Madison Recap: Effective Communication for the Software Engineer

Software Conference Attendees

2018 Greater Wisconsin Software Symposium

The 2018 NoFluff tour is now in full swing. We’ve just wrapped the Greater Wisconsin Software Symposium and we’re preparing to descend into Minneapolis in just a few days.

The energy and the enthusiasm of a couple hundred software engineers from across the state and beyond was palpable. Over two intense days, they dove deep into Software Architecture, Devops, JVM Languages, Streaming, Spring Boot, Serverless, Javascript and front-end technologies, as well as essential soft-skills for software engineers. In this post we’ll dive a bit deeper into that topic…

After the conference, one of our speakers received a follow-up question on how to communicate technical ideas and concepts to non-technical audiences. Communication skills are, of course, crucial for success in almost every endeavor, put this is particularly important as you move into a tech lead, architect, or management role.

Here is Michael Carducci’s Response to this question:

So my initial thoughts on what you were describing was the possibility that there is an XY-type problem here. So, as this is a possibility, let’s explore that first.
As I’m sure you know, “XY” problems usually manifest in the form of:
“I want to do X”
“I feel Y is the best approach”
“Can you help me do Y”
Admittedly, I don’t know the specifics of what you want to communicate so I could very well be wrong here, but indulge me for a few moments.
Where your question might be an XY problem is if you’re trying to soften “technical” language to explain why something is problematic to your or justifying something that is impeding your progress where it may be more effective to restate the problem in terms that relate to them.
The examples I gave about reframing technical discussions as business discussions are pertinent here. “e.g. If stop using outdated tools, we can get feature X to market faster” or “We can release this feature now by cutting some corners now, but it will likely impact how long it will take to release these other features that are on the roadmap” (best to be as specific as possible here, managers tend to be less worried about vague problems in the future)
A good resource for this is Mark Schwartz’ “The Art of Business Value”
Another great resource to help engineers look at situations through the eyes management is Ken Kousen’s wonderful presentation “Managing Your Manager.”
Beyond this, one of the biggest challenges I’ve personally seen regarding communication is in the planning, estimation, and negotiation stages of a project. The difficult discussions that should happen up-front don’t typically happen until things begin to go off-the-rails. A book I’ve found immensely useful for providing frameworks for having these conversations with non-technical stakeholders is Jon Rassmuson’s “The Agile Samurai”
Depending on how you’re trying to present technical ideas to non-technical folks, it might be worth diving into “Presentation Patterns.” There’s a reason the speakers at NoFluff conferences are so good. They are masters of their craft AND they have ten of thousands of hours of experience presenting ideas to attendees, clients, business stakeholders and the public. Two of our tour regulars (Neal Ford and Nate Schutta) collaborated with Matthew McCullough to write “Presentation Patterns” There are SO MANY gems in there. Even if you aren’t producing a slide deck, the ideas on constructing your content and optimizing for different contexts in extremely useful:
Finally, I would recommend the timeless “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” It applies to virtually every walk of life. Learn the skills presented in this book and all of your interactions with people will be dramatically more effective.
Ultimately we all want to be more effective software engineers and the skills required to truly succeed and thrive in this industry go well beyond our technical skills. I applaud your seeking to grow your soft skills wish you all the best on this journey. Please stay in touch and let me know your thoughts and questions!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *