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:

  • navigating pay raises
  • hiring and interviewing
  • deciding to go into management
  • dealing with annoying co-workers
  • quitting your job
  • managing meeting creep
  • 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.

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:

I owe you a lot, listening to Soft Skills 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. I kind of brushed this stuff off, considering some of it politics, and the rest unimportant, but boy was I wrong. It definitely helped me grow, and I’m totally indebted to you for that.

Recent Episodes:

Episode 115: Sharing Your Salary When You Leave and Hiring Decisions Overruled

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In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions:

  1. Let say you accepted an offer from another company and you turned in your 2 weeks notice. If your current employer ask you how much you will be making at your new place, should you tell them?

  2. Recently I was on a panel of people hiring for my company. We were hiring for several positions and were given a fixed headcount. When it came down to the last spot we interviewed two people, one of which was a referral from someone higher up in the company. This person did terribly on the interview and we as a panel decided that we would offer the position to the other person, who was the strongest of all the interviewees. And all was fine until several days later when we received an email from HR showing the full list of people to be hired, and lo and behold, the list contained all the people we chose, plus one extra person, the referral person. Somehow there was magically more headcount for this person and now he is being hired.

    I’m not really sure how to feel about this. Because now we have a new person that is going to enter the company and I feel if he doesn’t perform well it will reflect badly on me and the panel that were involved in hiring. Also I am confused at this clear example of nepotism happening in my company. Should I bring this up with someone in the company? I’m leaning towards no but I am also confused and annoyed at what happened.

Episode 114: Story Point Commitments and Measuring Productivity (Episode 79 Rerun)

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In this re-run of episode 79, Dave and Jamison answer these questions:

  1. It seems like my teams always miss their story point commitments. Is this normal? How do you change it?
  2. How do you actually measure developer productivity?

The article comparing research on productivity in static and dynamic type systems is here. It is a great read.

Jamison also mentions Goodhart’s Law. Read more about it here.

Episode 113: Quitting Your First Job and Too Many Responsibilities

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In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions:

  1. How do I quit my first job if I’m working with a manager I love?

    I started my first full-time job about two years ago and I’m starting to think about looking for a new job, both because I am ready for new challenges and I’m ready to move to a new city.

    I have a great working relationship with my boss, so a part of me wants to tell her about my interest in finding a new job, both so that I could use her for a reference and also so that I can be honest with her about my intentions. She’s been a great boss and mentor to me, so there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to jeopardize our working relationship. But another part of me feels like I might be jeopardizing my presence in my current office if I make it clear that I am looking to move on, especially if my job hunt doesn’t go as smoothly as I hope.

  2. How do you deal effectively with rapidly increasing work responsibilities?

    My technical lead was recently promoted to management. Being both ambitious and the only Sr. Engineer without retirement plans in the next 4 months, I immediately stepped into the power vacuum and inverted a binary tree faster than all my coworkers to establish my position as new tech lead. After a few months the other senior engineer on my team retired, and I’ve ended up holding the bag for my new job responsibilities, my old responsibilities as a Sr. Engineer, AND the departed Sr. Engineer’s responsibilities.

    I told my manager how much was on my plate and that I was afraid my work output would suffer, and her response was to throw money hand over fist at me and promise to backfill both Senior positions within the next 12 months.

    How do I get through the next 18 months without losing all my hair? Are there any strategies to make sure the team doesn’t go up in flames when I forget about a key deadline? Or at least position myself so that nobody can tell it is my fault until I can make a subtle getaway in the brand new Ferrari I’m going to buy?

Episode 112: Disinterested Interviewing and Layoff Fallout

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In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions:

  1. Is it common for developers to take an interview without real interest in a job?

    Is it common for a company to reject a candidate because they think candidate is not interested in a job?

    Recently I had an interview and I was rejected even though I though it went really well. From internal channels in that company I learned that the interviewer thought I wasn’t really searching for a new job and was just doing interviews for fun or to improve my skills. That was really frustrating. And also, well, flattering. But still, I don’t understand what signals I may have given. I asked questions about the company, processes, etc. I prepared really well. And I asked for a salary that’s quite significant for our market.

    The only reason I see is that I always worked remotely and this is position in an office.

    By the way, LOVE your show!

  2. What happens when a wave of engineers leaves your company?

    I work for a startup that went through a brutal round of layoffs, before stabilizing. We’re building the engineering team back up, but the core team members that built our platform are gone.

    How do we approach maintaining things, adding new things, technology decisions, etc?

Episode 111: Dogma Rehab and Getting a Co-worker Fired

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In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions:

  1. Hello Jamison and Dave. 💕 your show! 👏

    I have been a C# dev for 7 years. Last year, I learn Erlang. I fell in love with functional programming. After that I learned Elm and oh boy… I had never dreamed a compiler/computer could do so much work for me, preventing so many mistakes that would otherwise require an unholy number of “unit tests”.

    The thing is I can no longer find satisfaction with any job. I love to write software, but at some point I became almost dogmatic. I abhor more and more the discipline it takes, in certain languages, to make my code be as pure and testable as in an FP language.

    I had to do so much un-learning, that now I feel that I am refusing to un-un-learn all these different ideas and paradigms and just go back to making the tests happy.

    I seek your humorous words of wisdom on how to find contentment with my job again, without looking at a language and dreading it.

  2. I have a co-worker, who is pretty incompetent technically. Over the past few years that I’ve been here, he has proved time and again that he is incapable of learning and really grasping how things work. He is able to accomplish basic feature work, but not capable of making good architecture decisions, or why a given framework should be chosen, or how to solve harder problems (I’m not sure how to describe this. But for example, how to build a resilient API client).

    However this person is great at creating slides, and presentations, and JIRAs, so I think management thinks they are ok at their job.

    He’s also a nice guy. I’m not sure how to say, hey you suck at your job. Which is pretty harsh. Or to suggest to someone that he should be replaced.

Episode 110: Team Spirit and Half-hearted Recruiting

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In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions:

  1. How do I help foster team spirit in a newly created team?
  2. I work for small startup (fewer than 10 people). My boss wants to hire another developer and asked me to look around for people.

    I don’t feel particularly strongly about this team. I’ve been there for about a year, but I don’t imagine myself working there for another twelve months.

    I don’t want to refer my friends because I don’t want them to join a team I don’t feel good about.

    On the other hand, I want to work with great people. I see how other devs may enjoy working in such an environment, but it’s just not for me.

    In the long run, I obviously want to leave this job, but what would you recommend doing in short term? Is hiring under such circumstances really that different than hiring if I liked this team?

Episode 109: Critical Junior Dev and Introducing New Tools

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In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions:

  1. I run a small dev team. One junior developer constantly openly challenges things that don’t meet this their preference. As a manager I don’t want to stifle innovation, but need to find a balance on being able to meet business goals on schedule.
  2. I want to add an automatic formatting tool to our code, but my co-worker is resistant to the idea. He started this project and I’m brand new to it. I don’t want to push it too much, but I would really love to use it. I’ve shared with him all the reasons that it would be good, and addressed most of his concerns. I’ve also submitted a PR to show him what it would look like. Also, he is in another timezone 9 hours away, so communication is all on GitHub, Slack, and the occasional video call (if I wake up early). He finally said if it really helps me, then I can go for it, but I don’t think he would like it if I did. Should I go for it? Try to convince him more? Or just drop it?

(Rerun) Episode 35: Attracting Talent and Quitting Responsibly

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We’ve got another re-run this week, as Jamison and Dave both recover from being sick. We’ll be back with a new episode next week.

In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions:

  1. How can I attract talent?
  2. How do I quit without burning bridges?

This episode originally aired on November 15th, 2016.

Episode 108: An Insecure Teammate and Disclosing Past Ratings

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In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions:

  1. What do I do about an insecure teammate whose insecurity causes them to lash out at others?
  2. I’d like to change teams within my company, but I’ve had some negative performance reviews in the past. How early should I disclose this to my prospective manager?

Jamison talks about the Khan Academy Engineering Principles, which are great and which you should read.

(Rerun) Episode 40: Office Visibility and New Tech

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In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions:

  1. How can I encourage my team to be more visible in the office?
  2. How do I learn new technologies without going through a noob phase?