Soft Skills
Article Index
Soft Skills
Sections 5-7, Conclusion

Author: John Sonmez
Publisher: Manning Publications
Pages: 504
ISBN: 978-1617292392
Print: 1617292397
Audience: Everyone!
Rating: 4.5
Reviewer: Ian Stirk

This book aims to make you the most successful software developer you can be – by enhancing your non-technical soft skills, how does it fare?

This book consists of 71 short chapters (each around 6 pages long), arranged into 7 sections, covering a wide range of non-technical skills that aims to make you a more successful developer. The sections cover: career, marketing yourself, learning, productivity, financial, fitness, and spirit.

Since the book covers many topics, the purpose of this review is to give you a taste of the topics covered. Below is a section by section exploration of the topics covered.  




Section 1 Career

This is the largest section of the book, and probably considered the most important for many readers. The topics covered include: 

  • Chapter 3. Thinking about the future: What are your goals?

  • Chapter 5. Hacking the interview

  • Chapter 9. Climbing the corporate ladder

  • Chapter 12. Freelancing: Going out on your own

  • Chapter 18. Don’t get religious about technology 

The section opens with the suggestion that the best time for making plans is now, specify some big goals, give them a timeframe, and break them down into achievable pieces of work. Interview advice includes getting the interviewer to like you, emphasising your ability to work independently, and knowing where to go for answers.

It’s suggested that developers should specialize, e.g. the title “Java developer” is too general, becoming specialized does mean there are less jobs for you to apply for, but you should have a better chance of getting one of the specialized jobs. To improve your chances of career progression, it’s suggested you take on more responsibility, other suggestions include: becoming a mentor, become more visible, and offer presentations.


Section 2 Marketing Yourself

Marketing is about getting people’s attention, it often gets a bad press, typically because its proponents are after quick money. Done correctly, marketing can be invaluable. The topics covered include: 

  • Chapter 21. Creating a wildly successful blog

  • Chapter 23. #UsingSocialNetworks

  • Chapter 25. Writing books and articles that attract a following

  • Chapter 26. Don’t be afraid to look like an idiot 

Many developers would generally shy away from the topic of marketing, but what’s the point of being good at something if no one is aware of it? This section discusses various techniques to get you noticed and improve your chances of success. Perhaps the overriding message is to create your own blog, this contains more information than a resume, improves your communication skills, shows your genuine interest, and perhaps some readers will become customers.

The author suggests having a presence on all the main social media sites, and using tools such as Buffer to post to them all. LinkedIn is a must, and referrals are very important. Various options for speaking and presenting are discussed (perhaps start with the smaller user groups), this then extends to writing articles and books to attract a following – books and article do not pay, but they do influence. Making a video, or writing an article takes courage, and with practice you can improve, the important point is to get started.




Section 3 Learning

One of the noticeable features of technology is that it changes fast. Over your career you need to learn a topic quickly, use it, drop it, and then repeat this process. This section aims to teach you how to teach yourself how to learn. The topics covered include: 

  • Chapter 27. Learning how to learn: How to teach yourself

  • Chapter 28. My 10-step process

  • Chapter 31. Looking for mentors: Finding your Yoda

  • Chapter 34. Do you need a degree or can you “wing it?”

  • Chapter 35. Finding gaps in your knowledge 

The section starts with a look at how to learn. You learn more if you do, rather than just read, where possible you should jump in and play. The section continues with a look at the author’s 10 step process to learning, these are:

  1. Get big picture (scan net, blogs, books: read intro chapter and skim rest)

  2. Determine scope (narrow your focus e.g. learn basics of console app for C#)

  3. Define success (create small app that uses all major language features)

  4. Find resources (try many, books, blogs etc)

  5. Create learning plan (cf. subheading in chapter)

  6. Filter resources (find resources that best cover your learning plan e.g. Amazon reviews)

  7. Learn enough to start (not too much or too little! e.g. learn enough to create Hello World program or set up dev environment)

  8. Play around (cf. Playing a video game and explore)

  9. Learn enough to do something useful (from play around step! Remember can return to playing around step)

  10. Teach (can be scary, but a great way of ensuring understanding)

Steps 1 – 6 are done once, and steps 7 – 10 are repeated. I found this section interesting, I guess we all have our own approach to learning new topics, but often we read a lot before we start to do anything, following the author’s 10 steps seems more in keeping with an agile environment, and may significantly reduce your learning time. The section ends with a look at the gaps in your knowledge, these are often identified as those areas in which you repeatedly spend time - having identified them, you can then fill in the missing knowledge. 


Section 4 Productivity

This section discusses getting the work done efficiently, acknowledging this is not always easy due to potential distractions. The topics covered include: 

  • Chapter 36. It all starts with focus

  • Chapter 37. My personal productivity plan

  • Chapter 38. Pomodoro Technique

  • Chapter 41. Multitasking dos and don’ts

  • Chapter 42. Burnout: I’ve got the cure!

  • Chapter 43. How you’re wasting your time

  • Chapter 47. The value of hard work and why you keep avoiding it

The section opens with a look at focus, being the opposite of distraction. Things get done when you have focus, but there are many potential distractions. The aim is to get focus for the first 5 or 10 minutes, after this you should have the momentum to continue. The author creates plans over various time intervals (e.g. quarter, month, week, and day), and includes holidays and breaks. Various planning tools are discussed. The pomodoro technique uses a (tomato shaped) kitchen timer, the aim is to work for 25 minutes then take a 5 minute break – the aim is to focus your concentration.

The chapter on multitasking identifies that most multitasking isn’t! Instead we perform a bit of several tasks serially. This causes problems because it takes time to return to the position you last left the task at. The author suggests tasks should be batched e.g. check email 3 times per day only, instead of letting it interrupt your focused work. It is possible to multitask simple things e.g. listen to an audio book while on a treadmill. The author says the answer to burnout is to carry on: after your initial enthusiasm wanes you can hit a wall, but if you carry on, you’ll get your interest back.

The chapter on wasting time says the number one time waster is TV. The average American watches 40 hours of TV a week, if you can claim even half of this time back, you can do something more constructive. Other time wasting activities discussed include: too much social media usage, cooking, and meetings. I guess the real answer is nothing in excess. The section continues with a look at the importance of routine and good habits in your everyday work.

A chapter discusses hard work and why we avoid it. It says the only way to be successful is via hard work, so you should embrace it. We all want short cuts, but working smarter and harder is the real way to be successful.

The author suggests listening to an audio book while driving is good multitasking – but I do wonder if it could be considered dangerous (if your mind is concentrating on the book rather than the road).



Last Updated ( Friday, 30 January 2015 )