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

Subscribe Now Support us on Patreon

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 119 (rerun of episode 77): My boss wants me to speak at conferences and how to get better than a 2% raise

Download

In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions:

  1. I started my first job as a developer 2 months ago. My boss wants me to give talks at meetups and then later, conferences.

    I have no idea what I can talk about as I am still very much learning.

    How do I find a topic to research and work on so that I can deliver value to people listening to my talk?

  2. What are some things I can try to increase the scale of my annual raise or bonus? For example, if my company averages a 2% raise each year, but I really want a 3% raise this year, how might I go about it?

Episode 118: Asking For Help and Speaking Up

Download

In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions:

  1. What is the right balance between asking for help and figuring things out on my own? How do I know when it’s time to ask questions or when it’s time to spend more time drilling down into the code?

  2. Been at my first job for a couple of years now, and I am very quiet in the workplace and still find it hard to open up, be assertive, and speak up in meetings.

    When I try to go out of my comfort zone (arguing about technical decisions, setting up and driving meetings), I don’t think my manager appreciates my efforts. I am told that I need to voice my opinions more and have more of a two-way conversation. I feel I’m not given concrete chances to improve, and it’s very demotivating. How should I deal in situations like this?

Job pitch time! Are you interested in working at Walmart Labs? Email Jamison at [email protected]!

Episode 117: Defense Industry Stigma and Responding to Negative Feedback

Download

In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions:

  1. Will working as a defense contractor hurt my future employability in private industry?

    I work as a full stack engineer for a small defense contractor with a security clearance. My company is awesome; All of my coworkers are super talented/motivated. On top of that we get to work with modern tech stacks (React, Elm, Go, Rust, Kafka, you name it, we can use it). I have heard rumors that it’s hard to move back to private industry after working in this world due to working with old/legacy tech and the view that defense contractors generally have less than stellar engineers. Is this true? I feel I’m in a bit of a unique situation due to how good I have it at my company and feel I could demonstrate that my technical chops are up to par with industry standards.

  2. We we just did a 360 performance evaluation where we provided “strong points” and “improvement suggestions” for two colleagues assigned by management. The completed reviews were sent to management and management forwarded it to the people under review.

    One of the reviews I received was very positive but the other one, from a senior teammate I work closely with, had a very harsh and exaggerated “improvement suggestions” section and very short and unconvincing “strong points” section.

    I’m not sure if he really considers me incompetent or he just wrote the suggestions, which do have some truth in them, without bothering to put things in perspective and without considering the impact it can have on my career and motivation. I feel a bit resentful towards the reviewer and am worried about the potential negative consequences of this review (I am relatively new to the company, joined 7 months ago).

    For now, I am trying to act as if nothing happened.

    I am hesitating whether I should talk to this person. On one hand, he can write what he wants in the way he wants. On the other hand, I feel the review is unfair and too negative.

    I would appreciate your input on this.

Episode 116: Weekend Warrioring and Reaching the End of the Career Ladder

Download

In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions:

  1. I work at a growing start up, and while I was hired as a web dev, I have started working on unrelated but cutting-edge tech for the company during off hours. My boss has encouraged me to do this with monetary and office life bonuses, and he has reworked our business model to focus on it. The only problem is that our CEO overpromises and pushes me to my mental and physical limits for very short turnarounds. I still have to do my regular job. While I love the challenge, and love the company, I feel set up to fail. And the 40 hour coding sprints over the weekend are killing me. I feel like I’m setting a horrible precedent because somehow, defying all logic, I’ve met the deadline each time. How far is too far? Should I keep killing myself, or take the agony of defeat on a project.

  2. I’m currently working as a Senior Solutions Architect after a career progression that looks like this: Junior Developer, Intermediate Developer, Senior Developer, Junior Architect, Intermediate Architect, Senior Architect.

    In a recent one-on-one with my boss, we were discussing my future career options and concluded that the next step for me would be one of the following three positions: VP of Engineering, Chief Architect, or CTO. According to him, all three have similar levels of prestige, pay and influence, but vary in the nature of the job.

    Reflecting on this conversation, it dawned on me that I’m close to the final stage of my career. I’m currently 39 years old, so I’m now thinking to myself: Is that really it? One more promotion and I’ve successfully climbed the corporate ladder? End of the line. Time to retire. Nothing more to strive for (other than working on the most interesting projects).

    So, could you please talk about the software career progression, what to aspire to and how to measure one’s own progress once one has reached the top of the ladder?

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

Download

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)

Download

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

Download

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

Download

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

Download

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

Download

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?