Being a Good Writer is an Important Career Skill – Learn how to get better at it.

Good Writer

When I was a kid, I absolutely loved reading. Part of the reason is because books didn’t talk back; I didn’t have to explain to books why I had a difficult time talking as a result of stuttering. It was no surprise when I chose to pursue a career in writing; I didn’t have to talk to people, and I could always say what I wanted to, exactly how I wanted to say it.

It was to my surprise and dismay, however, when I came into adulthood and realized I actually did have to talk to people in order to get work. When I eventually started public speaking, it became abundantly clear just how valuable verbal communication is to your professional life.

No skill will serve you better in your career than being a confident communicator. As important as being able to talk to people is, however, today I want to focus on written communication. Writing often gets a bad wrap, but it doesn’t have to be the dreaded task many of us make it out to be.

Before I started speaking, I was a full-time marketing writer and spent my professional existence helping clients create the content experience that best described their brands. When I told people I was a writer, their response was always centered around how much the thought of writing—even just an email— was absolutely miserable to them. Then, they’d list all the reasons why they didn’t like it, and the main one would always be because they weren’t good at it.

I always found this curious because now more than ever, writing is pretty vital to your career. Think about it; we’re all writing all the time. How many emails do you compose in a day? How many do you read in a day? How much time do you spend in any chat software? When was the last time you wrote a performance review? Or had to do a written report on a project?

It’s safe to say, with the exception of being strong verbal communicators and being good at your actual job, writing is pretty high on the value scale. What’s fascinating is that we have so many ChatOps tools which make communication easier, yet the vast majority of them guide you to do the thing that you claim you’re no good at: writing.

This is why I believe writing is so valuable to your career: because we’re doing it constantly. To that end, it’s not serving you to continually tell yourself you’re a bad writer. How we approach conversations—whether they’re written or verbal— has the biggest influence in how they transpire. So, if we feel like we’re not good at writing or talking, we will then enter the conversations we have with a negative mindset.

How do we fix this? The only way to be more confident as a writer is to write. You don’t need to start a blog (though you could if you’d like) and you don’t need to spend an hour on every email you send. You can, however, take the opportunities you currently have to write as chances to focus on not only improvement but the way you’re communicating your points.

The next time you have to write an email or have a longer ChatOps conversation, try this: write how you would speak to that person if they were standing in front of you at that very moment. Keep in mind your audience and what they need to read to receive your message. Writing doesn’t have to be hard; it can and should be an extension of speech if you just reframe your feelings about it. In the end, that’s all you need to do to be a good writer: choose it.

Developers, It’s not all about the code

Soft skills get a bad rap; especially in tech. Code has always been king, but software constantly changes. The need to be good communicators and generally pleasant coworkers will always be there. That’s why it’s important to dedicate parts of your day to improving those skills that don’t involve code. No matter how great of a dev you are, you aren’t going to to be nearly as successful if you are difficult to be around. Here are a few soft skills crucial to working in tech.

Being Accessible

The most successful among us didn’t become so by themselves. They had help along the way from those more knowledge and who were willing to share that knowledge. What does this mean about those C-suiters and founders we greatly admire? More often than not, they view accessibility as a core value.

Let’s bust a myth about accessibility because I do not want to confuse anyone: accessibility doesn’t mean saying yes to everything! It’s understanding the value of building great relationships with those both above and below you to help yourself and others. Being accessible requires being a great listener and having great patience. Listening inherently requires patience, but in this get-everything-right-this-second world we live in, patience suffers. As a result, listening does as well.

Listening is valuable because it’s a way to incorporate learning into our daily lives even when we’re booked solid. When you listen to people —especially when you don’t feel like it or don’t think you need to–you are also laying the foundation for a solid relationship with that person. That’s the key to accessibility: not just being available, but being invested.

Solving People Problems

You probably got into software development because you like computers and you wanted to build cool products. Now that you’re working in tech, I’d be willing to bet your biggest daily job task as a developer is solving technical problems. Most, if not all, developers excel at solving big and small hardware and software based issues; not nearly as many however can solve people problems. I’m not talking about large intergroup conflicts. I’m talking about not knowing what to say in certain situations or attempting to completely avoid talking to your coworkers.

Whether we like it or not, we’ll have to deal with people in any field we work in.. Because we have to communicate with them, we have to also consider them: their feelings, their thought processes, their intellectual and emotional capacities, and they way they communicate with others. Solving “people problems” really just boils down to communicating purposefully and effectively.

The best way to do this is to remember they are human beings. They have families, dreams, and lives outside of those four walls at work. When you speak to people—not just out of necessity, but also because you see the value in those interactions—your conversations will improve.

Keeping Your Ego in Check

Code is king, or so that’s what everyone says. We’ve developed a culture of worshipping code above everything else because that’s what brings in the revenue. Great code nets great results, so it should be the only thing that matters. This thinking is a bit flawed. Yes, code is essential to building awesome products. Great code is not, however, the only thing that matters.

Communication is just as important, as well as your capacity for empathy. In terms of your ego, the main reason you need to keep it in check is because you’ll be better able to learn from those around you. Consistently tying your identity to your work—and then, not-so-gently reminding your coworkers of just how great that work is—doesn’t encourage collaboration. In fact, it destroys it.

Instead of convincing yourself you are the best, focus on learning. Your code may be the best, but there’s always room for improvement, right? How do you make it better? Being the best is often situational; when we find ourselves around those that are quantifiably better, we generally don’t handle the transition to second-string well. When you focus on learning, however, you thrive in all situations because you’re always able to see how to make both yourself and others better.

Considering the Big Picture

We all can sometimes get tunnel vision, and that makes our worlds—as well as our jobs—very small and very tedious. It can also be frustrating to put in so much work on a project you have very little context on. Being curious and interested in how your role plays into the team as a whole is a great way to stay connected to those on your team. Equally as importantly, it signals to your boss you are actively engaged in how the company works and how you can make it better.

That’s the bottom line here when it comes to soft skills: as great as code is, it is only one part of the machine. Being a great developer will net you some success, but being a great human—a great coworker, a great friend, a great boss—will help propel you to jobs and positions that wouldn’t be possible if you just focused on the code.

Developers Where Are Your Ethics?

Another day, another report of some product sending all your data to their servers. Previously it was your TV spying on you and listening to conversations in your living room; it’s the headphones you use sending back everything you listen too. The slippery slope started years ago, and now we are diving head first down the super spiral tube slide.

We want to always blame the evil corporations for these privacy breaches, and they do warrant that blame. However, for privacy issues to arise a developer has to implement the code that records and sends it all back to be logged and tracked. So the question is, where are your ethics? Why do programmers keep doing this? Why aren’t they standing up and saying, NO, this is unacceptable?

Arguing on Twitter over the damn Laravel Facade is ethically and morally acceptable because “code is all that matters” yet we continue to have silly breaches of privacy that should have never been implemented in the first place.

I know in the grand scheme of the world these are only a few developers and a few companies, but with the government spying, companies will follow and continue trying to push the cultural norm. It will not stop, and developers are really the only line of defense left, and you need to be prepared. One day you’ll face the decision, do I allow my workplace to spy on customers? Or do I stand up and risk everything?

Risking everything is scary, especially if you are just getting by, and with today’s newspapers using secure drops you might not even have to risk your job, instead, you can leak it out, but that’ll only work until culture accepts it. Then it’s too late.

What Empathy Is Not

Communication can not work without empathy and that’s why empathy is hopefully the most important factor in your company’s culture. Every once in awhile, someone does a talk or writes a post about why empathy is important and why it should be your number one skill. These are very informative, but most of them are missing one key factor: what doesn’t constitute as empathy. Let’s jump right in.

Empathy is not sympathy. Sympathy is feeling pity and sorrow for someone. Pity is conjured up when you witness someone’s misfortune and have an uncomfortable, negative reaction to their circumstance. Pity can sometimes be sorrow, but it is often based in shame. You feel ashamed for the person that got reprimanded by their boss in front of the entire team. You want to grant mercy to the person clearly bombing their presentation to the client.

Do you see how these things aren’t empathy? Often, to have true empathy, you must set aside your feelings about the situation in order to net the best result. Pity, sorrow, and shame are useless emotions; they lead to embarrassment and that often leads to isolation which is at odds with empathy. When you are truly empathetic, you may feel those emotions, but you don’t let them take control of the situation.

Empathy isn’t liking everyone. Another common misconception is that you must have positive feelings about a person to truly empathize with them. This is false. Though it is extremely difficult to feel any empathy whatsoever for people you disagree with, liking a person is not a prerequisite to feeling empathy. In fact, empathy is most powerful when shown for people you don’t generally get along with. Why? Because empathy is hearing everyone out, especially when you dislike them.

A very poignant example is when you disagree with someone politically. The empathetic thing for both parties to do is to hear the other side calmly and articulately explain their views. When both sides listen intently and keep emotions out of it (which is incredibly difficult), they can have a productive and informative discussion. Unfortunately, we allow our personal feelings get in the way of having a fruitful dialogue. Imagine a world where we all could just talk to each other without fear or judgment. What does that world look like? This is why empathy is so important. Now, take that concept and use it at the office.

Empathy does not equal hugs. There’s nothing wrong with hugs; hugs are great. Hugging people, however, has very little to do with empathy. What are the benefits of hugging? There are plenty. Hugging increases serotonin in your brain, making you happier. Hugging also releases a hormone called oxytocin which promotes attachment in relationships. Hugging may also keep you from getting sick; since hugging benefits relationships of all sorts, it also helps people feel they have social support. More support means less stress, and less stress means you are less likely to get sick. Although all of these are great, nowhere in the research does it say hugging is empathetic.

Here’s the caveat of hugging and empathy: they are both a byproduct of compassion. Being an empathetic friend means occasionally giving a hug when one is needed. That’s not because you just want to give your friend a hug. It is because you have internalized their struggle or joy, and you know they need an embrace to feel connected in the moment. When you are dealing with a coworker having a bad day, however, hugging isn’t as appropriate. Maybe they just need your ear for a few minutes or would benefit from being taken out to lunch.

Here is the bottom line: in all of these situations mentioned above, empathy is consistently the verb. Byproducts of empathy may be changing your mind about someone or feeling compassion towards a person you previously disliked. It may also be learning to put pity or shame aside to forge ahead when you’ve reached an impasse. To foster empathy in your life, you must first tackle anti-empathetic actions. Once you do that, you’ll have a much easier time showing empathy to everyone that crosses your path.

Empathy: the Cornerstone of Your Company Culture

Hard skills change constantly. Every year, developers must level up their skills to keep pace with the ever-changing landscape that is hardware and software. Technology moves so fast many of us have to upgrade our wearables and handheld devices every 18 months—and sometimes sooner. Having a good base of knowledge—or, at least, knowing how to learn new concepts quickly—will always be the number one job requirement of any position you as a developer will hold.

There’s another skill, though, that will always serve you well, and that skill is empathy. As mentioned above, hard skills are always evolving. Soft skills will always remain the same, and they’ll always be important. Empathy, then, is going to be the cornerstone of culture because it requires of you a few things. You and your team members must be open to people different from you; you must resist the urge to rush processes; and, you must devote more energy to hearing your coworkers when they are speaking.

True empathy is inclusive. It’s so inclusive, in fact, it is impossible for any divisiveness to grow. Empathy is inclusive because it promotes conversation over silence, and it encourages understanding over willful ignorance. Inclusion is important on tech teams because it allows for different viewpoints, something that can, unfortunately, be relatively rare in an industry with little diversity.

When you make empathy the cornerstone of your culture, you will attract people from varying walks of life. The more diverse your team is, the more unique ideas you’ll come up with collectively. Being an inclusive company also means you’ll make decisions that will embrace the needs of different types of people. As a result, you’ll appeal to a wider array customers. Being inclusive internally means being empathetic both in the office and out of it.

True empathy is patient. How many times have you been annoyed when someone needed a further explanation on a concept you’ve already explained? Maybe you hate talking to the marketing staff because they always ask so many questions. Whatever the situation is, it’s very difficult to slow down. Waiting is actually against what we’ve become accustomed to. We barely have the patience to wait for a text message, and we have zero for a bad Wi-Fi connection.

When it comes to dealing with humans, however, patience is key. Allow your coworkers to do tasks at their own pace without insult or pressure. When you give them the space they need to work through their process, they will, in turn, be more patient with you. This may seem to be at odds with productivity, but in actuality patience fosters productivity. No one will be made to feel slow or incompetent. Therefore, everyone will work smarter.

True empathy puts the emphasis on listening. This is the biggest point here. Empathetic people aren’t just people that go out of their way to like everyone. They might not be the first person to rush to give you a hug or tell you their life story. They will though go out of their way to listen to what you have to say. Listening is imperative to empathy because it tells us—the listener/empathizer—how to approach any and every situation.

Herein lies the value of empathy at work. Empathy in your company culture means your employees will be more invested in listening to their coworkers. They’ll be patient in every situation, and diversity will no longer be just an initiative but a way of life. All of this will result in a more collaborative culture, and collaboration always drives the bottom line.

No Really, It’s Okay to Be Unavailable

We live in an uber-connected world. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve complained about shoddy Wi-Fi or the fact that Twitter is down. As much as I love the connection provided by the web and various technologies, somewhere along the way we became terrified of being unavailable. We have to check email maniacally, so we don’t keep our senders waiting. Our cell phone alerts and Slack notifications practically dictate our schedules.

Do a quick Google search of “being unavailable, ” and you’ll get a slew of articles on emotional availability and tips on how to be more attractive in relationships. These articles bemoan to women how men don’t like their partners to be around all the time; they find their better halves more attractive when they are invested in their own lives and not constantly dependent on their man’s company.

As a woman, I find many of these articles completely ridiculous. I believe one should live their lives on their own terms and things will just work themselves out. There is, however, a positive correlation between being somewhat unavailable, especially in business. People fear that by putting away their electronics, the unavailability will reflect poorly on who they are as a worker.

Here’s a truth: being unavailable is good for both you and your company. Somewhere along the way—and I’ve spoken with disdain about this inane practice before—working a million hours a week became a status symbol. Being available all the time meant you worked hard and smart. Although it has been vehemently debunked time and time again, there are those out there that still believe they have to respond to emails while they’re showering to keep a leg up.

You don’t need to unplug completely to be unavailable. Many of the articles written about disconnecting are coming from people who don’t work closely with technology. They aren’t active on social media, and they don’t depend on Slack and other ChatOps to get their jobs done. Aside from the business aspect of being connected, a lot of us derive joy from hanging out on Twitter and consuming content.

In my personal experience, my iPhone is an extension of my day, not a complete productivity assassin. With that said, it has been proven that using a phone while performing another task leads to poorer performance. Studies have shown even just hearing alerts in the background is comparable to actively using the device. Is the solution to turn off the phone once you get into the house? Not for me.

We can all have our own definition of unplugging. For me, it’s turning off alerts now and then to focus on other things. In the case of my computer, it’s occasionally not bringing it with me to the couch when I’m watching TV. Unplugging is different for everybody. Remember you don’t have to go completely “off the grid” to glean the benefits of time away from the internet.

It’s great to unplug while still engaging in some tech. Don’t forget, however, to take some time away from the grind. Unplugging could just be not answering work emails or going on airplane mode. Whatever you choose, remember it is indeed okay to occasionally be unavailable.

Handling Conflict: How to Talk to Your Coworker

Turning Conflict to Conversation

Conflict is a natural part of any relationship, especially those people we spend the majority of our time with. It’s no surprise, then, we might occasionally find ourselves in conflict with our coworkers. As uncomfortable as those moments of tension can be, they can be as beneficial as they are inevitable. When you do find yourself in a contentious situation, your reaction directly affects how the entire exchange will play out. This could mean the difference between coming to a resolution or destroying your relationship.

Consider the Common Goal

When conflict crops up, it’s easy to work solely on emotions and say something which exacerbates the issues. The big thing to remember is this: tensions arise when people disagree on the process, not the result. Think about it: when parents are arguing about their children, it’s not because both parties don’t want the best for their kids. It’s because they disagree on how to give them the best.

Reminding yourself that ultimately you are all working towards the same goal is the hardest part of conflict. Nobody wants to find common ground when they are upset, and we all want to prove ourselves to be the victor in a contentious situation. Introducing the concept of agreement, however, helps move the conversation from conflict to a solution. Often that solution is agreeing just enough to push the discussion forward; find your common ground This brings us to the most important action item all: talking.

Discuss the Problem

Maybe you’re nonconfrontational. It could be that you can’t find the necessary words to explain your side of the situation. Possibly, it’s because you don’t see the value in “starting an argument.” I understand how it feels to not want to initiate conflict. However, it’s extremely important to hash out differences of opinion. This is why you should talk to your coworkers when problems occur.

Before I discuss how to talk about issues further, I want first to highlight what not talking does to a group dynamic. Bottling things up makes us weak; by this, I mean we are more likely to give a little attitude here or slip in a snide remark there. If you’re the true silent type, then the silent treatment brings its own set of problems. Namely, refusing to talk halts any discussion on important topics. Probably the most telling, though, is the blow-up. Eventually, all those bottled up emotions we aren’t sharing are going to come out, and it will more than likely be in a way that will not help drive solutions.

Whether it’s an eye roll, a rude throwaway comment, or a full-blown burst of anger, all of these things chip away at a group dynamic. Consider how difficult it is to build trust on teams; it can take months or even years. When you avoid talking about conflict, that trust is in jeopardy.  When you don’t trust your team members, collaboration wanes. If the collaboration isn’t there, you aren’t working at your best.

Instead of avoidance, choose discussion. Talking about problems means they are more than likely to be resolved. Here’s why: the chances of the person you are angry with knowing why you are angry are quite slim; telling them helps you get it off of your chest and helps them understand what’s going on. Conversing with your dissenter will also lead to a solution.

Speak With the Solution in Mind

How do we approach these conversations? After all, disagreements happen for any number of reasons. When you determine where the conversation went awry, you can then discern how to guide the conversation to a solution. More often than not, you disagree about something with an end goal. Take a moment to compose yourself and then propel the conversation forward. You do this by re-engaging that common ground you share: the final result.

The biggest takeaway here is this: talking is always better than silence. When you consider your common goal and speak with the solution in mind, you can advance the conflict towards a conversation and therefore a resolution.

Keeping the Creativity in Code

A January 2016 New York Times op-ed piece by Wharton professor, Adam Grant, discusses why the most successful adults are generally not child prodigies. He reasons the vast majority of highly and unusually gifted people are exceptionally good at following the rules. You give them a problem and they solve it in the most textbook way. Technical mastery of any task is a very good trait to possess. It is, however, detrimental to creativity. The problem being it leaves no room for originality.

What does this have to do with code? Good devs know coding is a creative act, and it is for several reasons. The first being developers are often creating products from ideas. Next, great code can actually inspire others to change their lives in any number of ways. The biggest marker of creativity, though, is solving problems. That act alone makes the job intrinsically creative. Since code is creative, it’s important not to stunt that creativity. Instead, foster it by pushing people towards autonomy and keeping an open mind about problem-solving.

Allow for Some Autonomy

According to researchers, the number one rule to raising a creative child is to back off. The parents of highly creative children gave those kids space. They limited the number of rules for homework and bedtime, and they didn’t force their children to think or feel a certain way about things. In the same vein, adults that make waves in and out of their industries are influenced by more than just their specific talents. Creatives who invested in travel and artistic hobbies had more ideas and more success in their fields.

We all work on some sort of team; the best way to encourage the creatives on our teams is to give them the space to be creative. Make balance a core value of your professional life. The easiest way to do this is to remind yourself what you do outside of work directly affects what happens when you open your laptop.

There will always be a time when working 100+ hours a week will be necessary to complete a project. Don’t make that the norm. If you notice someone on your team—be it a direct report or a coworker—is showing signs of burnout, push them to take a few days off to recharge their batteries. Autonomous workers are more creative and more successful than those that are constantly micromanaged.

Remember There Are Multiple Solutions to One Problem

As the old saying goes, there’s more than one way to skin a cat. This same paradigm should be applied to solving problems. If you work with junior developers, it’s easy to walk them through the issues they come across from your specific perspective. This is great as your knowledge is what helps them get answers. Instead of telling them what to do, however, ask them what they think they should do. Focusing on the process instead of the solution helps them not only think for themselves, but also encourages them to be creative.

Therein lies the value of multiple solutions to problems. Those that skew towards the creative will always have new and interesting ways to tackle the same old issues. You, as the more senior dev, are more set in your ways which can result in being more rigid and less creative. Maybe you’re not working with a junior dev; you could be working with a few other team members and reach an impasse. Since you are embracing the fact that there is no predefined way to solve a lot of the problems you’ll encounter, this is your opportunity to discuss processes and not squabble over the fact that you disagree.

Shutting down differing opinions wipes out creativity, and that’s a part of the reason why arguments are so detrimental to team success. Keep an open mind, and start looking for different solutions to the daily problems you face. Remember, coding is creative. Make sure your contribution to the work environment fosters that creativity.

Habits of Highly Productive Tech Teams

There’s always a lot of talk about “culture” on tech teams. And that makes sense: managers generally hire people that will fit in well with the group they’ve assembled because they know there’s more to work than just doing the job. Being able to get along with your coworkers, being reliable, and looking the part are also important.  A big part of building a solid company culture is about creating an environment which helps your employees be productive. Unfortunately, a lot of what we do in tech has the opposite effect.

What am I talking about here? Those weekly three-hour team meetings you could probably be finished within 45 minutes with just a bit more focused preparation. Alternatively, doing everything via Slack and never allowing your team to turn off notifications. I love foosball and a lush nap pod as much of the next person, really, but enticing potential hires with free housekeepers and dry cleaning also encourages them to stay longer and, as a result, not be as efficient.

There’s a middle ground here. You can give your employees great perks just for being a member of the team and those perks should boost productivity. Perks shouldn’t pressure your team to move into your office and never see their families. Highly productive teams all have three things in common, and they are easy to implement into your team’s routine.

The Meeting Culture

I’m always amazed when people tell me they spent their entire workday in meetings. How did they get anything done? Or is it their job to just be in meetings all day? This is a very interesting thing for me because I value meetings and because I’ve always freelanced, I actually look forward to them. Human interaction keeps us healthy by fighting depression and boosting creativity. Meetings also provide more opportunity for collaboration. As technology enables more and more companies to go global, the need is shifting towards team work. Meetings, therefore, are important. However, they only aid in productivity to a point.

The drawbacks of meetings are well known. The topic gets lost. They distract from real, paying work. And a lot of the time, the majority of people in the room don’t need to be there. It’s obvious how this absolutely murders team productivity. With that said, we can’t always be stuck in a corner staring at glowing screens. We occasionally need to talk to people. The solution here is to know the difference between when a meeting is necessary and when to take a different course of action.

This is a really great resource courtesy of Harvard Business Review on when to have that meeting, when to make a phone call, or do something else instead. Share this with your teammates and choose your meetings wisely.

They Know Their Roles

As job titles and descriptions get fuzzier (and in some cases, eliminated), it’s becoming more difficult to determine what people’s roles are in the office. People need to know their roles on teams for teams to perform well together and, as a result, be productive. Here’s the proof: individuals that know why they were hired and how to deliver on their talents contribute to high-impact teams. Individuals that know their roles are also better workplace decision makers. And, employees that know what is expected of them have an easier time meeting those expectations.

This all comes back to internal transparency. If your team members know what they are supposed to be doing on a day-to-day basis, they’ll be able to better assist their co-workers and better serve your customers. Aren’t those two things the most important part of managing people and building a great company?

They Trust Each Other

That’s the crux of having a wildly productive team: trust. Trust that your coworkers and managers are competent and committed. Knowing you can take any issue to any of your peers and get it resolved with minimal conflict. And being so comfortable communicating that empathy and vulnerability are inevitable. There is no better way to boost productivity on your team immediately, than instilling a culture of trust.

If you want to improve productivity on your team, start today. Delegate tasks to capable direct reports and trust them enough with the task that you don’t need to micromanage them through it. Spend an hour a week with one of your employees or coworkers and listen to their concerns about their role; focus on building a relationship with them and not just trying to solve a problem. Finally, instead of scheduling a meeting, just ask for help in a one-on-one conversation; people feel valued when they are allowed to show off their capabilities.

The main takeaway here is this: team productivity is the result of individuals committing to make the entire team look good, not just themselves. Employees that know their roles at work will work more efficiently with their team members, especially when they’re collaborating in meetings. Because of that, relationships will improve, and there will be a foundation of trust among your teams—even across teams. Give your team the chance to be truly productive, and the results will be immediate.

Finding Suitable Work: Landing the Job

Suitable is defined as “right or appropriate for a particular person, purpose or situation.” Suitable work means thinking about more than just skill level. It’s about the strengths you possess beyond the technical talent. How much communication is involved? Are you comfortable with that? Do you have to face clients or lead a team? Will you be performing in a group or working as a solo contributor?

Suitable work as a software developer often means you must put more weight on the non-technical aspects of the job than the technical ones. To land the position that’s most suitable to your entire skillset, you must also consider where you are in your career and what managers need to see from you to hire you.

Your Early-Career Job

If you’re looking for your first or job as a dev, focus on the actual process of the code. Most companies don’t expect junior developers looking for their first or second job to be as proficient as someone with several years—or even one or two years—of experience. They want someone who is thinking the right way and willing to learn. To that end, smaller companies are going to focus more on the ability to learn and be taught. That’s why highlighting your thought process is so important.

Most companies hiring junior developers expect to invest a decent amount of time into leveling them up. When you are doing your technical interview, walk through how you would solve the problem and explain why.. Don’t be too put off if you don’t know what the answer is; the hiring manager knows you’re a new dev. What they want to see is how you would solve the problem.  

Another thing managers are going to take into account is your trajectory. We live in a time where people are more prone to job hop than to stay somewhere ten, or even five, years. Know what your goals are, and know how those align with the company you’re interviewing with short and long term. Most managers don’t expect employees to be with a company for the long-haul, but they do want to bring people on that have an idea of where they want to be in five, ten, fifteen years, and beyond. With that in mind, let’s talk about the manager job.

Your Manager Job

Being a manager requires more than just a great handle on the technical aspects of the work. To be a people manager, you need to know what your people are capable of and how to get those capabilities out of them. Before we get into the specifics of what makes a good manager, here’s a few stats I want to point out:

  • Companies fail at choosing the right talent for open positions 82 percent of the time (according to Gallup).
  • Only 30 percent of U.S. employees are engaged at work (worldwide, that number drops to 13 percent).
  • About one in ten employees have what it takes to be a good manager.

These numbers are important because they highlight how difficult it is to find a good manager; how hard it is to be a good manager; and how many actually have what it takes to manage people. Companies fail at choosing talent so often because managers have a difficult identifying potential employee’s strengths and their current employee’s weaknesses. Perhaps they can’t see those weaknesses because there is a high rate of disengagement. It’s also possible, though, they were promoted to a manager position and are part of the 90 percent who are ill-suited for it.  

What do those ten percent have that the other 90 do not? How can you be a good manager? According to Gallup, great managers have the following talents:

  • They motivate every single employee to take action and engage employees with a compelling mission and vision.
  • They have the assertiveness to drive outcomes and the ability to overcome adversity and resistance.
  • They create a culture of clear accountability.
  • They build relationships that create trust, open dialogue, and full transparency.
  • They make decisions based on productivity, not politics.

Notice that nowhere in those five traits does it say “be technically sound.” It’s obviously crucial to have a grasp on the technical work you’ll be overseeing. Great technical managers, though, know that the code is king. They need to be articulate and patient leaders. To land that job as a manager, you need to demonstrate those qualities.

When you’re in the interview, emphasize your ability to build relationships and engage in open dialogue. Show that you are capable of motivating others to work together more efficiently and you aren’t afraid to confront conflict with compassion. Talking to people, especially when the conversations are difficult, is imperative to being a successful manager.

You Can Be Successful as an Individual Contributor

Maybe becoming a manager isn’t for you. Maybe you want to continue to climb the ladder, but don’t want to have direct reports. There is a huge misconception out there that you can’t be successful without leading a team of tens, hundreds, or thousands. Let’s debunk this right now: you can absolutely have a wildly successful career as an individual contributor.

If you do choose this path, keep in mind the communication skills discussed in the post are still in play. You are going to have to talk to people. Often, they’ll be non-technical, and you’ll need to explain technical work and ideas. You’ll have to occasionally work with people which means you’ll need to be a good collaborator. Individual contributors need to work just as well with others as managers do.

The main takeaway to finding suitable work is that it isn’t only about technical ability. You must be a well-rounded contributor and look for work suited to your strengths.