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Soft Skills Engineering

It takes more than great code to be a great engineer. Soft Skills Engineering is a weekly advice podcast for software developers about the non-technical stuff that goes into being a great software developer.

Weekly hand curated podcast episodes for learning

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Episode 222: Cowboy CTO and underpaid after promotion

In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions: Questions Hey, long time fan of the show! Our current CTO came in as the result of a merger. For most of his life, he was a solo developer and owned his own company. The struggles we are facing now are: He is not responsive at all, neither via chat, nor email, nor any other communication tool. He often says “I’ll do it” but then takes weeks to finish He has thousands of unread emails in his inbox When he writes tickets, the details are unclear for others He codes way too much for a CTO, in my opinion, and his code is a bit messy compared to the other developers Since he is a really nice person, we all want to give him feedback that makes him understand his role better, and to avoid being a bottleneck. I know that changing another person is hard, but at the same time I know that he is motivated to become a good CTO. How do I help him?” Hi. I’ve only recently discovered your podcast this quarantine, and it’s been really helpful at work already. So when I was faced with this problem, I immediately thought of you! I have been a professional software developer for just over a year and have received great feedback from my manager and team. During my performance review, I asked what I would need to qualify for promotion. I got the news that I had already been recommended for a promotion! Meanwhile, a friend still in university got an entry-level job offer from my company that pays more than I would make if my promotion went through. Where I come from, there are no negotiations when companies recruit at universities, so it’s not a matter of them negotiating a better deal. If the promotion does not come through I have no qualms trying to negotiate. If the promotion does comes through, would I come off as ungrateful if I bring this up? Am I asking for too much by wanting to be paid more at a higher position than what a new grad would be paid at entry level? I know it’s not an ideal world and I feel greedy as I type this, but I just want to be compensated for what I think I’m worth. I also think that it also comes down to my ego at some point. SEND HALP


10 Aug 2020

Rank #1

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Episode 117: Defense Industry Stigma and Responding to Negative Feedback

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


23 Jul 2018

Rank #2

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Episode 217: Quitting words and double COVID internship

In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions: Questions Hi Over time I have heard many different terms that all seem to equate to “I no longer have a job”. Some examples are quit, fired, laid off and terminated. What is the difference between these (and others) and what is best (both from benefits and emotionally) for the employee and the employer? Note I am not planning to quit my job or fire someone, but I am curious to hear your views. Hey guys, I love your podcast and find it super helpful for me as I start my career in tech. I am in a conundrum. I am a student and I took the opportunity Covid presented me to take up two internships instead of one. Both are at top companies. My question is I am feeling like I am drowning in work, how do I navigate through this and what are your general thoughts. Thank you in advance!


6 Jul 2020

Rank #3

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Episode 3: What to look for in a dev team

In episode 3, Jamison and Dave answer two questions: What should I look for in a dev team? I don’t get enough done at work. I work on a small team that has aggressive plans for developing its product, but I don’t feel like I get enough work done or move fast enough for the company.


21 Mar 2016

Rank #4

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Episode 212: Turnover and self-inflicted complexity

In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions: I’ve been working at a big software company for two years.Since joining, 10 people have left my team, which is more than 50% of my team. Usually it’s the experienced developers who leave either for a different team, a different role or a different company altogether. The latest departure of a peer who I’ve been looking up to as a brilliant developer has been affecting my mood quite strongly. On one hand, I should be glad that I’m becoming a more pivotal member of the team, having moved up in the “seniority chain”. On the other hand, I’ve always believed the saying: “If you’re the smartest person in the room, then you’re in the wrong room”. Should I be concerned about this turnover rate? Is it considered normal? Why am I feeling different about this last departure than all of the previous ones? I am the tech lead on a team at a large tech company. One of the developers on our team has consistently struggled to meet deadlines and project deliverables. He frequently seems to invent his way into impossibly complex software problems. Additionally, he also seems to lack the ability to focus on a single thread, and tries to tackle diverse kinds of work in parallel. I’ve tried to help mentor and coach him, advising him to stick to one problem at a time and try to raise his hand and has for help before he backs himself into a hermeneutically sealed NP-hard problem — but I haven’t had much success. I wanted to see if you guys had any advice. Thanks a million!!! Actual study showing actual results that we actually linked in the show notes this episode: https://radford.aon.com/insights/infographics/2017/technology/q1-2017-turnover-rates-hiring-sentiment-by-industry-at-us-technology-companies


1 Jun 2020

Rank #5

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Episode 205: Old code outage and questions leaking

In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions: Ever since I graduated from college, I’ve been working in a rising tech company for almost 5 years. I’ve been working on some project and different teams, and it has been more than 1 year on my current team. One day, someone mentioned me that their service is down because of my code from when I was on the previous team and I didn’t even touch that code for almost 2 years. I explained that I am in different team now, so I refer them to the current members of my old team. I also gave some suggestion on how to fix it, but that team didn’t respond fast enough and eventually other person fixed it. Somehow I feel really guilty that I didn’t do anything to fix it. My question is: Until when I responsible for the code I wrote? Is it as long as I’m on the team, or as long as I’m still working in the company? Please advise. Thank you. An external recruiter learned what would be on my technical screen from a previous candidate and shared that with me. Should I warn company X that their technical screen is compromised?


13 Apr 2020

Rank #6

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Episode 211: Biorhythm and coworker roommate

In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions: Hi there Dave and Jamison! I am a tech lead in a small team of 5 people. 4 of them start working at 10-11 AM and one of them likes to start working at 1-2 PM. This person is me.Due to my biorhythm I feel I am the most productive at this time, and I also like to do some of the non-work-related stuff in the morning. Nobody in my team has any objections but as a team lead I feel guilty because it often happens that I block someone with my work schedule. I’m trying to do as much as I can to unblock everyone - distributing tasks in the evening, making it clear everyone knows what to do - but that’s not always helpful so it usually turns out that I am stopping my morning tasks to have a call and explain something or have a text conversation. Tbh it irritates me very much :D Should I feel guilty? As a tech lead, am I responsible for working at the same time everyone does? Hey Dave and Jamison! I love the show, I’ve listened to every episode and your advice has helped me a TON! I started a new job in a different city a month ago and because of Covid-19 everyone went remote, so I didn’t physically move to that city then. Now there are talks of going back to the office, and one of the developers on my team is also looking for a place to live so we started talking about rooming together. It seemed fine to me but then I realized I’d be spending almost ALL of my time with this person who I have not even met in real life yet. Do you think this is a good idea with a lot of convenience or a recipe for disaster? Have you ever lived with a co-worker? Any advice would be great. Thanks!


25 May 2020

Rank #7

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Episode 4: Should I build my personal brand?

In episode 4, Jamison and Dave answer this question: I have heard a lot about “marketing myself” and my “personal brand”. For example, some people say I should be writing a blog post every week or creating lots of YouTube content. They talk about being a “thought leader”. I love building stuff as an engineer, and obviously I want to have a great job, so how important is this stuff?


31 Mar 2016

Rank #8

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Episode 67: Graduate School and Asking Good Questions

Jamison and Dave answer these questions: Should I get a Masters in Computer Science? How do I ask good questions?


7 Jul 2017

Rank #9

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Episode 71: Informal Leadership and Dealing With Burnout

Jamison and Dave answer these questions: I’m sometimes an informal lead on project teams. How do I help the team get stuff done as a peer? How do I deal with burnout after an extended period of crunch time? Jamison mentions the blog post by Jamis Buck called To Smile Again where he talks about his experiences with burnout.


14 Aug 2017

Rank #10

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Episode 74: Switching Languages Without A Pay Cut and A Missed Negotiation

Jamison and Dave will be at the UtahJS Conference on September 18th. See conf.utahjs.com for more info and to buy tickets. Come say hi! This week Jamison and Dave answer these questions: Do I need to take a pay cut when switching languages? I was promoted at work but didn’t get a raise or a title change. What do I do?


11 Sep 2017

Rank #11

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Episode 209: Glue and Covid ghost job

In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions: Is a “glue person” valuable on a software team? Someone who isn’t the strongest developer but is liked by teammates and builds a cohesive team dynamic. A while ago I interviewed with a big company. Right after completing a code challenge, covid-19 got out of hand in my country and they sent me an email saying they are putting the process on hold. Weeks have passed and I came across a job opportunity posted recently by the company for the position I was applying to. I felt betrayed. I emailed the recruiter asking for follow-up and she said that they are sorry about the situation and that they wanted to schedule a meeting. The question is, should I let them know I was displeased by this or is this really a non-issue? Do I risk my chances by doing so? Am I acting like a jealous teenager? Thanks a lot and love the podcast, stay safe!!


11 May 2020

Rank #12

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Episode 28: How Long Should I Stay At My Job and How Do I Help Junior Developers Improve

In episode 28, Jamison and Dave answer these questions: How long should I stay before I quit my job? Two to three years seems fairly normal. Dave sees people with less than 12 months regularly. Staying at a job means you experience things you wouldn’t if you hopped around a lot. It is much easier to see the hype cycle play out if you stick around. You get to see the outcome of your own decisions. Quitting usually == raise. Chronic job hopping might result in a reputation of not sticking with things. Dave thinks you should quit your first job after 18 months because of the Monty Hall problem How do you encourage junior developers to improve? We assume that these junior developers really want to improve. Make it clear that people get stuck and struggle, and that is normal. Make it clear that you don’t want them to get too stuck. Make it OK to ask questions. People generally live up or down to your expectations, so help them feel trusted and that you expect they will be great. Make the outcome of their work clear.


26 Sep 2016

Rank #13

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Episode 5: Developer Compensation

In episode 5, Jamison and Dave answer this question: What are common ways developers are compensated? Do developers usually get a bonus? Stock options?


4 Apr 2016

Rank #14

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Episode 186: First job negotiation and am I a senior engineer?

In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions: Hi!I am 29 years old and a couple of years ago I decided to turn my career around by going from teaching history to frontend development.After 2 years of education I am now doing my first internship in small but established company. I have the feeling I will soon be offered a full-time position. How can I ask for the best job offer (salary-wise) accordingly to my age but few experiences? I don’t want to be perceived as ungrateful, nor be exploited and get underpaid. How do you know that you are a senior engineer? Not just the title you are given, but when do you really feel like one? Some people relate this to experience, but you can be coding or doing crappy stuff for 10 years so for me this is not the answer.


2 Dec 2019

Rank #15

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Episode 153: Informal Leadership and Dealing With Burnout (rerun of episode 71)

This episode is a rerun of episode 71 from August 2017. In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions: I’m sometimes an informal lead on project teams. How do I help the team get stuff done as a peer? How do I deal with burnout after an extended period of crunch time? Jamison mentions the blog post by Jamis Buck called To Smile Again where he talks about his experiences with burnout.


15 Apr 2019

Rank #16

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Episode 64: Negative Peer Reviews and On Call

Jamison and Dave talk about these questions: How direct should I be in a peer review of a coworker who I really dislike? How do I convince developers to go on call?


15 Jun 2017

Rank #17

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Episode 77: Boss Wants Me To Speak and The 2% Raise

This week Jamison and Dave answer these questions: My boss wants me to speak at conferences, but I’m very new to software. What should I do? How do I get more than a 2% raise? That is the company average. We talked about conferences a bit more way back in episode 6. We also talked more about playing the salary game in episode 23, which is a technique for sharing salary information with your co-workers.


4 Oct 2017

Rank #18

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Episode 185: Fragile coworkers and soft demotion

In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions: Hello! I am the only principal architect in my department. In addition to technical and delivery obligations, I am also responsible for mentoring of engineers. Recently, I reviewed somevery lackluster customer facing presentation materials drafted by a junior engineer (for which I provided templates and talking points) and informed them this would need to be worked again from scratch. I received verbal confirmation that the effort was indeed lacking, and that they would take a different approach. Imagine my surprise when I was pulled into an HR meeting by my manager, telling me a formal complaint was filed for my being ‘belligerent’. Also mentioned to me was that this engineer would be leaving the company because they couldn’t possibly continue to work with me. Now might be a good time to mention we are a completely remote team and this is the first negative feedback this engineer received from me (due to having only been on the team for 2 weeks at that time). This individual has moved into a different group which I work with often, but now I’m concerned about having someone on the team who cannot handle direct (but professional) criticism. How do I handle this professional relationship going forward? P.S. this engineer is nearly 40 and we are consultants in 100% customer facing roles. Hi Soft Skills Advisors, I think I may have been ““soft demoted”” at the start-up I work at. I used to be part of the senior management of the company as the most senior technical member of the staff. However, due to a series of unfortunate mistakes on my part (both technical and managerial), I seem to be no longer trusted or included in any discussions or decisions. I feel like I’m demoted from my position in everything but official title. And yet, everyone in the senior management reassures me that they still very much value all my contributions. Is it time to take the time-honored soft skills advice and “quit my job”, or am I just being unnecessarily emotional and paranoid here and it will just take some time to rebuild trust? (I’m paid a good salary and still have my stock options, etc.)


25 Nov 2019

Rank #19

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Episode 30: Reaching Consensus and Code Editing Etiquette

In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions: How should you reach consensus on a team? Should you always have consensus? What is the etiquette around editing code in a shared repository?


8 Oct 2016

Rank #20