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Tag: leadership

Unlock Your Soft Skills To Win The Career Game

Have you ever received feedback from your manager that you should improve your communication skills? Or that you should create more visibility for your work? And another one, that you should work on your influencing skills? These are all related to soft skills, and it can be confusing what they mean and how to improve on them.

As a tech manager, I find myself giving that feedback regularly to engineers. About 50% of them get it, however, the other 50% roll their eyes and reply “Soft skills? Pffft, I’m an engineer, I don’t need that. All I gotta do is code harder and learn technologies A and B and I’ll keep on going.”

And that’s where they’re wrong, as sadly, I’ve seen such neglecting of soft skills ending up costing many of them years of stagnation for their tech career. The same could happen to you, or might already be happening to you without you realizing.

I wanted to follow up on my article about career progression for senior developers, by addressing the topic of how to map and learn the skills needed for tech jobs.

Soft skills and teamwork
skills are what’s gluing
hard skills together.

So in this series of three articles, I’ll first be covering what is the difference between hard skills and soft skills, and why soft skills matter even if a great part of your job is purely technical.

Another difficult problem is how to prioritize those skills so you can improve predictably. To address that, in the second article I’ll share a map that I’ve created and which shows how different types of skills relate to different career paths.

Finally, in the third and last article, I’ll cover the top skills you should focus on as a senior engineer or as an engineering manager if you want to see fast progress in your personal growth.

Let’s get started with defining the types of skills and why they matter.

Remote Work Stole Our Foundation

I’ve been thinking a lot about my personal remote work setup lately, and also about the organizational setup that my tech teams are using to work together.

When most of us still worked in collocated office spaces, there were many organizational features that we didn’t even realize were there and that we took for granted.

And it doesn’t matter that the pandemic started more than a year ago. It’s never too late to reflect on what can still be improved, and apply changes for the better.

I distilled it down to the following features.

Becoming a Manager of Managers

After I shared my article about the next career moves as a senior developer, someone asked me the following question over the weekend:

“I’m a senior engineer who recently switched to leading a team of engineers. How do I grow in the managerial career path and become a manager of managers?”

It’s a great question, and not a trivial one. Becoming an engineering manager is often straightforward, but the next step, becoming a manager of managers, ends up being a career blocker for many.

If you’ve been wondering the same thing, then the first step is to look at your current workplace by addressing the following questions:

  1. Did you see any colleagues becoming a manager of managers via an internal process over the past year?
  2. What type of projects did these colleagues work on, with who, and in which department? Can this be reproduced?
  3. Is your department or a nearby department growing, and will a position of manager of managers open soon?
  4. Do you see yourself staying at your current company for the coming two to three years?

If you could answer YES to all of the above, it means there is a chance you could grow internally. From there, you have to start planning to position yourself so you get the job when it opens.

If you answered NO to any of the above, then you’re in the wrong company, and it’s time to plan a move. Selecting the right next job and company, so it’s aligned with your career aspirations, is going to be a crucial step.

In this article, I’ll be diving into both cases by providing a guide on how you can plan this career move, and if you’re lucky enough to get a shot at it, how to handle your transition into your new role.

In addition, as I’ve run dozens of leadership interviews and selection processes, and as a manager of managers myself, I’ll be sharing insider information on how managers will evaluate you and will decide whether you get the job or not.

Managing People: Avoid The Reputation Trap

As an engineering manager, I’ve been thinking how much sharing my opinion of someone’s performance and skills can influence others around me to think the same.

For example during the weekly meetings I have with my peers at work, if I praise or complain about a person in my area having some behavior, I will shift the perception my peers have of that person.

When you have to manage people, staying objective when assessing a person’s performance is always a challenge, no matter the experience or seniority. There are several traps to avoid, one of them is to rely on reputations too much because although reputations offer convenient mental shortcuts, they also bring their load of subjectivity.

So how exactly are reputations formed, how to verify if someone’s reputation is fair, and how to help bring someone’s reputation closer to what it is in reality?

I Invested in Myself: I Hired a Copy Editor to Improve My Writing

I invested in myself.

I hired a copy editor to review a 4,000-word draft I was working on. 48 hours and $180 later, he had left 439 edits and comments on my draft, along with a gold mine of feedback on how to improve my writing skills.

Why care about writing? In these times of continued lockdowns and remote work, more communication happens in written form, whether it’s emails, messaging, or long-format reports and articles. More than ever before, your mastery of the written word can boost your career in unexpected ways.

Besides, writing skills will be useful to you in any job you’ll have in the future, and regardless of industries. It’s one of those skills that’s entirely transferable, like public speaking and negotiating.

Hiring an editor to review your writing and giving you feedback is one of the best gifts to offer yourself.

Here I share my experience doing it along with tips on how to make the process as fruitful as possible, hoping it will help you too.

How to Keep Your Tech Skills Sharp in a Leadership Role

When I became a senior engineering manager three years ago and had multiple teams reporting to me, I was no longer building things on the job myself. This was the first day of the decay of my pure technical skills, and with it came the question of what I was going to do about it.

Fast-forward to March 2020, I’m sprinting through the Sao Paulo airport, hugging my carry-on luggage close to my chest and dodging other travelers as best I can. I was visiting South America when COVID-19 hit Europe and air traffic started shutting down. I was heading back home to Amsterdam and my connecting flight from Buenos Aires had landed an hour late. So I made a run for it. If I didn’t catch this flight, I was going to be stranded 10,000 kilometers away from home.

Fifteen minutes, 40 gates, and a wobbly knee later, I finally reached the boarding area completely out of breath and managed to catch my flight home.

When I got back to work in the following days, most of my colleagues had been working from home via video calls for about a week already. I had missed the early days of the quarantine, but luckily the local supermarkets hadn’t been raided too badly, and I was able to get my hands on toilet paper.

As I started setting up my quarantine routine, I made the decision to tackle the hitch that had been annoying me for a long time, and by this I mean I was determined to catch up with the cutting edge in tech.

My plan was simple: I was going to build a web app as a pretext to learn an entire tech stack end to end. I actually tracked the time I spent on it weekly to hold myself accountable, and it worked!

After more than 100 hours of coding and learning between April and November 2020, I launched the MVP for Sidenote.me, a web app to take time-stamped notes on videos. In the process I learned in-depth about TypeScript, Node.js, and MongoDB, and I performed a high-level refresher on the state of the industry in other tech ecosystems, such as containerized infrastructure, micro frontends, and serverless computing.

Autonomous Peer Learning at Booking.com and How You Can Do it in Your Organization

This article was originally published for Booking.com’s Technology blog on November 23rd, 2016.

Continuous learning on the job is hard. We all see things we want to improve, but maybe we’re missing a few skills to really make an impact. With most days filled with emails and meetings, there’s often not much time left for learning, no matter how much we want to develop our skills.

Although many organizations try to remedy this issue by employing external companies to handle training, they rarely follow-up to ensure such trainings are actually value for money. Not only that, employees are often left to figure out how their new skills can be applied to daily work, and sometimes they are even left wondering if the training taught them anything useful at all.

I work at Booking.com as an engineering manager, and in my job I wanted to learn about a topic for which there was no formal training. I ended up creating a study group that became the blueprint for autonomous peer learning in our Technology department. It’s an initiative that has been scaled to 50 Peer-to-Peer (or P2P) learning groups over the last 18 months.

The premise of P2P groups is that participants take the time to think about what they want to learn and why. This means their learning is tailored from the very beginning, ensuring that it is both relevant to their work and beneficial to their organization.