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A Primer on Giving Critical Feedback

Giving feedback

Have you ever told an employee, or even a peer, that she is going against expectations, and that she should do something differently? To a lot of us, this can feel very uncomfortable. We do not know how the other person will react. Maybe she will become angry, or upset, or won’t want to be friends with us any more (my three year old son’s favourite these days). Last minute, we ask ourselves what gives us the right to tell people off, and somehow there is no good opportunity to have the conversation, and, in the end, we postpone giving the critical feedback indefinitely. Does this sound familiar? It certainly happened to me.

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Better Together

A friend of mine recently came back from a visit to a pretty successful software company, and one of the things that impressed him most was how well their engineering and product people know about each other’s domain. Engineers know about the why of the product, the rationale behind certain feature decisions, and the plans for the future. Likewise, product people know, at least in rough terms, how the software works, how it is structured, and what design decisions and tradeoffs are in place.

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If You Want to be Understood - Listen

“If you want to be understood - listen.” This is the tagline of the movie “Babel” with Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett (1), but it probably did not take a Hollywood movie to make the saying well-known in one variation or other. I am, by nature, a better listener than a talker, but I still find it necessary to actively remember this saying from time to time, and I think it is something that, in management, is very useful to keep in mind.

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Leaders Cannot Replace Managers

Last week I saw a presentation where the concepts of leader and manager were compared (supposedly). The presentation showed two variations of a picture with some workers in ancient Egypt (or so) pulling a huge block of stone with a rope. In the first variation, a “manager” was sitting on the stone block, giving orders. In the second variation, a “leader” was pulling along with the workers, pointing out the direction and cheering his people on.

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One-on-ones for Beginners

I started my first real programming job when I was 19. It was a small company, and there were five people in total. I had a great time there, writing code that today would make me cringe, but learning every day, and simply getting stuff done. At some point, the two founders told me they wanted to have an annual appraisal with me, and my first reaction was: “What is that supposed to be good for? Isn’t this just an esoteric way of wasting time?” When you are 19 or 20, you just want to code, and move forward.

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Sprints, Artificial Deadlines, and Quality

Do you know these moments when you read a book, and suddenly, there is this sentence or paragraph that resonates so strongly with you that you wish the author was standing in front of you so you could throw yourself on the floor, humbly weeping, hug his legs, and thank him for his words of wisdom and truth? I experienced such a moment lately when I was reading the quality chapter of Peopleware. Let me quote the words that almost touched me to tears:

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A Jump Start Into Software Engineering Recruiting

So, you stumbled into recruiting? How did that happen? Just yesterday, you were a software developer happily rampaging around in your code base, and today you learn that you get to pick who will join the team in the future? Scary? Don’t worry, somebody obviously trusts you to be up to the task, and, since you are reading this, you are also a conscientious person who wants to do the job right and honour the trust bestowed on you.

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Verbalize Your Thoughts

This is my tenth post for this blog, so I thought some reflection would be all right. Originally, I started blogging to write about things I had been thinking about for some time. I wanted to provide value to the readers, because otherwise these readers would not come back after their first or second visit. Moreover, though, I was writing for myself - to better explore my thoughts, convictions, and beliefs. To sharpen my reasoning, and compare my standpoint to that of others.

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Don't Sacrifice Your Maker Time

As a first-time manager, I wanted to be approachable to - well, basically everybody in general, but my direct reports in particular. I had the feeling that there was some management debt lingering around and most people were clearly under-managed and under-mentored, so the last thing I wanted to do is proceed as things had always been. With some coordinative tasks on my desk and considerable involvement in recruiting, I had not been coding for more than 50% of my time even before that. When I was promoted to a people management position, however, it became even less very quickly. Soon, I was fully in “management mode” and my only exposure to code was a code review here and there.

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Book Review: Actionable Agile Metrics For Predictability

Because finding good ways to develop software in a rapidly growing company is a complex problem with many tradeoffs, I am always interested in best practices and real-world examples. This is how I stumbled upon the book Actionable Agile Metrics For Predictability by Daniel S. Vacanti. I was thoroughly surprised!

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