Thoughts about ‘Soft Skills’ book by John Sonmez

Recently I came upon this book: Soft Skills by John Sonmez. The idea for this post came because friends were intrigued by the book concept so when I finished I got many questions on the content. I had always thought about starting a blog but while reading this book the author convinced me to actually start. So I think it falls neatly into place for my first post to be about it.

It was a pleasure reading the book. It was fun. I think a big contributor is the style it is written where the author is ‘talking’ to the reader.

I have organized my thoughts as they are presented in the book’s sections.

Career.

I really enjoyed the first part of the book where he talks about the career of a software developer. I perceived the core idea of this first part to be that as software developer we must be aware of our career, and be very active to manage it. I find it very true there are many developers who just coast mindlessly through their career. I have seen it myself in many other developers and I must confess there have been pig portion of my career where I also was mindlessly coasting.

I would like to add something from my experience. I live in Thessaloniki, Greece where the developer market is comparatively small having a small number of jobs and opportunities. While reading the relevant chapters I felt that there was a big difference in scope and market metrics to the US where the author is based. Like what was discussed wasn’t applicable to our situation. I over and over again had a feeling of hopelessness and lack of control over my career. But was that a reality, or a way that I was feeling about it? The conclusion I reach is that the career situation in small markets is more difficult and it can lead a developer to feel out of control and make him resign. On the other hand though, I believe we need to be even more mindful and active in managing our careers in when based in weaker economies and job markets.

Marketing.

I read this section with great interest and I must admit that I am pretty skeptical about this section. The core idea is to market yourself by creating a blog, exposing yourself through social media so that you become known in the market. The content does provide both a good theoretical background about marketing and brands and practical advice and tips on how to setup and do progress which makes it an interesting read. My skepticism though is that I perceive it to be very, very difficult to achieve the critical mass to actually become enough widely known so that it impacts a software developer’s career.
Having said that, I must admit that the chapters for the blog , along with the “don’t be afraid to look like an idiot” chapter from another section might be the most impactful read from the book for me. If you are reading this it means that I have started a blog and this book was what actually tipped the scales and made me decide to start. I had a few friends and colleagues that had told me something on the lines of “Why don’t you start a blog? You have interesting things to say about software development?”. But I had never really thought about is seriously and yet here I am writing a post.

Learning.

I have found the method the author presents to be too formal to me but I did like and agree with the underpinning core concepts of the method. The fact that you cannot learn about software technologies only by reading is something that I have found out early in my attempts to learn programming. In order to learn you also need to work with something( the author uses the term play… which sounds much better). Also something else I will try to adopt is his advice to set concrete goals of what you are trying to learn. When I was reading this chapters, I was parallely recollecting all those times when trying to learn something and where missing a clear goal I either did not really learn what I needed or wasted time wandering aimlessly on topics I did not really need.

Productivity

The author addresses issues that hamper our productivity but we do not think of them as strictly work related. For example he stresses how much time we waste watching TV and how are habits are affecting us. He also presents various systems that someone can adopt to enhance his productivity eg pomodoro, quotas, how to break projects into tasks. He also tries to present the little important details in the various processes he talks about which I think are what make the difference in practice for a system to actually work. As it is said “the devil is in the details”.

What stuck out to me though and I believe this is one of the key concepts that I will remember after reading this book is how he makes the statement that the productivity struggle is something that many people have to face.

Quoting from the book:

“What I can tell you, though, is that we all struggle with the same problems. We all have a tendency to procrastinate and to avoid the work that’s truly important to us.”

“I know that isn’t what you wanted to hear. It isn’t what I wanted to hear, either. But at least you know you aren’t alone. At least you know it’s just as difficult for me to sit down and write this book as it is for you to sit down and read it.”

I have always had this skewed view where I was struggling and everyone else that were “successful” seemed to not have this problem.

Financial

Again for this section I felt that the author’s US economy context is very different from my local Greek environment. So I believe most of the practical information isn’t applicable to us here. But I liked his approach on how he links a software developer’s career with his financial situation. I find it very true not being stretched financially can help career. It is much easier to make a bold or slightly risky move to advance your career if you are not with one foot in a financial disaster.

Fitness

I skimmed really fast through this section but not because it does not interest me. On the contrary! In my 20s I did almost nothing for fitness but for a few years now I have tried to make progress and so I have studied the theory and have a good grasp of eg calories, strength training basics etc.

Spirit

This section talks about things that I think most of us know or have heard of like positive thinking, handling of failure. Though, at least for me, I always seem to forget them or at least relapse again to the non productive opposite way of thinking about them so it was a good thing to read.

Conclusion

As a general feel I think this a book that would be a productive read for software developers especially developers that are starting or are in the first years of the career. I definitely feel inspired and plan trying to adopt many of the concepts and tips mentioned.

Since this is a post about the book, I would also like to thank the author for putting in the work to write it. Thanks John!

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