Highly Recommended Software Engineer: Talk solutions, not just problems


Highly Recommended - Be the person everyone wants to work with(This is a sub-topic of the series Highly Recommended: Be the person everyone wants to work with.)

An important part of being a problem solver involves identifying all your obstacles.  However I’ve observed a simple and profound pattern emerge from working with many engineers over the years.  How you communicate the breakdown of the problem to others classifies you as being a “can do” type of person or a “whiner”.  Which type do you think will be getting a promotion?

I can’t stress this enough.  When a manager or product owner interrupts you to ask how we might do something or how long it might take to do something, how do you respond?  Be honest with yourself.

I’m blown away by the number of software engineers that act like little kids whose parents just interrupted their video game playing with a request to take out the trash.  They get frustrated that they are being interrupted, they whine about every little detail they have to overcome to make this task possible.  “Aww man, you mean I have to pause what I’m doing, find my socks and shoes, put on my socks and shoes, take the trash out of the kitchen and walk it into the garage to put it in the bin, and then take the bin to the curb, in the rain, just so I can take my shoes and socks off again and get my head back into the puzzle I’m in the middle of?  UUUUgggg!!”

Be the engineer other people want to work with.  Don’t describe the details of the problem as if they are a list of hassles you have to deal with.  Instead, be positive about the steps involved and the hurdles you need to overcome as they come to mind.  It should sound something like, “One second while I pause this.  Okay, what can I do for you?  Sure I can take out the trash, how soon do you need it?  Okay, I think it’s still raining out but that’s no big deal.  I’m not sure where my shoes are so it will take me a few minutes to find them and get them on.  Do you mind if I take 3 minutes to solve the puzzle I’m in the middle of and then I’ll take the trash out and take the bin to the curb in the next 10 minutes?”

Or imagine this: “Sure I can take the trash out –oh cool it’s raining!!  I’ve never been out in the rain at night, that’s going to be cool!!  I’m going to go get my shoes right now.”

I’m not asking you to be a butt kisser or someone’s lap dog; I’m just bringing it to your attention that you may want to be mindful of the language you use.  It’s been my experience that people who manage to enumerate work to be done with enthusiasm tend to go far while the people who probably don’t even realize they sound like they are whining about all the work they need to do will go nowhere or find themselves at the door.

Be the engineer everyone wants to work with by focusing on exciting solutions instead of accidentally whining about a problem’s details.

(This is a sub-topic of the series Highly Recommended: Be the person everyone wants to work with.)