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 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.

Episode 131: Coworkers with stinky feet and Was my salary expectation too high

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In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions:

  1. I have a question - I sit in a desk with 3 other people. One of those people does a great job of personal hygiene…the other two not so much. I have dropped a couple of hints about it (I mentioned it is a good idea not to wear the same pair shoes/trainers every day so you’re feet don’t start to smell). Some days, my stomach will churn from the smells that inevitably waft over. What should I do - I am worried if I tell my boss to talk to them, he will mark me as a troublemaker/overly sensitive.

    To make things worse, one of them sits opposite and puts his feet under my desk, so the, let’s be frank, absolutely awful stench is right under my nose! :?

    It’s not just feet by the way, we are talking the full BO experience.

  2. I was at a interview recently. When being asked for expected salary. I mentioned a number lot more than what the company was expecting. It’s already been a week and I haven’t received a response from them. I really really love the company and the project they are working on. I would love to to contact the HR personal and tell that I am interested in the position even if it means less money. How do I approach the situation? I don’t want to mess it up more than I already have. 🙁

Episode 130 (rerun of episode 87): Stand up and fight! and Metrics

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This is a rerun of episode 87 from December 14, 2017.

In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions:

  1. ‘I’ve been working on a project for the past year with two other senior developers. One of them is the lead, and the other, is my peer. We all have a lot of respect for each others opinions and resolve our engineering disputes amicably.

    My problem is that sometimes my peer will just give up saying ““have it your way”” etc. I want to have it out with him and evaluate each solution on its merits. I’ve considered saying ““STAND AND FIGHT YOU MANGY CUR””, but then looked up ““Mangy Cur”” and decided against it.

    How do i get him to be more vocal about his opinions? (so that i can prove to him that i’m right)

  2. I like the idea of measuring things, but I also feel like work “metrics” are easy to game and hard to make indicative of actual quality work being done / product being produced.

    In particular I worry when the data collected leads people to choose work that will bump stats rather than lead to better end user experiences / product / maintainable code. What kind of data do you think is useful to collect in terms of developer activity? Can you share some examples of ways you’ve been able to assess your own and your coworkers productivity?

    I’m interested in this both on a team level and a personal one. How can I get better if I don’t have a way to track what “good” is for myself? Is trying to turn the complicated and messy thing that is what I actually do all day into a trackable, data driven domain a fool’s errand?

Episode 129: Office romance and What to say during one-on-ones

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In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions:

  1. I recently started working at a small dev shop. Somewhere along the way I may or may not have started seeing a coworker outside of work. It’s really been great but there are no clear examples of how the organization would react to something like this. We have fairly lateral positions and there are no written policies or anything in the handbook. Even so, we’ve been doing our best to act “business casual” when we run into each other during the day. We don’t work directly but it’s a smaller company so the chance is pretty good that we eventually will.

    It’s been fun to navigate so far but wondering what your take is on this/the pros and cons of telling trusted coworkers or management. Thanks!!

  2. I’ve been working as a software engineer for several years now. In my current job I have fortnightly one-to-one catchups with my manager. My problem is that I very rarely have anything to say. My work is going fine, I’m happy enough with my job, and I don’t feel like I really need help with anything. I feel as though not having much to say reflects poorly on me, giving the impression that I’m uninterested or that I don’t value my managers input. What is it we should be talking about?

Episode 128: Finish The Degree In Poverty? and Hiring Insecurity

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In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions:

  1. I’m working for minimum wage as a full Systems Administrator at a State University while I’m taking classes. I really like working here, but I need to make at LEAST 40K /year to justify this level of effort for much longer. I just got offered a job two hours away for 80 - 100K as a System Administrator at a smallish ISP. The same day my boss told me he got approval to hire me on at 45K in 3 - 4 months.

    If I wait and stay I’m not making what I feel I’m worth, but if I leave I’ll make WAY more money and probably won’t finish my bachelor’s degree.

    I already have 5 years of experience as a ““system admin”” but I want to move over to technical project management in the next 10 years.

    I think I should stay, make less money, continue growing my relationships in the Scholastic Network, and finish getting my Bachelor’s degree. That way I can get past HR checks to become a Project Manager somewhere else.

    What should I do?

  2. I’ve recently become the technical lead at my company. I need to build my team more but am struggling with one thing. How do I overcome the fear of hiring someone better than me who could potentially overtake me as the team lead? Is this a common fear among leaders? I want to build an effective team of high caliber developers. But I can’t do that if I let my ego and insecurity get in the way.

Episode 127: Leaving a Job I Love and My Role Is Being Eroded

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In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions:

  1. Hey guys, I love the show! Thanks so much for keeping episodes coming every week.

    Some background:

    I work for a small, established company based in a small city with a growing tech scene. We have about 20 employees, 5 of which make up the engineering team and it’s been a great experience. My role is primarily being a full stack developer working on our web application, but since we’re a small company, I’ve been able to explore some other responsibilities like analyzing data for the marketing team and working with the sales staff to build custom solutions for select clients. I started working here as an intern while still in college almost 6 years ago. I feel my initial salary out of college started a bit low, but I’ve received an 8-10% raise each year I’ve been a full time employee (without having fight for them)–so I think I’m catching up.

    My question is, will I be stunting my career or making myself seem less hirable by staying here too long? I’ve clearly found a great place to work so leaving here would be difficult. I’m also concerned that I’m beginning to run out of skills to acquire here. It sounds easy to leave a job you hate, but how/when should you leave a job that’s this good to you?

  2. Hi Jamison and Dave,

    tl;dr:

    The role I was originally hired for is slowly being eroded - what should I do?

    Longer version:

    I have been working for my current company for a little over a year now. Things were going really well at first, I liked the team I was on, the work (backend) was interesting and I was learning a lot from my colleagues.

    Unfortunately, due to corporate machinations, my team was dissolved as part of a reorganization and scattered to seperate, mostly frontend focused, teams.

    Originally I was told that I would still be doing effectively the same type of work on my new team as on my old, and this has been mostly true. However, over the course of the last few weeks my new manager has gradually been announcing changes in the direction the team is taking as a whole and talking to me specifically about working more on frontend related tasks and upskilling, as I have almost no frontend experience.

    I have tried to make it clear that I have no interest in doing this but my manager is still pushing for it. I am currently still doing mostly backend work with a little frontend, but I feel like my days are numbered. There are other teams with a more backend focus, but I feel that my manager partly wants to keep me in the short term for some necessary backend work and in the long term is hoping I will acquiesce on doing more frontend work.

    How should I navigate this situation? It feels like I sinking in quicksand

    Thanks