These are just two examples of many.

    This is at a gigantic multi billion dollar institution handling hundreds of thousands of people’s data, some of it incredibly sensitive. This fact will be known on my resume.

    This leads to my question: I am looking for a new job now, and wondering how much detail about these security issues is appropriate to share on a resume? I feel this helps me stand out as a newer dev, but would this be frowned upon by prospective employers that may worry I might overshare their own security issues?

    Thanks for all your help!

Episode 144: Job hunting while employed and how to start my first technical lead role

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In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions along with special guest Jonathan Cutrell::

  1. I’ve been job hunting while employed (gasp), and I have a number of opportunities that have advanced to the in-person interview. Most of the requests I’ve seen have said that they’ll be 4-5 hours in the office (which seems fairly typical).

    The problem is that I don’t have unlimited vacation, and I feel dishonest taking so many days off. How can I navigate new opportunities without disrespecting them, or completely failing in my current responsibilities?

  2. Hey guys, great show (though I think, as with all shows, it could probably use more discussion of badgers [yes, I said badgers!]).

    I’m about to start a new job (I took the time-honored and hallowed show advice, though I’m leaving on great terms with my old job) and will be coming in as that fanciest of newly-invented titles in software, Staff Software Engineer. This is the only third time I’ve started a new job [not counting odd jobs in high school and college], and I’ve never stepped into a leadership role before when starting. What are the most helpful things you’ve done or seen other engineers do when joining a team in a technical leadership role?

    Thanks!

Follow Jonathan Cutrell on Twitter @jcutrell and subscribe to the Developer Tea podcast: https://spec.fm/podcasts/developer-tea.

Episode 143: Dealing with meeting interrupters and setting work limits

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In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions:

  1. I have noticed one of my coworkers, a fellow senior software engineer, often interrupts people during their meetings with his comments and thoughts.

    While I’m not against voicing opinions during a meeting, he does it so often that he takes over meetings. Some of his points are off-topic. He’ll cut off the presenter or another colleague (who displayed good etiquette) mid-sentence, not letting them finish their thought and derailing the flow of the meeting.

    In our last meeting I tried to quickly respond to his interjections rather than let him finish so we can keep the meeting moving. I thought he would take the hint to think a little more before interrupting. Ineffective so far. I think next time I will recommend that all questions and concerns be held to the end so we can get through all the meaningful content before letting him speak. Any other suggestions on how to deal with people like this?

  2. Hi guys! I have a question about setting limits to your work. I hear that its a common practice among developers to set restrictions to their work like turning off slack notifications when at home, not staying late at work, etc. This seems like a healthy approach, and I like it.

    But I can’t bring myself to do it.

    I’m a successful developer, I love my job, and I love the work communication in our chat. I have no problems struggling through the workday, but I have problems not falling into work in my free time.

    I have a lot of friends, a lot of hobbies, I’m definitely not bored outside of work. But still I always have this inner desire to open and read the workchat when I have a free minute, or finish an interesting feature in the evening instead of reading an interesting book.

    I can’t say it makes me unhappy in some way or affects my private life - I still will go and see a friend if I’m invited and still will attend my yoga class on a normal schedule - but this ““desire”” distracts me sometimes and that’s not normal either. Am I right?

Episode 142: Can I get hired above my level even though I look inexperienced on paper and should I be brutally honest in peer performance reviews

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In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions:

  1. On Episode 66 you attempted to answer my question: ‘How bad can a Junior Front End Developer be?’ Well, I’m now 4 months into my new job as a Junior Front End Developer and it turns out, they can be pretty bad!

    I’m in this junior role I feel overqualified for. My peers rate me as a solid mid-level, and I’ve started to realize that I’m not really a “junior”. I think this can all be attributed to learning from really good devs at my last company. My best friend is a Senior JS Contractor (legend) and I talk to him about code and best practices everyday.

    Question: Would you ever hire someone at a mid-level role even if they only had 6 months of profressional experience? i.e. how much weight do you put on the CV?

    I love you guys, listened to every podcast!

  2. Thank you so much for the show, I’ve been binge listening to old episodes ever since a friend of mine suggested it. Your excellent, and often comedic, advice has been getting me through the work day and I really appreciate it! Onward to the question!

    One of the members on my team, who is more senior than me, often does poor work, and the rest of the team picks up the slack to redo the work, pushing out deadlines we would have otherwise met. I know better than to vent about this at work even though it is very frustrating, however now I’m in a bit of a predicament. Part of our annual review process requires us to provide feedback on each of the members of our team which is not anonymous. The feedback is used to make decisions about raises and promotions. This individual has mentioned that they expect a promotion to a team lead position in this upcoming review cycle, which makes me quite nervous. Should I be honest in my review and mention my concerns or should I take the much more comfortable route that will also protect relationships on my team of pretending everything is fine.

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?