I have just finished reading ‘Soft Skills: The Software Developer’s Life Manual’ by John Z. Sonmez (in case the title didn’t quite give it away), it was an interesting read, unusual for a book aimed at software developers. Instead of focusing on the technical side of being a developer, the author talks pretty much about everything but technical skills (so yeah, it’s about soft skills).
No but really, he goes through a pretty varied selection of topics. I suppose that’s what makes this book interesting - everyone can potentially find something relevant to them and their career in its current state. It’s a book you can come back to occasionally to check out that thing about the stock markets, or nutrition, or motivation. It’s also highly readable.
The cons, though, include the fact that John Z. Sonmez just won’t shut up about how he managed to retire at 33. Some of the resources he mentions are out of date. And also occasionally he would mention how he didn’t really feel like writing this book, which doesn’t really encourage me to read it. But then, of course, his approach to planning helped him churn out a chapter a day. So I guess it’s sort of a pitch.
In overall, I enjoyed it, I think it contains enough good advice to justify owning it.
But if you’ve read this far and are still trying to decide whether to read it or not, here is a brief-ish summary of its sections and their contents:
The main advice of this section is to stop thinking of yourself as an employee, and instead consider yourself a business and the company you are employed for - a client. This mindset helps you feel less like a tiny cog in a huge machine and more like an individual that can go off and pick the highest bidder. And since you’re thinking of yourself as a business, it also makes sense to think how to keep yourself desirable for clients - think skills, hard and soft. As well as what type of clients you’d like to target. Specialisation is cool. You can’t possibly know everything and finding a niche for yourself usually pays off in the end.
The author also talks about figuring out short- and long-term goals, doing interviews, creating CVs, negotiating a salary and deciding when and how to quit your job and what to do next - freelance, create a start-up, come up with a product.
This section mainly covers establishing a presence. Thing is - it’s cooler when you don’t need to seek out a company and apply through usual means, but the company reaches out to you. Less cool, but still pretty neat when you reach out to them, they google you or follow a link to your website on your CV and see all those amazing podcasts, blogs, videos, books and conferences you’ve done. Those are a direct representation of your skills and you just might end up not needing to do any coding tests or half-day long assessments.
So, once again, you think of yourself as a business and establish a brand.
I’ve mentioned in one of my previous posts that the field of software development changes rapidly. New languages and libraries appear like crazy, things go out of fashion (whadup, Dojo). So, unless your plan is to look for companies that work with a product that has been developed on-site twenty years ago and has barely changed since everyone’s afraid of making any massive modifications to it, or no one quite knows what black magic makes it function, unless that’s your plan - you need to stay on top of things. Staying on top of things implies keeping track of new developments (does that count as a pun?) in the industry.
So in this section John suggests his own 10-step process for learning stuff, finding mentors and taking on apprentices. He also proposes a way of tracking down gaps in knowledge, which I found rather useful.
You get the point. The section talks about ways to make yourself more focused on work. The author briefly talks about The Pomodoro Technique, which I personally find to be great for my home projects, but am yet to integrate in my work environment. He also shares his thoughts on calendar planning the crap out of months, weeks and days, holding yourself accountable for your successes and failures, breaking down problems and forcing yourself to do hard work.
There is a brief chapter on wasting less time, but it doesn’t provide too many revelations, it’s pretty straight-forward - ditch your TV, social media, meetings and other unimportant stuff, like: cooking, browsing news sites and playing video-games, which seems a bit too draconian for my taste.
However, I think a lot of what this section covers makes sense.
This is by far my favourite section, because I like having money and hate the idea of somehow ending up in a situation where I don’t have any in ten-fifteen-twenty years’ time. I have been in a position when I had to work evening shifts full-time in ASDA to be able to pay both for my degree at Newcastle University and my life while at the same time studying full-time at said university. This isn’t something I’d like to repeat any time soon, or ever.
So this section talks about being smart with your money. Not just paying close attention to what you’re spending your paychecks on and cutting down spending doe on garbage, but being smarter about distinguishing your needs from your wants. The difference between assets and liabilities is that, essentially, assets have the potential to bring money in, liabilities take money off your monthly paycheck.
Sonmez talks about investing money in stocks, dives briefly into the subject of the stock market and how options work, then resurfaces and goes into real estate investment and retirement plans. All useful information.
It’s pretty hard to be a software developer and do lots of physical activity. So there’s a whole section on fitness, covering how calories work, how to burn them, how to gain which types of muscle and set the right types of goals. A brief mention of standing desks and healthy diets. A chapter on how physical exercise helps with problem solving. Unfortunately there’s also a a subchapter on cooking eggs in a microwave which made me lose a bit of credibility over how much this guy knows about normal food. And there’s a bit on headphones, pedometers, fitness apps and the like.
This is the last section. He talks about establishing the right attitude to life (being positive and stuff) and whenever people talk about being positive and ‘programming themselves for success’ - of course there’s a mention of Dale Carnegie, whose work I don’t like for no particular reason.
One chapter in the section is on love and relationships (yeah, I too had to do a double take), which can essentially be summarised to: don’t give up, don’t look desperate, be persistent. The penultimate one, oddly, lists the books that influenced Sonmez (rather than having a References section at the end). And the book kinda ends with a chapter on failure and how people shouldn’t be afraid of it, which makes sense.
So if a few of the above sections caught your eye - do check it out, the book is cheap, it’s an easy read and some of the advice in it is genuinely good.
If none of the sections stood out - no biggie, more books to come.