Soft Skills Engineering

Jamison Dance and Dave Smith

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. read less
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Episodes

Episode 404: Interview comedy and talking pay while new
Yesterday
Episode 404: Interview comedy and talking pay while new
In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions: “Hello, Is it considered ok to be a bit funny during an interview? To give more context: In a recent interview, I progressed up to the final cultural-fit round after clearing all technical rounds at a well-known company. One of my interviewer asked how I would deal with conflicts with a peer. In a effort to lighten the mood, I jokingly said I would snitch on them to my manager. I saw the faces go pale on the zoom call. So I backed-up and explained I was just joking and gave them an example of an instance where I had to deal with a conflict. The story didn’t help much to make my case, as there was some “snitching” involved in it. But in all seriousness, if I had a conflict in the past and have reached out to my manager to help diffuse the conflict, is it considered a bad thing. How do I make it sound like a good thing during culture-fit interviews? By the way I didn’t get an offer from them. Can’t help but think I goofed-up the culture interview. Thanks for your time and help.” I recently started my first full-time job out of college. I earned an engineering degree but took a job with a company in a more management/ business development/ leadership track. Now I’m the only person in a department with an engineering degree.I’ll be here for a couple of years before they move me into the next role in my track. In a casual conversation about going back to school, one of my coworkers jokingly mentioned they would get free school at a local university because they made less than X dollars. This threw me off, as I (having started less than 3 weeks ago), make more than X dollars despite us having the same position and them having worked in the department for almost a year. Should I say anything, or just assume that the difference in pay is due to the fact that I have a technical degree and am on a leadership track while they are in neither? I’ve been told it’s mutually beneficial to discuss salary with your coworkers, but I’m afraid to shake things up at my very traditionally run company in my first month here. My pay corresponds directly to the starting pay that an engineer in a design role in my company would be making and I think I was given this pay so not to discourage me from taking a role in the company in favor of an engineering job with engineering pay elsewhere.
Episode 403: Massaging the software and career never-never-land
08-04-2024
Episode 403: Massaging the software and career never-never-land
In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions: I’m a bootcamp graduate working on a career shift from massage to software development. How much of my previous career should I bring into my résumé? I’ve been building projects in public, and doing open source contribution in a part-time capacity for the past two years, but ultimately have not gotten very many bites on my résumé that resulted in interviews. It’s something like three skill tests and one for roughly 800 applications at the moment? That’s a guess. That’s basically the gist of it. Thanks! Curious Coder Tries Tech Transition Listener Joshua says, I’ve done a number of things in my career, from Java to web dev on PHP and Angular/Node to low code development on Ignition SCADA and UIPath RPA . Because I love learning technologies and I want to go where the money is, I keep hopping to new teams. This usually comes with a decent pay bump, but it’s a lot of rescue operations and self-teaching. This doesn’t feel like a career path, and always being the junior team member sucks. I’m often studying for certs trying to meet the requirements for the job I’m already doing or being the senior dev on the team while still a Junior. I get that I’m relatively new to each team, but I’m also punching above my weight consistently. It feels like I’m always having to jump through hoops to get the title and pay for the level of responsibility I take on and it feels like my mixed-up background is the reason why. How can I pitch a 10 year career of wearing all the hats all the time to get better results? How can I avoid being on teams where all my coworkers think I’m a guru and I’m building all of the architecture, but my manager goes “gee, I don’t know if you have the years of experience to be a Senior”? I’m looking towards Architecture as a long term goal and I’m wondering if there’s a way to spin this skillset towards that goal. Can you get Architect if you aren’t a certified black belt in highly specific tools but rather a demonstrated improviser? What is a jack-of-all-trades supposed to do? Thanks, love the show, your advice and the fun relationship you guys bring to the conversation.
Episode 402: It's all on fire and title inflation
01-04-2024
Episode 402: It's all on fire and title inflation
In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions: Happy Birthday Dave and congrats on the 400 episode milestone! Last year I was recruited away from my cushy Sr Dev role at Chill MegaCorp to an exciting technical leadership role at Fast-Paced MegaCorp. It felt like a huge level up since I had always wanted to pick up some of the softer communication and leadership skills to add to my arsenal while still working on technical problems. The 30% pay raise sealed the deal. Fast-foreward one year and I am burnt out, feeling disengaged and thinking about quitting. Compared to my previous role, everything here is urgent and high priority. There is little structure on my team, no planning or intake, and we just react to emails and pings from other teams about things not working. Our Sr Dev is very knowledgable but often gets short and impatient with me. My Sr Manager has said things like “sleep is for the weak” and frequently sends emails in the middle of the night. We have weekly evening releases that have gone till 4am. We are expected to always be around in case of a production incident – which happen very frequently because of the sheer complexity of everything and high dependency between internal services. I have considered moving to another team, but unfortunately this seems to be a company wide culture. I am considering cutting my losses with this company and moving back to an IC role with better work-life-balance. I am grateful for all the leadership skills I have picked up this past year and learned a ton in such a fast paced environment, but its been a whole year and I still haven’t gotten used to the “always on” culture and overall chaos. Is it normal form someone to shift between management and IC like this? What do you guys recommend? Hi Dave and Jamison, thank you for the show. It is the engineering podcast I look forward to most every week. I work at a company that, maybe like many others, has lots of title inflation. As a result, my title is much higher than it would be at a larger (and public) tech company. For example, “senior” may be one or two levels below senior elsewhere, and “staff” would be “senior” elsewhere. We also have “senior staff”, which might be “staff” elsewhere, but more likely that might just be a more senior “senior” engineer, too. My question is: How should I consider approaching a job search where I am knowingly (and reasonably) down-leveling myself in title? Should I include the relative level on my resume (for example, “L5”)? Should I not address it unless a recruiter or interviewer asks about it? Briefly mention the seeming down-level in a cover letter as comparable responsibilities and scope as my current role? I have worked hard for my promotions, because salary bands required the title change for the money I wanted, but now I am worried it will complicate applying to other companies. (Thank you for selecting my question!)
Episode 401: I AM the superstar and pro-rated raise
25-03-2024
Episode 401: I AM the superstar and pro-rated raise
In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions: A listener named Metal Mario asks, A few weeks back in Episode 395 you talked about working with a superstar teammate. I feel like for our team, I’m the superstar. We’re a small software team in a large non-software company. I joined a year ago and very quickly took on a lot of responsibility. I think I’m a fantastic fit for the team, received *outstanding* feedback in my annual review as well as during the course of the year, and I get along great with my teammates. However, there are two problems. I joined the team on a lower salary compared to the rest of the team. I was initial ok with it because I changed to a completely new tech stack as well as a new role. Now I strongly feel like I should earn more than my colleagues. My boss hinted that he agreed in my annual review. I fear that by me joining the team and demanding a substantial pay raise, the cake gets smaller for the rest of the team, and that they feel like me joining the team prevented them to rising through the ranks. The second problem is related: a colleague of mine (mildly) complained that he lost responsibilities to me since I’ve joined the team. I talked to my boss about that, but given that things have been going very well, my boss would like me to keep doing the tasks. Again- I’m worried that my colleagues might get spiteful with me. Would it be better to take it down a notch (in order not to endanger team happiness and keep things stable for the company), or should I perform to the best of my abilities all the time? Impoverished By Pro-ration asks, Is it reasonable for a company to pro-rate raises for new employees? I recently received a raise that was smaller than expected as part of a promotion I got 9 months after joining the company. I joined halfway through the year and was under-leveled, so I quickly was put up for promotion, and got it! My raise was about half what I expected, and when I asked HR, they told me that the policy is to prorate raises, so because I joined halfway through the year, I only get half the raise that the promotion should come with, so instead of the 20% I was expecting to bring me up to the salary range of the job level I originally applied for, I only got 10% and am now making less than I think I should. Have I permanently crippled my lifetime earnings?!? What can I do to get the company to pay me appropriately? I understand if bonuses are pro-rotated, but why would raises also be pro-rated?
Episode 400: Underperforming intern and upskilling
18-03-2024
Episode 400: Underperforming intern and upskilling
In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions: I’m a junior software engineer who has been placed in charge of a handful of graduates and interns who have joined my team. The project is fairly technical. For the first two weeks, the new starters were pair programming. That went well, and after talking to each new starter they were eager to start working individually. We’re one month in and I’m concerned about the performance of one of the engineers, “Morgan” (fake name). Morgan has completed a degree from a good university we often hire from but appears to lack any knowledge of software development. As a result, Morgan seems to struggle with researching and working through problems beyond following tutorials. I got the impression that while pair programming Morgan didn’t contribute much. Is there anything I could do to give Morgan the boost needed to start rolling? I’m sure I could spoon feed Morgan, but it would monopolize my time when I’m already spending time with the other new starters on top of my own tasks. I want to give Morgan a shot, but I don’t know what to do. At what point do I tell my manager about my concerns? Things I’ve encountered: When told to insert a colon to fix a syntax error, Morgan didn’t know what a colon was.Morgan didn’t take any subjects at university on data structures or algorithms, which made it hard to explain the tree used for caching.Morgan wanted to do some DevOps having done some at university. Morgan appears to have no understanding of Docker.Morgan said they studied React at university but has demonstrated a lack of understanding to write React code.The last issue Morgan worked on required them to read some source code of a library to verify its behavior. Even after explanation Morgan didn’t understand how to find the calling ancestor of a given function.Morgan has never heard about concurrency. Even all these issues in aggregate would be fine with me, but the continual resemblance and behavior of a stunned mullet isn’t encouraging. After being told to research a concept, Morgan must be told the specific Google query to type in. Thanks, and apologies for the essay! Listener Confused Cat asks, I spent just over four years on a team where technical growth was lacking. Recently, I transitioned to a new team within the same company, and I’m enjoying the atmosphere, the team dynamics, and the opportunity to engage in more challenging software development tasks. Fortunately, my motivation is beginning to resurface. However, I’ve noticed that my technical skills have become somewhat rusty. While I can still deliver systems and features, I feel like I’m falling behind compared to some of my peers. This self-awareness is causing me to doubt myself, despite receiving no negative feedback from my current team or supervisor. It’s not just imposter syndrome; I genuinely feel the need to upskill. How can I navigate this situation effectively? What strategies would you suggest for advancing my skills while holding a senior position and preventing feelings of inadequacy from affecting my performance?
Episode 399: Higher paid than my boss and crossing over to management
11-03-2024
Episode 399: Higher paid than my boss and crossing over to management
In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions: Listener Jim asks, I am currently a senior software engineer in a well funded (but not profitable yet) startup. I am highly effective and well regarded, to the point where the tech lead also comes to me with questions and always takes my technical input onboard. I also get along very well with the rest of the team and with my manager. I am confident that I am in a good position to bargain for a decent pay bump, however there’s a chance I might be asking for pay that exceeds the salary of the tech leads or even my manager’s. Would it be a hard no from the start if that’s the case? Do you know of situations where certain people were paid higher than someone from a higher position? Thank you, I’m loving the show! I did it. I crossed over… I’ve been a software engineer for nearly 25 years. I worked my way from junior to senior, staff to principal, and for the last six years I’ve been a technical articect. I’ve been very deliberate in my caraeer path and told myself that I would always be on the tecnical side of the wall rather than the managerial side. Most of my boses over the years have been former technical folks that just seemed to have step off the technology train at some point. Maybe they couldn’t keep pace with the rapid changes in their older age, or maybe they just didn’t like IC work, who knows? But I always had this feeling about them, like “they just don’t get it anymore”, or “their technical knowledge is so outdated, how can they make good decisions”? Much like a teenager looks at their parents who stepped off the fassion train many years prior and now doesn’t want to be seen in public with them. Well, I just accepted a job leading a team; with headcount, and a budget, and the works. It was not the role I really wanted, but in this market, I didn’t have a ton of choices. It’s billed as sort of a hybrid Architect/Manager role, but it *feels* like I crossed a threshold. I feel like my future will be that of a retired race horse living out the last of his days if the middle-management pasture. So, 2 questions: What can I do to not become a hollowed out shell of myself as the technology train eventually starts to out pace me, and eventually speed away at ludicrous speed, because I’m not “doing it” every dayIs this just the envitable for every SE? I mean, I don’t see a lot of 70 year old coders, so this is normal, right?
Episode 398: Tech lead for contractors and how to detach my ego from my work
04-03-2024
Episode 398: Tech lead for contractors and how to detach my ego from my work
In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions: How do you mentor a junior-level contractor? My company has been hiring a lot of contractors lately. Sometimes they hire out a full team form the contracting shop to build a particular feature. Other times, it’s an individual developer, but with the same general mandate: implement some specific set of features from our backlog over x number of months, then move on to the next project somewhere else. Generally this happens when we have extra budget that needs to be spent for the year, etc. It works well enough when the contractor is experienced and able to self-direct and focus on just getting the work done; but sometimes the contractor is less-experienced and needs lots of guidance and mentorship. Hiring and mentoring a less-experienced full-time developer is a long term investment. Over time that person will become more productive and hopefully stay with the company long enough to provide a net benefit. But when the person is only contracted for a short time, it seems we’re effectively paying the contracting agency for the opportunity to train their employees for them. As a senior engineer / tech lead, should I devote the same amount of time to mentorship and growth of these contractors, or should I just manage their backlog and make sure they only get assigned tasks that are within their ability to finish before the contract runs out? Hello, I have a really hard time not attaching my identity to my work. I know I’m not supposed to, but i really take pride in what I do and i feel like if I don’t, my performance would take a hit. But where this really bites me is taking it really personally when things go wrong (like when a customer submits a bug report and I find that it was something I wrote, or when I take down prod and have to involve a whole bunch of C suite people to address and post mortem the issue). I understand humans make mistakes but it eats me up so much inside every time. I know all these things but I have a hard time really internalizing them especially when things go south at work. What are some practical ways I can train myself to approach things without emotion?
Episode 397: Skunkworks and too much work/life balance
26-02-2024
Episode 397: Skunkworks and too much work/life balance
In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions: Listener Davide says, I have a lot of ideas for significantly improving manufacturing processes, but management wants us to focus on business “priorities”. These are fun tasks such as making sure part numbers are replicated in two disconnected systems that have no way of talking to each other. Makes getting Master’s degree feel like time very well spent. I end up setting aside some time and doing the legwork for my improvements in secret, and showing my boss when the solution is 90% there. I have a fear that they think the solution appeared out of thin air and required no work, but also if I told them in advance I was going to spend time on it, I would get told off and forbidden from doing it. Am I alone in this? Am I stupid? Should I quit my job? Have I written too much? Is the world really relying on a handful of Excel spreadsheets which are keeping us one circular reference away from total annihilation? Thanks for reading this far, and greetings from a listener from some place in England. Sorry for the long question and thanks in advance for any help or advice :) I’ve been working for a small 20-year old B2B company. It makes money. The work-life balance is amazing. Our workdays are 6 hours, and we are remote. On busy days, I may work 3 hours a day. So everything is great. But I hate it. I have no interest in the product. Everyone picks one ticket and goes to their corner to fix it. No collaboration unless necessary, which is rare because there are no complex challenges. I feel no one in the company is ambitious technically. It feels like I’m not growing and learning. My previous company was the exact opposite. Brilliant invested colleagues. Lots to learn and I was always inspired to work with them and learn from them. I felt like the stupidest person in the room. They cared about technical decisions and problems a lot. It was as close to my ideal workplace as it could be (the product was meh, and the management sucked). But I got laid off after 5 months of being there. Now whenever I talk with anybody about how I feel demotivated, and lifeless, and want to move on from this company, they say I’m crazy. And if I’m looking to learn and grow I have all the time in the world. I want to be in an environment that challenges me, inspires me, and pushes me to learn during work hours at least. I fear that if I stay here for a few years, I will not have the experience and resume needed to move to a company like the one I was in before I got laid off. Am I wrong to want to move out of this company in this situation?
Episode 396: Enthusiastic scope creep and human search engine
19-02-2024
Episode 396: Enthusiastic scope creep and human search engine
In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions: I’ve recently started a new Gig as a Senior Developer/Tech Lead at a company where we are our own clients, using the software we develop in-house. I’m encountering a bit of a hiccup, though. Our product owner, is primarily focused on support and doesn’t provide formal Acceptance Criteria. This means I spend a lot of time sending follow-up emails to confirm our discussions, drafting these criteria myself, and handling the management of boards and work items. Another challenge is our product owner’s enthusiasm. He’s full of ideas and tends to expand the project scope during our meetings, perhaps not fully realizing the additional development work and the impact on our timelines. I sometimes think that if he wrote down his thoughts, it might give him a clearer picture of the challenges we face in development in keeping up with these changes. I’m in a bit of a quandary here. How can I gently nudge him to take on some of these tasks, or should I discuss with my boss how this is taking up about 1 to 1.5 days of my week? While I’m more than willing to handle it, especially with the prospect of moving into a management role, I also don’t want to set a precedent that creating Acceptance Criteria and managing Work Items are part of a developer’s job scope – at least not to this extent. Any thoughts? Sean asks: Hi Soft Skills Engineering, I love your podcast and I have a question for you. I have a very good memory and I can recall details from a long time ago. This sounds like a great skill, but it also causes me some problems at work. Often, I get asked questions by my colleagues or my boss that are not related to my current tasks or responsibilities. For example, they might ask me about the content of an email that they sent or received a year ago, or the outcome of a meeting that I attended (but also did they). They ask me because they know I probably remember, and they want to avoid searching for the information themselves. This annoys me because it interrupts my work and makes me feel like a human search engine. I want to be helpful, but I also want to focus on my actual work. I can’t redirect them to my boss, because he has a very bad memory himself. How can I deal with this situation without being rude or lying about my memory? How can I set boundaries and expectations with my colleagues and my boss? And without gaslighting them into thinking I already answered their questions, of course. Thank you for your advice.
Episode 395: Super star teammate and Getting better with no financial incentives
12-02-2024
Episode 395: Super star teammate and Getting better with no financial incentives
In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions: Listener Bobby ForgedRequest asks One of my coworker, who is the nicest, most humble person I’ve ever met, is about twice as productive as I am! They’re super-uber productive! They close about 2-3x as many tickets as I do during the same sprint. For reference, I’m a software eng II and they’re a senior dev. Their work is very solid too, and they’re not just selecting easy, 1 point tickets to pad their stats. How do you cope with a super star teammate like this? Do I direct more questions towards them to slow them down? Do I volunteer them for more design heavy projects? Jokes aside, I’m curious if this is something that you’ve seen in your career, and if you were a manager, would this make you feel like the other, not-super-uber-smart teammate, is just not doing enough? Is the answer as simple as “well, sometimes people are just very, very gifted”? In my previous job of 5 years, I worked only 3 hours a day due to a low workload. Seeking a change for career growth, I switched jobs a few months ago, exposing myself to new technologies. Initially stressful, the pace has slowed down, and there’s no external pressure to learn. Despite getting praise and raises for minimal effort, I aspire to be a smarter software engineer. How do I motivate myself to learn and step out of my comfort zone when there’s no apparent reward, considering I’ve easily found new jobs and advanced in my career without exerting much effort?
Episode 394: Scrum master, weapons master and minimum tenure to not look bad
05-02-2024
Episode 394: Scrum master, weapons master and minimum tenure to not look bad
In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions: My team are about 4 months into transitioning from a scrum/kanban way of working to a more traditional scrum/sprint way of working. I feel like our scrum master is “weaponising” some of the scrum practices in order to show up weak points and failures in the team, rather than working with the team to ease us through the transition and make gradual improvements. In private conversations with me and some other trusted developers (lol jk I clearly shouldn’t be trusted as I’m writing in to Dave and Jamison) the scrum master speaks about how little refined work we have in our back log, and how they are looking forward to “exposing bottle necks” in the team. As they expect this will lead to pressure on our PO and Business Analyst and force them to step up their game. Whatever amount of work we bring into a sprint is law, and they forbid more tickets coming onto the board mid sprint (even if all the tickets are done half way through the sprint). If one single ticket is on the board they will try to block more tickets moving into ready for Dev as they believe we should all be focusing on getting the highest priority pieces of work into the done column. And they take no notice when I’ve expressed the issue with this too many cooks approach. They’re a nice enough person outside of a work context. But in work, it really feels like they’re setting us up to fail (and sort of releshing in it). Dissent is rising in the team, and everyone from all sides feels unhappy. Can you recommend any action I could take to prevent the failures that are inbound? For context, I am a junior developer working for a large company. Within my department we are split up into “SCRUM” teams made up of around 6 Developers, 2 testers, a scrum master, a Business Analyst and a Product Owner. The senior developers within the team have not taken any action other than to complain in secret about the SMs behaviour. Before the tech recession, I would recommend engineers stay at a job for 12 months before looking for a new job in order to avoid having the stigma of being a job hopper. But with the tech recession enabling employers to be more picky, is 12 months long enough? Or should engineers stay at a job for even longer than 12 months before looking for a new job?
Episode 392: Old code and choosing my annual reviewers
22-01-2024
Episode 392: Old code and choosing my annual reviewers
In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions: We are a team of under 10 people who provide technical services to other departments of our organization. We use a tool that is built by my boss to supplement our work but it is crucial for the team to do actual work. The boss maintains it all by themselves and nobody is familiar with its code. The boss is going to retire in a year or two, nobody wants to learn the code of that tool and the team can’t do much without the boss as we are more or less just individual contributors writing standalone code and delivering it to other teams who asked for it. Only the boss attends the leadership meetings and the developers are completely unaware of the remaining processes that happen in the background, i.e., communicating with other departments to bring in work, and all that business stuff. I am afraid the team would break apart once the boss retires because nobody knows anything on how our team operates beyond within team level except for the boss. Shall I just plan for the job switch? It’s annual review season! When choosing reviewers, do I a) choose the reviewers that will make me look the best or 2) choose the reviewers who might actually give me actionable feedback? If it helps, I am on very good terms with my boss and his boss, as well as most of the C-Suite, and there is no way that I get either a promotion or fired in this review cycle. I have been a top performer in previous review cycles, but I expect that I won’t be reviewed so highly this time around.
Episode 391: Post-staff and direct or a jerk
15-01-2024
Episode 391: Post-staff and direct or a jerk
In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions: Hey guys! I’m a young engineer in a specialized area of infrastructure. I’m pretty good at what I do, and I’ve been through some leadership development programs, so I’ve advanced to a “Staff” role quickly, just based on observing the age of my peers. Tech titles are completely mysterious to me, so I’m wondering - how much “up” is there from where I am? What’s the top of the IC ladder? Do ICs ever become executives? The idea of being a manager and sitting in 1:1s for hours sounds awful to me, so I’m not excited about that side, but I’ve heard, allegedly, that there is room on the IC side for promotion as well. I’m a goal setter, and I kinda feel like I’ve hit a ceiling, so I don’t know where to set my target anymore. I don’t even know that I care about titles that much, but I very much like the pay raises that accompany them. Thanks! Johnny Droptbales: How do I tell if my manager is a direct communicator or a jerk? Should I trust my gut on this (he’s a jerk)? I’ve been working with my manager for a year now. He’s fairly fluent in English, educated, and keeps up with broad knowledge of our team/domain. He often connects different aspects of our work to discover discrepancies, bugs, and interesting ideas. I’m trying to wrap my head around his communication style. Here are a few examples that stand out: I refused to take on a new small project because I was concerned about meeting the deadline on my high-priority solo project. He gave me feedback that I missed an opportunity to demonstrate context-switching skills, which would look good for a promotion. I responded with my own reasoning, but he wasn’t interested and just moved on to the next topic.He insisted on a new weekly requirement for our on-call pager rotation, which is to come up with one idea to improve the experience. When I asked why asking for help on a problem wouldn’t be enough, he answered that he expected his engineers to have been hired for their critical thinking and leadership skills, and they should be able to demonstrate those.Recently he’s been leading weekly meetings to improve the on-call experience. He tends to ask very direct questions – we’ll look at a bug ticket, and he asks, “What is the root cause?” “Why do we do this?” “What are your ideas to solve this?” When pressed, he insisted this was a brainstorming sort of conversation, as opposed to a Q&A.
Episode 390: Fixing typos and Cassandra
08-01-2024
Episode 390: Fixing typos and Cassandra
In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions: I’m a backend engineer at a large non-public company. I noticed a bunch of our emails and website riddled with typos. I can not claim that it is metrics impacting or impacting business, so I get that teams always deprioritize, but the overall feel just irks me. Many of these come from a CMS I don’t have access too, so it’s not like I could offer to help with code even if I wanted. When things like this are not in your space, any advice on how to up overall quality? Possibly Mute Senior Engineer asks, I’m currently a senior engineer in a really small startup, and I’ve been here just long enough that I’m deeply familiar with our flagship product in multiple areas - infrastructure, the guts of the business logic, our deployment patterns, our most common failure modes, etc. Unfortunately, I have to be involved in every project and pick the application up off the ground when it dies. As a result, I’ve become spread very thin, and I have to cut corners just to stay afloat (or I am specifically directed to cut corners to meet a deadline). Frequently (because of all the corner cutting), we run into two situations that really tick me off: I see bad thing on the horizon, talk to my team about it, am ignored, then bad thing happens and I get to have a crappy day fixing itI recommend a basic best practice, we don’t use it and do some coat hanger + duct tape thing instead, thing breaks, and I get to have a crappy day fixing it. I’m very tired of being on the wrong end of the consequences of our own actions. I pour so much into this job, but I feel like I need to go get my vocal cords inspected, because it’s like my teammates and my manager can’t hear me when I talk about the things we’re doing poorly that lead to bad outcomes. Quit my job? Or is there an easy way to deal with this situation that I’m just missing? I feel like I’m screaming into the void every time I have these discussions and get completely blown off with “oh that’s not important right now” or “oh that terrible thing could never happen”. Thanks in advance!
Episode 388: Money not compliments and principal engineer coding guidelines
25-12-2023
Episode 388: Money not compliments and principal engineer coding guidelines
In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions: Hey guys, love the show. Not sure if its really a question or more of a confession. I’m an individual contributor at a software company with a few thousand employees. A lot of professional books/training courses I encountered over the years talk about the importance of positively acknowledging your employees/reports/team members when they do a good job. Most of them say that this sort of praise and other immaterial motivation is more important than material motivation (bonuses/raises). More and more, my higher ups had started trying to motivate us with public “pats on the back” for individuals and teams. They were never generous with the material motivation to begin with. Honestly, i find these pats on the back grating. I don’t need to be told “good job kiddo” to actually work hard. To be blunt, i want a raise and/or bonuses, not empty words. But material recognition is all red tape and budget constraints these days, so I dont actually expect much. The issue is that the immaterial motivation just reminds me of what is just out of reach, and thus just demotivates me. Is there any good way to express these frustrations to my manager without sounding like a materialistic greedy bastard? Which I suppose I am, but I’m tired of feeling like one. I’m a principal engineer working with two teams of developers who own a product domain that is being rewritten on an aggressive schedule. We’ve increased headcount over the past year but we’ve started having friction with some of the new hires. Its clear that they want more input into the patterns and coding styles used by the teams that were established prior to them joining. Unfortunately, this seems to come up in PRs rather than discussions and leads to push back from me and the tech leads on the teams. This has lead to our engineering manager commenting that they’re getting complaints about us being too restrictive and developer happiness being impacted. While I don’t want any of the developers to be unhappy, I worry that the EM is risking hurting the team as a whole by focusing on the happiness of one or two new hires. The Tech Leads are also starting to worry about what they are allowed to comment on in PRs. Help! How do I keep the devs from feeling underappreciated, the tech leads feeling empowered to lead, and ensure that the codebase stays consistent between repositories so all developers can move between services without feeling lost?
Episode 387: No juniors and manager forced to return to office
18-12-2023
Episode 387: No juniors and manager forced to return to office
In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions: Hello Dave and Jamison, I wanted to say thank you for your podcast. It’s been a great wealth of information and comic relief. Can we bring back the guitar intros? I work in the technology arm of a large corporation. There are no younger engineers. I am one of the youngest at just shy of 30 (my first tech job after going back to school). I receive praise for my eagerness to learn and grow and how much I try to engage with the org. I feel like if we hired more Junior engineers it would both increase the engagement of the org and give senior engineers more of a sense of purpose to pass the torch. One of my favorite engineers from whom I get the best advice has been here for over 20 years and they are awesome! I also get great advice from people on my team but some of them are cruising or in a “couple years till retirement” mode. Should I try to convince management to hire more junior engineers? Is there anything I can do to relate more to older org members? Hi Dave and Jamison! I’m an engineering manager tasked with getting the team back to an open office (hybrid). My team works very well remotely, with the occasional in-person meetup. I believe that in terms of productivity, work-life balance, engagement, and turnover, RTO will negatively impact the team. I’m torn between representing what I feel is good for the team and supporting the company’s decision. I’ve already expressed my concerns with management, and the overall sentiment seems to be that anyone who doesn’t like it can find a new job. Aside from this, I like my job, team and company and don’t want to quit over this. Any tips on finding a balance representing team needs and implementing higher-up direction?
Episode 386: Stuck with toil and how to get a dev job as a self-taught career-switcher in 2023
11-12-2023
Episode 386: Stuck with toil and how to get a dev job as a self-taught career-switcher in 2023
In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions: I feel like I’m stuck. I’m in a senior/lead position technically called an SRE, but I find myself doing all kinds of cleanup work that should instead be spread across teams. My suggestions for automating toil and cleaning up tech debt fall on deaf ears until some principal engineer decides a couple of months down the line some problem is worth solving (then it’s urgent!!1). I’ve experienced this at a few companies now and see some patterns, but I’m not sure what the way out is yet. It seems I need to find the most respected person (and fight them! just kidding), gain their trust, and play politics to get basic problems solved and work properly distributed. I am exhausted. If you want me to lead, then give me the power I need to lead. If you want me to be a cog, then make it a decent work environment and pay enough. I feel like I’m stuck in some sort of purgatory. I’m considering going for a management job, but I think I’d hate it. How can I find a 9-5 that isn’t soul sucking and run by a few people who have the ear of the C-level? As two people who lead engineering teams, have conducting tons of interviews for developers and hired many, what are your opinions on the prospects of career changing self-taught developers landing a decent job in 2023 forward? I have a career in Product Marketing, working very closely with Product, Engineering, and Sales teams. I believe I bring a lot of the “soft skills” to the table and am teaching myself the “hard skills”. My concerns are that it will be incredibly difficult to actually find a job and, if I do, it’ll be an entry level role that effectively resets my existing 9-year career back to the starting blocks. In your experiences, would you hire folks looking to make a career move in anything other than junior positions, or would you be wary of them in favor of other candidates?
Episode 385: Attention to detail and sabbatical
04-12-2023
Episode 385: Attention to detail and sabbatical
In this episode, Dave and Jamison answer these questions: Hello! Thank you for your podcast, I definitely find the episodes to be helpful. Lately I’ve been struggling with attention to detail. I just forget to do simple things like run pre-commit hooks before I put in a PR or before merging a PR. I went through a pretty bad layoff when my old company went bankrupt a few months back and now I am at a new role where I really like everyone I work with. The engineers expect checked-in code to pass tests and typechecks and be generally high-quality. How I can be better about attention to detail as a software engineer? How do you keep track of remembering all the little things that need to be done? Hey guys I’m around 8 years into my career as a software engineer, been at a few companies and have been promoted to senior during my time. I like my job and have done relatively well in my career, but I’m burned out. While I think this is the best industry for me, I’d just like to walk away from the corporate 9-5 for who knows how long. Fortunately, I’m in a position where my partner is able to be the breadwinner for the foreseeable future. We’ve talked about it, and she’s okay with it as long as I don’t sit on the couch doing nothing all day. I figured I’d take this time to watch the kids, learn some skills around the house, get involved in the community, etc. I don’t know if I’d ever want to get back in the software saddle, or if I do, perhaps I’d return in a different role or capacity. But my question is, if I leave this industry for several years and decide to ever come back, what would the landscape be like for me? Am I making a mistake by deciding to hang it up at such a young age?