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Communications Programming

Ask Slashdot: Communication Skills For Programmers? 361

Posted by timothy
from the especially-when-the-idiots-are-in-charge dept.
An anonymous reader writes "As a new developer at a young-ish software company, I've been told my communication skills need some work. I'm not painfully introverted or socially inept, but I get lost in my work and only contact people if I need something from them or they ask me a question. Traditional advice isn't relevant to casual, less hierarchical companies — I don't have to hold my tongue when someone is wrong or worry about formalities. But I do need to connect with people professionally, since my team members and managers decide my perf and advancement. How do you keep colleagues abreast of your work without having exponentially many needless conversations?"
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Ask Slashdot: Communication Skills For Programmers?

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  • Needless? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 12, 2013 @01:20PM (#45402357)

    So this needless communication is actually needful?

    Maybe just change your attitude. Forming relationships is very important at work.
    Are you sure "communication skills" means that you aren't socializing enough? Perhaps your emails are inadequate, you aren't keeping people informed, aren't discussing ideas with others or are not adequately explaining your ideas.

    The fact that you only talk to people when you need some from them is a problem. What about brain storming? Design meetings? Code reviews?

    Getting to know people and taking an interest in their lives doesn't hurt either.

    • Re:Needless? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by khasim (1285) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Tuesday November 12, 2013 @01:43PM (#45402757)

      It could just be his manager. I've often been dinged for "communication". As have most of the techs that I've worked with. It's an easy stereotype.

      Now look at the manager who is putting that on a review. Has he been pointing out better ways you've could have communicated as they've happened? No? Then it is a problem with your manager or the system he has to follow.

      The best anecdote for that is from a friend of mine who's boss (former tech with no management training) told him not to include him on his weekly updates for a specific project. Then dinged him for "communication" because he should have known to include him in his weekly updates.

      Too often "communication" translates to "you are not my drinking buddy". And if evaluations are based upon that then you should find a better job where your boss understands "communication" himself.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        >Too often "communication" translates to "you are not my drinking buddy".

        It can also mean don't be an introverted dork who's only there to work. People will dislike you if you only communicate with them when you need something.
        Source: I was once an introverted dork, but got medicated for my social-dysfunction, and am now an outgoing person who gets along well with co-workers.
        • Re:Needless? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by ILongForDarkness (1134931) on Tuesday November 12, 2013 @02:11PM (#45403187)

          It's a balance in my experience. I've had places where they would get upset if they saw you talking to someone rather than nose to the grind stone and others that got upset if you didn't stop what you were doing and say hi to someone that came into your workspace to talk to someone else (who was there, not that they came asking for them and you ignored them).

          Sadly, it is the lowest common denominator (well maybe highest common denominator): those that do need a lot of social interaction will get very frustrated by not having it. The assumption is usually that those that are quite or less social are not harmed by being forced to say hi and deal with small talk (even though that isn't the case when you need hours of consecutive time to figure out things sometimes, or just like the socialites might feel with no social interaction that like your life is being wasted with "how's the weather" talk). Regardless, the socially adapt are by definition the squeaky wheel and so are the ones that will get their way. Also, they tend to be the ones seen as being leaders/liked by people so are more likely to be your manager now or in the future so always a good idea to keep them happy.

          Suggestion: have lunch with people. You have to eat anyways, so if they have to feel like they know you let them have their meaningless conversations with you while you are stuffing your frozen dinner in your mouth.

          • by khasim (1285) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Tuesday November 12, 2013 @02:27PM (#45403419)

            Sadly, it is the lowest common denominator (well maybe highest common denominator): those that do need a lot of social interaction will get very frustrated by not having it. The assumption is usually that those that are quite or less social are not harmed by being forced to say hi and deal with small talk (even though that isn't the case when you need hours of consecutive time to figure out things sometimes, or just like the socialites might feel with no social interaction that like your life is being wasted with "how's the weather" talk).

            http://dilbert.com/strips/comic/1996-01-12/ [dilbert.com]

        • by khasim (1285)

          It can also mean don't be an introverted dork who's only there to work.

          This is good if everyone has been hired because they share the same background and views. It is not so good once you start getting people who hold non-work opinions that are very different from yours. The Atheist and the Creationist are probably not going to be socializing together.

          People will dislike you if you only communicate with them when you need something.

          Possibly. Or it might depend upon how you communicate with them. The people

        • Re:Needless? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 12, 2013 @02:35PM (#45403513)

          It can also mean don't be an introverted dork who's only there to work. ... Source: I was once an introverted dork, but got medicated for my social-dysfunction ...

          Sounds like the same kind of attitude behind corrective education for homosexuals. Just because you're a successful graduate of Camp-don't-be-Gay doesn't mean that anyone else who's forced to attend wants or needs chemical correction.

          Introversion is natural. Just because the extroverts are in the majority and are trying to force their kool-aid on everyone doesn't mean that introversion is wrong.

    • by buswolley (591500)
      Agree. Communication skills = politik = Bullshit because communications skills just mean understanding people's turf, and how not to step on it (unless intentionally). Its this kind of bullshit that allows inept people to continue, bad ideas to live longer, or people having to choose between quality work and covering their bosses (and friend's) behinds. All you should need to do is: Be nice. Be kind. Say hello. Don't be abrupt. Say thank you. Do your job expertly. Be helpful and willing and understanding.
      • Communication skills also means saying "Good morning" and "good bye" when you enter or leave your bureau.

        All the mail suggestion here are bullshit. Neither is sending a mail every day nor is a weekly summary for a 'programmer' or his boss relevant. There is no need to be "kept in the loop" for a boss as some people here claim: FOR THAT YOU HAVE AN ISSUE TRACKER!

        This said, I assume you either get mobbed or wrongly evaluated or you indeed have bad communication skills.

        Do you look people into the face when you

    • You should be familiar with the proverb "Free as in Beer". There is also another use for beer: It loosens tongues.
    • by SirGarlon (845873) on Tuesday November 12, 2013 @01:56PM (#45402947)

      The fact that you only talk to people when you need some from them is a problem.

      This.

      Years ago, my boss pointed me to a good article titled "How to Be a Star Engineer. [encribd.net]" (Apologies for the annoying format; if you're an IEEE member or university student you can download a PDF [ieee.org]).

      The article essentially says communication skills and attitude are what differentiates star performers from the rank and file. Understand the people you're working with, what they need, and provide that. Everyone will enjoy working with you, and you will become well-known.

      • by robot256 (1635039) on Tuesday November 12, 2013 @03:48PM (#45404405)

        This IEEE article is the only answer the poster needs. I read it all the way through, and it is spot on, matching my personal experience. I sometimes wondered what exactly I had done to garner such high praise from my colleagues and managers, but as it turns out I was doing all nine of their "Star Work Habits". Paraphrasing some of their findings with my experience:

        Those "needless conversations" are where you can ask about other people's projects and experiences. Find out what their areas of expertise are so you can go to them when you need help, or can point others in direction--becoming a clearing-house for technical advice makes you conspicuously valuable and is a great way to gain exposure to all sorts of people and problems in your organization.

        At the same time, you can also discover other opportunities. When I first joined as an intern, I quickly became part of the team by volunteering to help out on projects way above my pay grade because knew I had the skills to do them as well or better than the senior engineers. By delivering quality work on those assignments, my boss put me on the fast-track to more interesting projects and responsibilities.

        More advanced forms of "communication" include knowing when to push back against your boss on requirements or schedule in order to benefit the organization in the long term, proactively stepping in to resolve conflicts among teammates, promoting others' good ideas when they are not being heard, and learning the ins and outs of the corporate culture so you can communicate effectively with other departments and managers.

        It may seem like a waste of time, but you can learn a lot of valuable information by listening to the old-timers ramble on about this and that. More importantly, if you listen to their stores, they will be more willing to help you out when you need their advice.

        So my immediate advice for the poster is: Get out there, chat with your coworkers at lunch or the water cooler, and don't worry too much about keeping track of how many dogs they have or where they went to vacation last year. Do ask them about technical topics or share what you are working on--it may be a more comfortable topic for them as well, and vastly more useful.

    • Re:Needless? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by s.petry (762400) on Tuesday November 12, 2013 @02:04PM (#45403093)

      I think you cover a some important aspects, but I do have a couple things to add.

      Communications can not only be lacking, but contain too much information. I had a manager long ago that told me to use Word's grammar check and don't produce anything over an 8th grade reading level when communications were going to non-technical staff. He also told me to limit emails to one topic, even dealing with technical issues, so that people could not confuse issues. That has turned out to be very sage advice in my career, and I have since adapted my own style for technical emails where management is included. I add technical notes after my signature, and in the summary email I tell people to review "technical details" if they need or desire the technical details. That habit saves me writing two emails for everything, but does not confuse the non-technical people.

      Something else I do with certain management types is to simply set a reminder to send out a periodic status update on large projects. If you have your head buried in your work, but nobody is aware of what you are doing, you are not seen as really working. A very simple status message helps people gain and keep confidence in your work ethics.

      Lastly, periodically ask for assistance with small things. Even if you don't need the assistance, it lets people know you are there and working for a "team" as opposed to being the guy with the "Red Stapler".

      • by Culture20 (968837)

        He also told me to limit emails to one topic, even dealing with technical issues, so that people could not confuse issues. [...]

        Something else I do

        Whoa, now I'm getting confused.

    • Are you sure "communication skills" means that you aren't socializing enough? Perhaps your emails are inadequate, you aren't keeping people informed, aren't discussing ideas with others or are not adequately explaining your ideas.

      The fact that you only talk to people when you need some from them is a problem. What about brain storming? Design meetings? Code reviews?

      Several times at my work, where I help with testing/QA (mostly I'm the IT guy, because apparently programmers suck at understanding and maintaining their computers and infrastructure---I guess they're more engineers than anything else, the "science" part of CompSci notwithstanding) I've had to pass on changes that one programmer is doing or projects they're working on to others who are overlapping or would benefit from some good ol' code reuse. There's really rather little communication between them outside

  • by Capt.DrumkenBum (1173011) on Tuesday November 12, 2013 @01:20PM (#45402363)
    Buy it, and read it. Then read it again.
    This book changed my life. I had no idea how bad I was at dealing with people until I read it. I re-read it at least once a year.
    http://www.amazon.com/How-Win-Friends-Influence-People/dp/0671723650 [amazon.com]
    • It’s a great book but I find it a bit overrated. It focuses on acting like an extrovert and surface characteristics.

      I would counter balance that book with one on listening, the other half (and much neglected part) of communication. Unfortunately I can’t think of any off the top of my head. Susan Cain put out a excellent book called “Quite”. It’s not quite on point for this topic but it may be worth a read.

      • I found that it covered listening quite well. Perhaps a different perspective when reading.
        I point out that book, because it is actually readable. Not only that, it is enjoyable to read. Has some great examples, and some interesting stories to illustrate its points.
        To each their own.
        • I'm not attempting to contradict anyone but there is something to be learned here about the whole dialectic of the young techie seeking advice & what is considered a 'helpful' response...

          Look, Capt.DrumkenBum, I can't prove or disprove your statements about how good this book is...I will agree that it is true in the sense that **you** see these things in this book.

          You admit as much...

          To each their own.

          That's fair...not criticizing...my point is that, in *most* situations like this, the 'advice seeking d

      • by muridae (966931)

        I would counter balance that book with one on listening, the other half (and much neglected part) of communication. Unfortunately I can’t think of any off the top of my head. Susan Cain put out a excellent book called “Quite”. It’s not quite on point for this topic but it may be worth a read.

        Let me second that, since I don't have mod points right now. Communication isn't real communication if you only ask others when you have a problem or they are your boss telling you what needs to be done. The internships I did while in Uni, I had two that were of the later form, where I'd talk to a professor, then go write the code they wanted and turned it over and moved on to what ever else they needed. No collaboration, no meaningful communication. Those projects, from my coding perspective, turned to cra

  • Default ding. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by HornWumpus (783565) on Tuesday November 12, 2013 @01:20PM (#45402367)

    If you didn't screwup in any other way, your manager will put 'communication skills need work' just so it looks like he did something during the last review period.

    Send an email to the whole team at the end of each day, summarizing what you've been doing.

    • Send an email to the whole team at the end of each day, summarizing what you've been doing.
      That is definitely the most stupid thing to do.
      I don't want every evening (or next morning) an email from every colleague. Neither do they!

      • Who cares what you want? I sure don't. This is a show for the boss.

        If you don't have the skills to route my daily BS update somewhere more appropriate then your inbox maybe you should look for new line of work.

    • by Bigbutt (65939)

      Shoot, you should be keeping track _anyway_, if nothing else for your reviews. I wrote a personal webapp that makes it easy for me to keep track of what I do, especially since I'm working on lots of little things and several big things. Then when review time comes around I can just review the year's work, filter out the misc cruft, rewrite the remaining into several paragraphs, and submit that.

      [John]

      • by CrudPuppy (33870)

        I do this also and have found it a very valuable thing. Also helps when updating the resume.

    • by six025 (714064)

      Send an email to the whole team at the end of each day, summarizing what you've been doing.

      Please don't do this. Updates are good, but not every day via email. It's just annoying and a waste of everyones time. Can you imagine if everyone took this advice? 20 status update emails each day at 4:30, ffs ;-)

      As for the main question: go make tea a couple of times a day, or grab some water instead of staying chained to your desk. Set an alarm if you have to. Walking around the office you will bump in to people, which is a good opportunity to say hi, tell them what you're up to or find out what th

      • Unless the boss sees you communicating with your coworkers it might as well have never happened.

        Daily updates are a show you put on for the boss. They are easy to create (just copy yesterdays and change the details) and equally easy to ignore.

    • by Escogido (884359)

      Send an email to the whole team at the end of each day, summarizing what you've been doing.

      What? That's exactly what the morning standup is for.

    • by westlake (615356)

      If you didn't screwup in any other way, your manager will put 'communication skills need work' just so it looks like he did something during the last review period.

      This is the "feel good" answer that tells the geek he doesn't have a problem.

      In real life, "Poor communication skills" often translates as "Doesn't work or play well with others."

  • by FatAlb3rt (533682) on Tuesday November 12, 2013 @01:20PM (#45402373) Homepage
    Send or post a short note each day where your supervisor can/will read it -
    * What I finished - accomplishments, problems solved
    * What's coming up - milestones, issues or possible stumbling blocks

    That'll keep him in the loop and any conversations can be spurred from there.
    • by Sarius64 (880298)
      Scrum? :)
    • Send or post a short note each day where your supervisor can/will read it -
      * What I finished - accomplishments, problems solved
      * What's coming up - milestones, issues or possible stumbling blocks

      Doing this weekly or monthly would usually be sufficient. Daily would be seen as pestering. You should keep a daily journal that includes your ToDo list, that shows the above, but that's not for communicating with anyone. That's CYA when things go wrong. You let your boss know that you are keeping it, but you don't let him or anyone else see it unless you have to defend yourself. You can do things like pipe up in a team meeting "Hey, I ran into a problem like that a couple of years ago. I could rummage arou

  • Vague criticism (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Workaphobia (931620) on Tuesday November 12, 2013 @01:21PM (#45402393) Journal

    Did the person who told you this give you any more detail? Are you not engaging often enough, or are you not good at explaining yourself and listening during the times when you are engaged in conversation? The former is partly a matter of being friendly/comfortable with the people you're around. The latter is critical thinking -- what do I understand, what do they understand, will this choice of words be interpreted how I want, etc.

    • by TechnoGrl (322690)
      I have to agree with the above. Put your communications skills to work and go to the manager who told you this and politely ask for some concrete things you can do to improve as well as some past examples of where he believes you went wrong. Slashdot isn't going to (can't) help you with those things.

      If in the hopefully unlikely chance your manager is not able to provide concrete examples of mistakes and ways to improve then you are being screwed over and that last "criticism" was actually a heads up for
    • by kscguru (551278)

      This, and the meta point: the fact that the poster of this "Ask Slashdot" left the conversation WITHOUT having an answer to those questions is itself indicative of poor communication skills. A good communicator will convey that sort of information regardless of how poorly his report listens; a merely average manager will convey merely average general principles and it's up to the report to pull out more information. (And a poor manager will give non-committal evals then fire somebody without warning).

      I'm re

  • by Bigbutt (65939) on Tuesday November 12, 2013 @01:23PM (#45402417) Homepage Journal

    I'm fairly introverted (18 out of 20) but I also make time to walk around Operations (I'm a Unix Admin) and chat. While I'm not a sports person, there are folks who share the same interests. So finding out about a few guys who play guitar lets me chat about guitars (or bass). I get to poke at the guys who ride cruisers (I'm not quite old enough for a cruiser yet :) ) and share stories about my own touring rides (going to Alaska again next year). Several are gamers of one sort or another so there's some cross discussion there, even over in Engineering where there's a fellow Shadowrun gamer and another guy who plays Bass.

    Heck when I worked at IBM, one of the jobs was remote 100% remote (me here, a couple of folks in Rochester NY, one in Seattle, one in Austin, a couple in New Jersey, and a couple of guys in Boston where the contract was). I had a problem with it _because_ there was no interaction outside of work conversation.

    Sure, you're a working guy but networking, even amongst your coworkers is important.

    [John]

  • by presidenteloco (659168) on Tuesday November 12, 2013 @01:25PM (#45402451)

    If you think that way, rather than: The purpose of conversation is to tell people what I'm thinking, then you will be a better communicator.
    Listen, process what the other person's motives and needs are, and take the opportunity to learn something from them or their perspective.

    It you think you know it all already, you are already done, in any business or endeavour.
    If you think you know it all and can only pass on information, you are not really that valuable a contributor, because you are probably working hard and cleverly on the wrong problem altogether.

    There is always something to learn by active listening. You get more out of conversation that way; appreciation, and knowledge, cumulatively.

  • Ask Questions (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Mr D from 63 (3395377) on Tuesday November 12, 2013 @01:25PM (#45402453)
    Communication is a two way thing...your goal should be as much to find out about what others are doing as it is to inform them. Ask what they are doing, listen, then you can relate your similar experiences in response. Ask for advice or confirmation of ideas...people love to be asked to provide advice, and they'll gladly listen to what you are doing in order to be able to fulfill that desire.
  • by jerpyro (926071) on Tuesday November 12, 2013 @01:25PM (#45402467)

    I hate to say it but the retention rate for programmers is higher than everyone else. So, when you go to advertise what you've been working on (and yes, it's advertising) sometimes you'll have to re-hash the conversation four or five times. The trick is to re-hash the ideas and talk about things in a different way each time so that the topic doesn't get stale to the audience.

    I wish (as do many programmers) that advancement was about nothing but pure ROI to the company (including future ROI) but it doesn't work that way. It's hard to measure, is labor intensive to figure out, and is a waste of time in a small company. So, failing that, you rely on marketing. How you get along with people, small talk, casual banter, idea roundtables at lunch breaks, those all contribute to your "brand image" and you need to take advantage of that image to paint a perception of intellectual value at your company. Make sure you're good enough to provide deliverables to back up your image. You also need to pick one or two things to be REALLY good at so that other people can ask you for help. Helping people helps you.

  • Managers.. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by sqorbit (3387991) on Tuesday November 12, 2013 @01:27PM (#45402493)
    I think many companies miss the point of good managers. I've had the positive experience of managing a small group of developers and they relied heavily on me to talk with other managers and upper management when it came to projects. I myself understand programming but am not a programmer myself, my background is based in networking and databases admin. I understood that developers needed time and resources to resolve issues or develop new products. It was my job to make sure the programmers had the resources they needed and also to make sure that upper management had a clear understanding of the time table and end result. This made the developers more comfortable and gave management the go between they needed to fully understand project needs. Everyone can not be great at everything, and if a developer is great at coding, but not so good at dealing with management why not have someone who understands be the communicator. Middle management often gets a horrible reputation for being a roadblock, but in some cases it can be exactly what is needed.
  • You've been told that your communication skills need some work. Part of communicating is asking for, and learning how to receive, feedback. So, I'd suggest the following:

    • Go to the people who gave you the advice to improve your communications skills
    • Ask them if they can point to specific areas where your communication needs work, and to provide examples
    • Listen to what they say. Take notes - just bullet points - of the important stuff. Sub-bullet the examples, if provided.
    • When they're done giving you specifics, ask them if they might have pointers on where to learn more about improving those areas.
    • Dedicate real time - an hour a week at least - towards improving those areas.
    • Practice, practice, practice, every opportunity you get.

    DO NOT:

    • Get defensive
    • Retaliate
    • Brush off their advice

    Good luck.

    • This is the best advice so far. We have no idea what's going on in his manager's head, so he's asking the wrong people.
  • by Jeremi (14640) on Tuesday November 12, 2013 @01:28PM (#45402515) Homepage

    The least painful (usually) technique is simply to eat lunch with one or more of your co-workers most days. You'd be surprised how much useful information gets shared that way.

    • Related question: how do you stay in the loop if you can't afford to go out to lunch with them and have to brown-bag it?

  • by Ravaldy (2621787) on Tuesday November 12, 2013 @01:30PM (#45402539)

    By communicating on a non-work level you let people in, making them feel more comfortable speaking with you. A good team is one that communicates often and effectively. Above all, by involving yourself in the social dynamic at your work you will gain respect from your colleges. IMHO, respect is very important if you plan on heading a team or department at a later time.

  • by Hairy1 (180056) on Tuesday November 12, 2013 @01:30PM (#45402545) Homepage

    I think you have to first ask what is required here; whether it is simply the quantity of communication, or rather the quality. The team and communication skills of developers are more correlated with success than technical skills. Communication means being able to effectively transmit what you are thinking and understand what others are saying. Perhaps you should ask your co-workers what aspects of your communication they have difficulty with. Is it that you are unclear, or do you not communicate with those you should? Are you really listening to people; by which I mean actually taking onboard what people say? The "needless communication" phrase indicates a certain degree of hostility towards communication. Obviously you should not have 'needless' communications, but clearly your workmates believe there are issues impacting your effectiveness.

  • You do need to hold your tongue and follow formalities, that is the whole point. We have thousands if years of experience as a species in how to communicate effectively. It involves watching what and how you say things, and following acceptable rules for communicating with other humans.
  • by minstrelmike (1602771) on Tuesday November 12, 2013 @01:34PM (#45402603)
    " I don't have to hold my tongue when someone is wrong or worry about formalities"
    You may not be correct.
    That's not quite exactly the same as saying, "You are wrong."
    You may not think you have to hold your tongue, but it certainly helps if you hold it in the best position to let other people feel as self-important as you yourself like to feel. It's called empathy. Try to fake it until you make it.
  • The only communications I know as a programmer is TCP and UDP :) Use TCP if you want a response from your manager otherwise he might be dropping his UDP packets.
    • by lowen (10529)

      And be sure to watch the window size, the latency, and be very careful about too many dropped or NAK'ed packets.

  • Respect (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Bovius (1243040) on Tuesday November 12, 2013 @01:36PM (#45402635)

    >I don't have to hold my tongue when someone is wrong

    I respectfully disagree. You should definitely speak up if something is wrong, and it's good that you're in an environment that allows you to. That being said, I suspect that the number one "communication problem" software developers tend to have is coming across as having an overactive ego, that your word is the divine truth handed down to the unwashed tech-illiterate masses, and that their opinions don't actually matter in the face of the cold, hard facts you bring to the table. I don't think this is the dev's actual attitude (most of the time), but it's so, so easy to come across that way. Coming up with ways to share an idea while making sure your audience understands yet doesn't feel talked down to is a skill I know a lot of devs could stand to learn. If your coworkers feel respected by you, that goes a long way toward improving communications.

    The other problem I see frequently is a general lack of visibility into what progress is actually being made on the seething morass of shifting dev priorities. Even something as simple as a daily/weekly project status update e-mail to the right people can do wonders here.

    (This question gets deep into greater issues of how much power tech people have and their perceived role in businesses and society, which is far too big a discussion to be had here. Short version: IT experts are witches).

    Full disclosure: I am a career software developer, and like to believe I do pretty good at the communicating with business thing.

  • Something that we did at my previous job, and that I have successfully lobbied for at my current one, is the Monday-morning meeting. The whole team gets together, everyone explains - in a few short sentences - what he's currently working on, and mentions anything else people might want to know about (when they will be absent, for example). The team-leader sometimes talks a little about upcoming projects or company news. Shouldn't take more than half an hour, and everyone gets up-to-speed on what people are

  • by Virtucon (127420) on Tuesday November 12, 2013 @01:40PM (#45402707)

    Unfortunately if you're a talented developer or engineer just writing good code does little for your career. If you want advancement, more responsibility and the pay that comes with it you'll have to learn to communicate effectively. I see lots of talent get pigeon holed in an organization because they can't communicate effectively or become too impassioned about something that is contrary to the perception of management because labels get attached to that individual and those are difficult to get removed. More often than not, the individual leaves or in a layoff situation, especially if that person is very vocal or sticks out like a sore thumb, they're let go. You have to be able to communicate effectively, build conclusive arguments that drive your point and learn to work with your co-workers. Nobody said you had to love everybody or live in a yellow submarine but by doing this and building consensus you can demonstrate that even though you've got talent in development or engineering you also have soft skills and soft skills pay more. I can get Java, C# or C++ developers any time but couple that with somebody who can lead a team and deal with having bumps in the road and then they're a better asset. If they have enough experience and have managed a few successful projects then they're great candidates for further advancement.

    Sure, sometimes you have to play company politics and the higher you go unfortunately the more political things become but unless you have killer IP and are running your own place, you'll have to put up with it wherever you go.

  • Be Proactive (Score:4, Insightful)

    by HtR (240250) on Tuesday November 12, 2013 @01:41PM (#45402735)
    I had a similar situation once in which I was working away as a contractor, but the manager wasn't really aware of everything I was doing.

    The best advice I received, which came from an outside source, was to start emailing the team leader and the manager a quick "status" update every week. Just a quick email about what I was working on that week, what I accomplished, and any issues they should be aware of or handle. It worked very well, and it tended to cut down any interruptions from them wandering by asking me "how's it going?" As time went on, they learned to trust me more as a professional, and it became less of an issue.

    Now, I hate mandated weekly status reports as much as anyone, but if the perceived problem on their end is that they don't know enough about what you're doing, I would much rather start sending them email with the relevant information. Otherwise, you might find you have to start filling out detailed weekly status reports, attending regular status update meetings, or something else more painful that a quick email.
    • I can vouch for this approach.

      I was in a similar situation, except I wasn't a contractor. I had a manager whose memory was terrible - legendarily terrible. We had weekly meetings (one that was just him and me, one that was the whole group); but he and I kept banging heads because "he didn't know what I was working on".

      After a couple years of that, I started sending him an email at the end of each week that very briefly touched on everything I'd worked on that week. It didn't cover any new information that w

  • If it is not you, then you should be spending more time listening than looking for advice on /.

    .
    The first thing about having a productive conversation is to listen.

    You learn more when you're not talking than when you are talking.

  • by tiberus (258517) on Tuesday November 12, 2013 @01:51PM (#45402885)

    Possibly related case:

    During a review my boss remarked that my appearance was not entirely up to snuff (my words, not hers). I immediately asked for clarification and got a less than specific answer along the lines of you're usually very put together but, some days you're not, which didn't help much. Months later I was witness to a comment she made about another employees scruffiness. Note to self, she doesn't like 5 o'clock, or in my case 3rd day shadow.

    More to the point, did you ask for clarification, examples, guidance? Going about this, in a "flailing in the dark" manner is unlikely to produce the desired results. Social skills covers a wide range of material.

  • Granted, I don't know Mr. Submitter from Adam, but from the tone of your post you sound like a self-aggrandizing jerk. Not only that, you also seem quite keen on talking shit on and otherwise denigrating the people who have elected to employ you (albeit in a rather passive-aggressive manner). You show a complete lack of respect for proper procedure and formality, which, regardless of your personal feelings, exist for a reason.

    I'd recommend you take that chip off your shoulder poste-haste. You might be the w

    • by c0d3g33k (102699)

      What a fascinating example of unintentional self-referential criticism. Your comments seem more applicable to your own post than that of the submitter.

  • Same setup (new hire and entry level software engineer) basically. I only get to see my team in person every Tuesday and Thursday. We have email, jabber and phone for the other days. I think the same rules apply as any IRC channel - don't be afraid to own your ignorance, but make sure you have done a modicum of research before posting to your devel team listserv or pestering your coworkers with jabber texts in the middle of code-freeze or code-bash. Take it at face value and make incremental steps and g
  • OK, so you write code for a living and only reach out to people when you need an answer to a question.

    Sounds like you might need a daily blog / journal. I've seen co-workers post a daily summary of what tasks / actions were worked on and the journal is injected with a few humorous lines of the individual's personal views. This is a form of communication that may suit your style better.
    * It provides team members the opportunity to know what your working on, and may encourage them to share id

  • by MyLongNickName (822545) on Tuesday November 12, 2013 @01:59PM (#45403011) Journal

    My first manager always told me that I needed better communication skills. Mostly this was because she was incompetent and couldn't keep track of her own work much less those reporting to her. In hindsight, I do not blame her, but rather the organization that promoted someone beyond what their skill set could handle.

    At the same time, I did work on my communication and organizational skills. Since then I've earned five or six promotions and get consistently high marks in both of these areas. In my twenty years of a professional career, six in management, I've learned quite a bit and learned it can be distilled into just a couple of points

    1) Know your audience.

    This is the most important aspect of communication. My direct reports have learned (and I have told them) that I trust them and only expect a minimum of communication on a daily basis. I like status reports on a daily or near daily basis that let me know if you are on track. I also want to see reports when you see things going off track. Then we can sit down, go into more detail and I can do my job of providing additional resources or a manager's voice to get cooperation. If it is urgent, see me immediately. if not, it can wait for our 1:1. I want my employees to be able to work without getting sucked into a lot of meeting, be allowed to take ownership of their projects but then leverage my position when they need it.

    But that is just me. Some managers want to be in the middle of every technical decision. While I don't agree with this management style, if that is your manager, adapt to his style. If he likes face-to-face daily, then give him the meetings. If he prefers a daily email, go that route. If he is a drop-by-meeting manager (I hate them) then keep talking points by your desk so you are ready.

    How do you learn your manager's style? If he is good, he will explicitly tell you. Most managers are not good, however and don't receive any type of training. If this is the case, I'm sure you know who his favorites in the office are. Emulate parts of their style, or explicitly ask them how they deal with the boss. Also, occasionally, ask the boss how you are doing with communication. It will help reinforce that you are trying and he will generally view that favorably. Perception is at least half of the battle on communication...

    For non-boss coworkers, communication is easier if you are already communicating well with the boss. Daily statuses on projects via email is likely the route to go. Whatever you are sending to the boss, send a similar update to your team. Develop a standard template so busy readers can scan for what they are looking for.

    2) Be Consistent

    For each of my direct reports, I created a template for our weekly 1:1's. There are 5-7 items on each that I go through. Sometimes most of the items will be "nothing to report". Others, there are lots. But by being consistent, I make sure everything is covered. I do the same for those I report to, either directly or as part of a project team. If you go the route of daily email updates, make sure they are done every time and have a consistent format. This will help you to be efficient with your time. Then make sure you follow through each day or however often you decide to. This creates a healthy habit in yourself, keeps people in the loop and reinforces the perception that you are an organized team player.

    3) Get to the Point in EMail

    Folks are busy, so spend a few minutes and think through a problem before emailing on it. When I see a long email on a subject, I immediately assume the person hasn't thought it through themselves and is looking for me to solve the problem. Don't spend three pages writing an essay. Don't go past three back and forths on an email chain. If you really need someone else to help solve something and you can't express it in two or three paragraphs, have a conversation.

    Finally, a few minor points
    * When getting an assignment, repeat it back to the person who assigned it so they can confirm. In most cases, follow

  • Best advice is don't reveal more than you need to share and, when you do share, do it in a clear, concise and non-rude manner.

    Learning proper English (or your native language) vs slang is important in conversation and documents you prepare internally and for clients.

    I have actually received resumes written in "text" speak. And, no, I am not kidding. Can you guess who didn't get hired?

  • In my experience if you really want to 'fit in' and be part of the group you need to start smoking. Those 5 or 10 minute breaks they take every hour to go outside to smoke is when they do all their social networking.

  • And by that I mean non-SF fiction (what's called in the article I'll link to "literary fiction"). Research has suggested that reading this sort of thing, as opposed to man pages, SF, or journals, improves empathy and communication skills: http://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2013/oct/08/literary-fiction-improves-empathy-study [theguardian.com]

    Also, learn about different types of intelligence. Daniel Goleman's books are a good place to start.

    Basically, don't neglect non-STEM topics in your, your friends', or your childr

  • by Stolpskott (2422670) on Tuesday November 12, 2013 @02:07PM (#45403133)

    The manager is the one who has made this comment, so I would surmise that one of two scenarios is at work here:
    1. The manager has either noticed for themselves, or they have received feedback about you, to the effect that you do not communicate effectively with others within the company.
    2. The manager is looking for a reason to give you a less-than-excellent performance review (a couple of potential reasons for this, the most common one being that the less than perfect review impacts your bonus, thus saving money for the company; alternatively, this could simply be a manager who just does not give excellent reviews because they think it leads to complacent employees).

    In both cases, the best thing to do is ask the manager for their advice. You are a young, (relatively) inexperienced person on the team, and from my perspective it is safe to assume that you are interested in improving yourself and doing the best job that you can - that means that if you could self-identify things you can do better, you would have done so and be doing them. So take the manager to one side and explain that you are looking for some specific input about what areas of communication could be improved. Usually in my experience, where it is not a matter of the manager finding fault to save on bonus payments, it is not about communicating more, but more effectively. If that is the case, the best advice I could give is to look up a public speaking organisation - Toastmasters (www.toastmasters.org) is one of the more common ones, and one that I have worked with for a few years. You can learn more about effective communication, and also about leadership as well, both of which will carry your career a lot further if you are a good programmer, than just being a good programmer.

  • I've been told my communication skills need some work.

    now who said this? what was the context?

    these questions are, IMHO, integral to giving you good advice!

    other comments here are very helpful, but more for the general info and narrative than advice that will actually help you **make a decision in this situation** directly...I think you should absorb all the info, but you (and all techies) need to **consider the source** of this criticism

    important quesitons:

    > were they male or female? a co-worker or supe

  • First of all, if someone is telling you that you have a communications problem, that is a BIG red flag in any career you need to look at immediately.

    "...without having exponentially many needless conversations," ... "I don't have to hold my tongue when someone is wrong or worry about formalities"... "Traditional advice isn't relevant to casual, less hierarchical companies"

    You are 100% wrong here. Those conversations don't sound "needless" if you have a "problem".

    Here's some traditional advice that applies

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I stopped reading after the first 2.5 sentences because as I programmer, I can see where this is going already and I like to be efficient. So - what you need to do is look yourself up in the employee database. If you don't have access with your user account, just use the root account - noone will mind. First make sure that all communication skills you have are listed, none are left unmentioned. Add missing ones - if you can think of any - to your entry in the database (and if necessary to the meta-table whi

  • I've hired dozens of developers over the years. I can teach a developer a language, or a development philosophy, or a set of APIs. There are only two things I cannot teach, and therefore should look for in new hires: 1) Communication skills 2) Work Ethic If a person has these two skills, I can teach them anything else they need to be a quality developer. People will tell you to over-communicate. It's good advice.
  • What they're really telling you is that you are being too independent at least to start. Its generally good to be self-motivated but its preventing them from forming an opinion on how well (or even possibly what) you're doing or how good you are.

    Basically because you are new you have to train your managers to trust you. At least for your first few months, until you feel you have become a trusted "part of the family" you need to communicate regularly (about daily) with all the person(s) you directly report

  • Without more information, nobody is going to be able to give you solid advice. However, the particular impression I get from how you phrased your question leads me to believe that you do not truly grok an essential fact, that your job is more than programming and that you do not understand business.

    The business types (and this can be a Lead Developer, Project Manager, etc) around you need to understand nuances in your code in order to communicate it to others, to document, and so forth. They also need t

  • by bluefoxlucid (723572) on Tuesday November 12, 2013 @02:24PM (#45403381) Journal

    Try reading Tess Roeder's book [amazon.com]. I recommend you give yourself a crash course in Project Management [amazon.com] and give the PMBOK [amazon.com] a read. These skills will help you communicate.

    You also want to learn some problem-solving strategies. If your workplace doesn't use something like the Kepner-Tregoe Problem Solving and Decision Analysis method, they need to. It will establish a common language and methodology for approaching a problem. 100% of the problem isn't always you; in many organizations, communication has become comfortable but is still terribly poor. In those situations, when you try to intentionally improve you will make the problem worse because suddenly your communications skills will exceed the organization's; you must commit to also leading a communications improvement in the organization if this happens.

  • Lost in your work (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Princeofcups (150855) <john@princeofcups.com> on Tuesday November 12, 2013 @02:42PM (#45403575) Homepage

    "I'm not painfully introverted or socially inept, but I get lost in my work and only contact people if I need something from them or they ask me a question."

    The people that get the best reviews are not the ones who work the hardest. They are the ones who impress their bosses and colleagues the most. That may sound a bit cynical, but it is the painful truth. Stop working so hard. Take a breath, look around, and relax a bit. If you are feeling swamped, then you need to set expectations better. Let everyone know that you are really busy, even if you are not. Try simple small talk, like "good morning," and "going to get some coffee, you want some." Treat your boss and people in authority with casual respect, that is, not stiff, but with deference. Take more breaks and run into more people. I learned a long time ago that in IT, perception is more important than results.

  • by sirwired (27582) on Tuesday November 12, 2013 @03:11PM (#45403943)

    If you have an office job "communication" consists of walking down the hallway to ask (or answer) a question instead of sending an e-mail. It means bumping into someone in the hallway and sharing a thorny problem you are working on (or even gloating on how you just came up with a clever solution.) If you have meetings, make sure you actively participate instead of fiddling with your laptop or phone. You spend time shooting (relevant) shit with your co-workers (and spend some time making small talk; that's important too.)

    If you work remotely, it means much the same. Call people on the phone instead of doing everything via e-mail. Send out "FYI" notes if you find something the rest of your team should know. Cultivate a reputation as somebody who asks for advice when needed and is helpful in offering advice/education when requested. If you have regular meetings make sure you regularly get yourself on the agenda discussing something you are working on (either to ask for advice on how to solve a problem, or offering information on how you fixed it.) You can also sign yourself up to inform your teammates about things going on outside your team, like other projects, a new architecture coming down the wire, some new tool that's made your job easier, whatever.

    If you don't interact with your team, you've rendered yourself into an utterly replaceable cog, that most certainly can (and probably will) be replaced in the future with somebody else who will offer to do the job cheaper.

The meta-Turing test counts a thing as intelligent if it seeks to devise and apply Turing tests to objects of its own creation. -- Lew Mammel, Jr.

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