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.

Recent Episodes:

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

Episode 126: I'm underpaid and Game Industry Bonuses

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In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions:

  1. One of my friends recently was hired at a salary 20k more than my own, even though we are at the same level. This caused me to re-think whether or not my company is paying me fairly and planted seeds for making me leave for something better.

    So the question is: how does one gauge “average salary” (other than at say for example glass door.com) for one’s city and should I interview for a higher salary and come back and ask for a counter offer? How will I be viewed if I did such a thing?

  2. I’ve been an engineer in the video game industry for 10 years. I’ve worked for 4 large game studios and at each one the story has been the same. Once it comes time to release our game, the crunch time kicks in.

    Often the need to work overtime is implied, but on my current project the company president directly spelled out that ALL engineers would be working a minimum of 60 hours per week for AT LEAST six months. In the past I’ve chosen to jump ship before it gets that bad, but I really wanna see this project through to the end.

    We’re all salaried employees and so far we’ve received no compensation for our overtime hours. No comp time or anything. The only carrot that has been dangled is that ““it will be taken into consideration during bonus time””.

    How much is reasonable to expect as a bonus for this much overtime? 10% of my annual salary? 50%? A firm handshake and a swift layoff?

    Thanks guys for any advice you can give!

Episode 125: Brainstorming sessions and Slack Ettiquette

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In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions:

  1. Hey guys! Do you have any tips for making ““brain storming sessions”” more bearable?

    In my experience, I’ve found that it’s very hard to keep this type of meeting productive. I don’t think this is necessarily anyone’s fault, and I love the idea of making sure all sorts of folks have a path to contribute, but many times when I’ve seen these types of meetings organized, many participants don’t have enough context, or subject matter expertise to produce genuinely helpful ideas.

    I think it’s really powerful when cross-discipline teams collaborate well on a project or feature, so I guess I’m wondering if there are practical ways to generate the culture of trust and mutual respect that is needed for this to actually work.

  2. First time question asker, long time listener here. We have a Really Important Problem at work: in Slack, people tend to use @channel instead of @here. What are some strategies for educating everyone that they should be using @here and not @channel? I especially don’t want anyone to feel shamed or called-out in the moment. Thanks!

Episode 124: Pair Programming Pain and Side Hustle CEO

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In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions:

  1. I joined a new team that has a different way of working, which has exposed a lot of my shortcomings.

    On my previous team, collaboration was limited to discussions around architecture and strategy; after reaching consensus, we’d implement the components independently. I was very comfortable with this because I don’t have good intuition for how to interact with others.

    On the new team, we pair-program. Teammates have pointed out mistakes I’ve made while pairing, such as trying to control the mouse when they are in the middle of doing something or investigating something on my own computer without communicating what I’m doing. On this team, we are also expected to be much more engaged in group decision-making. As a result, I’ve made tons of mistakes in how or when I pose questions. Each time I make a mistake, it increases my self-loathing. I tried telling myself that I didn’t have bad intent when I made the mistake and the only way to grow is to make mistakes. I also told myself that this self-loathing doesn’t do anything for the team. I also do a personal post-mortem on each of my mistakes because I thought that would help me move on. These approaches didn’t work and my confidence has dropped substantially. I know it’s essential for me to learn how to work effectively with others instead of staying in my comfort zone of heads-down coding. Do you have suggestions for how to get through this learning process without letting it affect my self esteem and motivation?

  2. Hey Soft Skills Engineering,

    Love the podcast! You’ve helped me understand so much about the software engineering career field that I probably would have otherwise learned the hard way.

    I’ve been working at my current job for almost 4 years. The pay is very much below market (it’s a non-profit), the work is too easy, I can finish any task in a couple of hours, but we are given an automatic 1 week+ deadline to finish anything, and I’m much more technical than any of my co-workers, to the point where I can’t even have nerdy conversations with anyone at work.

    However, I’ve stuck around because the job is pretty much stress-free, I don’t have to think about work at all outside of work hours, and all the free time allows me to take on side-projects and learn new technologies, including every level of software development.

    With all this free time, I’ve started a company. In the last few months, I’ve managed developers, designed a system using blockchain tech, designed and implemented a database, learned the ins and outs of AWS management and server-less development, built a REST API from scratch, developed a full front-end in React/Redux, and learned a ton of other things.

    Since I’m in the prototype phase, my startup hasn’t gotten any revenue, and I’m aware it might take awhile to get any revenue if it ever does. I need to pay bills, and I need to start thinking about my financial stability. So I think it’s time to get a new job, even if it means not having as much freedom to work on the startup.

    I’m not sure on how to approach my next step. I want to continue working on the startup after I get a new job, but I’m aware that employers might not be fond of “CEO” on my resume when there’s no end-date on the position, because I might leave at any time if my company grows. If I don’t put anything about my company on my resume, then it seems like I have nothing to show for all the technical skills I claim I have (since all the learning, management and implementation has all been for my company).

    Do I put anything about the startup I’m working on in my resume? If not, then how would I showcase all the experience and skills I’ve gained by beginning this startup? Should I just keep getting by paycheck to paycheck while I build the company?

    Thanks

Episode 123: Salary Promise Fail and Slacker Coworkers

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In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions:

  1. Great podcast! Love what you guys are doing and very happy that you are doing this for such a long time! Here’s the question.

    I started to work in a Startup a year ago. When we were negotiating the salary we agreed on amount X, and CTO promised that after a year it will be increased. He did say the exact sum. So, the year has passed, I followed up CTO about the salary raise, and he delegated the task to the manager, who decided not to give me a raise. When I asked ‘why?’ he said that I am good at negotiating my salary and I’m getting what the market is offering. I don’t feel bad about not getting more money, but the fact that the CTO break his word concerns me. I don’t think I can trust this company when they are promising anything and I started to care less about what I’m doing here. Am I delusional that a programmers salary has to increase even by 2% on a yearly basis and how to find a way to trust company in the future? Or just drop this and take the default SSE case - look for another job?

    Thank you for your answer.

  2. Hi Dave and Jamison, Absolutely love the show.

    I share an office with a peer who works on my team. We are both early in our career and are lucky to work under a very hands off manager. However, I feel my peer is taking advantage of the situation and is slacking off. He is rarely in his office and often states that he is ““working”” from home. When he graces us with his appearance in the office, he asks the most basic questions. Granted, those questions are internal and specific (not easily Google-able), but still, I feel he should have known the answers after a year on the job.

    He intentionally exploits our monolith’s slow builds by running full builds all the time and complain that it is slow. Then plays video games in the office until the build is complete (about 4 hours). Then makes a minor change in his feature code and kicks off a full build again, even though he could build incrementally (about 2-3 minutes).

    What do you recommend me to do? Should I spend time and energy to answer his lifeless questions? Should I confront him?

Episode 122: Too Much Process and Negotiating Salaries with Multiple Companies

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In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions:

  1. Is it just me or does systems like Jira and TFS get managers to go crazy on processes? We have TFS and management has created a convoluted mess of processes that takes forever to learn and gets changed on a whim to be replaced by an even more convoluted process. Every time I finish a large feature and need to merge it in, I have to run around asking ten people on what process changed since there are all sorts of permission denied and other strange error messages. In my previous job, same with Jira and Jenkins. As an engineer, do managers really need these crazy processes that get in the way or am I naive engineer who doesn’t really understand the value of these processes?

  2. Just wanted to preface by saying that I absolutely love your podcast. It’s definitely helped me mold into a better developer and team player!

    My company is having a tough time raising our next round. In light of this, I am actively looking for my next position. Financial stability and growth is my biggest concern as I am planning to get married, buy our own place, and have kids. My goal is to interview at multiple companies and get competing offers. From a hiring perspective, I can definitely see how companies and see this in a negative light. How do I navigate salary negotiations so that I can get the best deal (financially) without being stereotyped?

Episode 121: Working Remotely Without Hating It and Managing Rotating Engineers

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In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions:

  1. I used to work totally remote, but found myself absolutely hating it. The lack of office culture and human interaction.

    The problem is that in my area there are few local development jobs that match my skill set. I work in a large but heathcare heavy town, and their tech does not blend with my skill set.

    All to say. When it comes time to find my next job I’ll probably be looking for remote again. How can I come to love remote jobs, or at least survive?

    Maybe my previous companies remote culture was terrible. Is there any advice you can give when evaluating a remote culture at a company?

  2. Love the show! I had a question on how to effectively manage of team of engineers who have only partial allocation to my project. I am a project & technical lead for a team of ““8 FTE””, which is composed of a rotating cast of engineers who are allocated to my project in small percentages (most commonly between 30-80% of their time).

    This has a lot of challenges which you can imagine, but the one I am most interested in your thoughts on is the struggle with other projects about ““whose deliverable for a given engineer has priority””.

    As an example an engineer with 50% time on my project and 50% on another project will give me feedback that his immediate tasking between projects is unclear, he knows he has to do both workloads but feels they are uneven, or he is under more pressure from one project than the other. My company stack ranks during performance reviews and competition between leaders of matrix organizations (such as myself) in particular is fierce, so discussions between projects on how to effectively tackle this problem does not yield constructive agreements (in my experience). I’m at times guilty of trying to ““squeeze”” more than my designated allocation out of engineers to deliver on agreements for timing, scope, etc.

    Any thoughts are appreciated!

Episode 120: Layoff Decisions and Overworking Peers

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In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions:

  1. How do managers make firing decision during company wide cuts? Recently our company went through spending cuts and x percentage of people were laid off as part of this exercise. On one fateful day, our manager informed us that he let go John Doe as he had to fire someone. Overall John Doe was a decent senior developer and was with the company for 10 plus years. My gut feeling is that he was let go because he simply didn’t (or couldn’t) move to management and was too old for a developer position. Does ageism play a role when a firing decision has to be made based on non-performance reasons?

  2. I’m in my early 30s, I have a spouse and a small child, and work remotely as a software engineer. One of my peers, let’s call him James, is about 10 years younger than me, works on-site, and is single. He’s a good developer and really friendly. The problem I have with him is that this job is his life. It isn’t uncommon for James to work 14 hour days (including weekends sometimes), submitting code for review at midnight, then back in to work bright and early the next day. This is not at all encouraged at my company. Most everyone comes in at 9 and leaves at 6. I feel a little bad for James because I get the sense that he’s lonely, and doesn’t have much going for him outside of work.

    However, it’s frustrating working with a peer who puts in way more time at work when my home life literally makes that level of dedication impossible. James receives a lot of praise for the hard problems he works on after-hours. I know my performance is fine and I don’t need the praise per se, but it’s frustrating to feel that I’m going to be compared to him informally by my co-workers in terms of what we get done, and formally, as promotion opportunities come up. I honestly wish someone in management would ask him not to work after-hours, but that’s probably not going to happen. Thoughts on how to handle this?

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

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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?