Being an Engineer

S2E50 Soft Skills, Stinky Feet, and Being An Ambivert | Dave Smith

November 26, 2021 Dave Smith Season 2 Episode 50
Being an Engineer
S2E50 Soft Skills, Stinky Feet, and Being An Ambivert | Dave Smith
Show Notes Transcript

Today we’re going to talk about soft skills, and we’re going to do so with an expert on the subject, Dave Smith. Dave and his cohost Jamison Dance are the founders and hosts of the Soft Skills Engineering podcast where they answer questions from technical people about non-technical work problems. Both Dave & Jamison have worked as software engineers from staff levels through director levels at a variety of companies including Lockheed Martin, Walmart, & Amazon to name a few.   

Dave's team is currently hiring software engineers to join his company eVisit where their mission is to simplify healthcare delivery to everyone, everywhere. Apply here: https://evisit.com/company/our-story/#careers

 

ABOUT BEING AN ENGINEER

The Being an Engineer podcast is a repository for industry knowledge and a tool through which engineers learn about and connect with relevant companies, technologies, people resources, and opportunities. We feature successful mechanical engineers and interview engineers who are passionate about their work and who made a great impact on the engineering community.

The Being An Engineer podcast is brought to you by Pipeline Design & Engineering. Pipeline partners with medical & other device engineering teams who need turnkey equipment such as cycle test machines, custom test fixtures, automation equipment, assembly jigs, inspection stations and more. You can find us on the web at www.teampipeline.us

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Presenter:

The Being An Engineer Podcast is a repository for industry knowledge and a tool through which engineers learn about and connect with relevant companies, technologies, people, resources and opportunities. Enjoy the show.

Dave Smith:

I got to tell you, when your peers go out of their way to tell you something like that, it's scary for them. So when you say when, when you lead with 'Thank you for bringing this to my attention,' you you help disarm the situation because they don't know how you're gonna react. Right? There's not a lot to gain for them when they come to you like that. And there's a lot to lose.

Aaron Moncur:

Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Being An Engineer Podcast. Today we're going to talk about soft skills. And we're going to do so with an expert Dave Smith. Dave and his co-founder Jamison Dance founded the Soft Skills Engineering Podcast where they answer questions from technical people about non technical-work problems. Both Dave and Jamison have worked as software engineers from staff levels through director levels at a variety of companies, including Lockheed Martin, Walmart, and Amazon to name a few. Dave, thank you so much for joining us today on the show.

Dave Smith:

Thank you. Great to be here.

Aaron Moncur:

So tell me what what made you decide to become a software engineer?

Dave Smith:

Ah, well, I think I'm gonna have to go back and tell some stories of my youth maybe and a little bit of evolution of how things evolved there, I kind of stumbled into software reluctantly, because as a young teenager, I thought that I could never possibly do a job where I have to sit in front of a computer all day, which is just kind of a ridiculous thing to even say out loud nowadays. But growing up in the 90s, as a teenager, I thought, 'Boy, I really just can't sit in front of a computer all day.' So nevertheless, I got exposed to programming at a pretty young age, I think I was maybe 15 or 16, when I got one of those school required graphing calculators. The TI-82 model, if memory serves which had on it, this, this flavor of basic that you could write little programs on to do things with the screen on the calculator, just a monochrome small screen. And I got hooked. I mean, I would say I would sit on my bed at night with my two thumbs on the calculator just typing in these commands. With this tiny little screen that was probably an inch and a half, two inches and diagonal. Little did I know that fast forward 20 years and we would all be sitting in our bed with our two thumbs late at night staring at little screens. I guess I was little ahead of my time. But that's really where I got hooked on the whole concept of typing in commands to a computer and having it do things. And then from there, it was just an inevitability that eventually I landed in the profession of software engineering, despite my best efforts, but I did have a detour into mechanical engineering where I majored for a year in college, couldn't hack it there didn't really love it. I think the the, the the straw that broke the camel's back there was when my drafting professor told me that I needed to hold my pencil at I think he said 27.5 degrees.

Aaron Moncur:

Oh, no.

Dave Smith:

This isn't for me. Anyway

Aaron Moncur:

Oh wow.

Dave Smith:

I switched majors into programming, and it's just been a wild ride. I've never looked back since.

Aaron Moncur:

I'm surprised you even had a drafting class. I mean, you and I were I think we're about the same age. And I didn't I didn't even know that was an option. When I went through school there was CAD, but I didn't see any drafting

Dave Smith:

It was, I had I remember, it's NA 172 I'll never forget. Dr. Razor was the name of the professor. I think the class was like half drawing with protractors and compasses and then half CAD.

Aaron Moncur:

Wow.

Dave Smith:

And he was old school. He was like, 'Here's how you hold the pencil.' You know?

Aaron Moncur:

Jeez, we're a little bit beyond that these days, aren't we?

Dave Smith:

We are but I respect it, I respect it.

Aaron Moncur:

You know, I took a drafting class in high school. And that was one of my favorite classes. And he really did give me the fundamentals of I think being able to visualize things in 3D. So from that standpoint, it was really useful, but I don't ever recall even in high school, a teacher told me you have to hold your pencil at 27.5 degrees relative to the paper in order to... Okay, well, can you give us a quick summary then of, so you you had a little stint in mechanical engineering in college, you ended up switching to computer science and graduated with a degree there. And now you are the VP of Engineering for a software development team. Fill in the blanks between then and now. How did you get to where you are now?

Dave Smith:

Yeah, so between then and now it's about a 24 The .com bubble had burst a couple years prior. And

Aaron Moncur:

Interesting year span from 1997 to today, which is 2021 I so I did the computer science degree just had a fantastic time. I mean, I just absolutely loved it. And one point I remember meeting with my guidance counselor in the computer science department who advised me that I was taking too many computer science classes concurrently and that I was not going to do well. But for whatever reason, it just clicked with me and I could take four cl sses a semester and just bang th ough them so fast, I just had a great time with it. I mean, comp ter graphics, databases, n tworking, so many, just so many awesome classes that just re lly resonated. So I really knew was onto something there when i was like effortless a d fun to just work many, many h urs a week and, and then get pre ty good grades, right? So I ust loved it. But anyway, grad ated from with a computer sci nce degree. And many of your listeners, I don't really know he age demographic, but many of hem will be surprised to hear that at the year I gradu ted from school with a CS de ree, it was very hard for sof ware developers to find work. T is was 2003 we had not yet recovered, we were probably a couple years away from full. I don't know if I could say full recovery. But back to where, you know, you started seeing kind of that super high demand for software engineers again. And so the job I got out of college, I was I was one of 200 applicants for three positions. Wow.

Dave Smith:

And just got lucky enough to get that job, I applied for seven jobs. And I got I'm only got callbacks on two and I got in person interviews on one. And I was fortunate enough to get that job. So it was a it was a tough time to start out your career in software engineering. That, I remember hearing stories of classmates who had graduated years prior, like one or two years before me, who had offers from big companies like Intel, and others who between the time they made the offer and their start date, they call them up and Intel would call these people up and say. 'Look, your offers rescinded. Keep the signing bonus. You just you're not coming to work for us.'

Aaron Moncur:

Oh, no.

Dave Smith:

And so yeah, it was a rough rough time. But fortunately, the the the whole market really recovered very quickly. So within a couple of years, it was back to good, you know, and it's just been, it's been wild ever since, you know, nowadays, it's the opposite, where you have 200 jobs vying for three software engineers, instead of three software engineer, you have 300 software engineers vying for three jobs.

Aaron Moncur:

What do you think of these coding boot camps? They've become popular over the past? I don't know, four or five, six years? Are they effective? How does the graduate of a coding boot camp compare with a graduate from a university who maybe has a CS degree like you had?

Dave Smith:

Well, my confirmation bias, of course, has to take over here. And I'll have to tell you that I think my path was better than any other path.

Aaron Moncur:

Of course, of course.

Dave Smith:

But so I actually taught at a coding boot camp for a couple of years, part time just did a few classes here and there. I'm very supportive of the idea of alternative entry points into the software engineering industry. I think that having one funnel that everybody has to fit through is not good for the industry, I think it it, it cuts some people out and it over emphasizes skill, some skills that are not necessarily needed. And I think there's such a big demand for software engineering right now that we should be, you know, as an economy as a, as an industry, we should try to find as many avenues to find qualified people or to train people into that industry as possible. So in general, I am supportive of it. However, what I have found in recent years, is that boot camp graduates really, really struggle to find employment. For the first six to 12 months after they graduate. I've mentored several people who came out of a boot camp who are just absolutely not able to get jobs, people won't call him back. So I think that it's not the silver bullet that a lot of people thought it would be, you know, you go to a boot camp, three months, six months, 12 months, and then you show up, and then the offer letter start flowing. And that's just not the reality that I've seen recently. That was the case, I think, in 2014 2015, when the concept kind of hit the scene. But now it's, it takes more time. So basically, I think it's kind of like a black belt in martial arts where people have this idea that as a black belt, you're a master of martial arts. But in reality, Black Belt is when martial artists really start to learn. It's like you've you've qualified to begin the actual path to mastery. And I think boot camp graduation is kind of like that you're now able, you know enough to really know how to start learning, and you're probably a year out from being really in high demand on the market.

Aaron Moncur:

Got it. So the training that one would get at a boot camp really isn't quite as thorough or complete as the training that you would get going through a four degree, four year degree at a university or something.

Dave Smith:

It is certainly less thorough, it is also very narrowly focused on very specific technologies. Whereas a four year degree, I think, has two advantages and some disadvantages compared to the boot camp. The two advantages it has is number one, you get exposed to a broader set of areas of study. You know, for example, I took classes and databases. So I had to learn how database indexing happens at the disk level and all the algorithms that databases use, not all, some algorithms that databases use. But that's it, that was kind of my exposure. At a boot camp, on the other hand, you will learn one database, you will not learn the underlying principles, you'll learn some commands. So that's, you know, one difference. The second big difference is just time, like it took, it took my mind, years to get to a point where I could kind of think, like, a soft, like software things, you know, I could have all the kind of the vocabulary in my mind is kinda like learning another language, like, it just takes exposure and time to know how to think that way. And that's something that a bootcamp by definition doesn't, doesn't offer. So four years of just thinking in terms of software development, full time makes a difference. But I should state that neither fresh computer science grads, nor bootcamp, grads are super qualified to do software development on the first day out of out of school, they both actually still have a lot to learn. And I think that leads me to my to the big difference between the two are the big disadvantage of a four year degree is, it is generally a lot more expensive in both in terms of money, but also in terms of opportunity cost, because of all the time you have to invest.

Aaron Moncur:

So what what advice do you give to folks out there who maybe they just graduated high school, and and they're trying to figure out what path to take, you know, do I, do I go the boot camp path and then try to get some, you know, simple work under my belt that I can point to as is real experience? Or do I do I pull the trigger and pay the money and go to a four year university?

Dave Smith:

So that depends a lot on your situation. And so the factors that I tend to take into consideration when I advise folks is, I say, you know, you just mentioned someone straight out of high school. So first of all, I know that you're young, and so you have a lot of years ahead of you, you know, you're not, you're not 20 years into another career and considering switching where where the switching cost of a four year degree would be very high, so you're young, which means the opportunity costs are low. And I would say if, if you have access to a low cost four year university, that will train you in computer science, I would almost always put that as my number one option to recommend. However, I would not recommend incurring huge amounts of debt to get a computer science degree. And so it becomes complicated. So that that's where I would recommend. And the reason I recommend that is because the college, the four year college experience for a young person has a lot of other advantages. Besides just career training, you know, you you meet people that will be significant to you for the rest of your life. Some of my most meaningful and valuable relationships were ones that I formed in college, you know, you're going through the fiery furnace together, right? And you stay together, and you have great context for the rest of your life. So that that's just really, really valuable. You could probably get that from a boot camp too. But so that's that's kind of where I default to is, is that, but it's very, very important that you not go and get $150,000 of student debt. You know, if that's the option that I would go, I would probably not lean there.

Aaron Moncur:

Well said, that makes sense. Well, let's, let's switch gears a little bit and start talking about the the soft skills engineering podcast that you and your co host Jameson started, first of all, how did the two of you meet? And then how did you decide to start the podcast?

Dave Smith:

Well, Jamison and I were on another podcast called JavaScript Jabber, I want to say like, close to 10 years ago, maybe not maybe eight or nine years ago, somewhere in there. And we did that podcast for a while, a couple years. And at some point, I remember Jamison came to me, just with with some career advice, he's like, Hey, I just have, he wasn't offering advice. Although I gladly accept his advice. He came to me with just a question about his own job. And he's like, how do I navigate this weird situation at work? You know, there were some interpersonal things. I don't remember the specific question. But you know, you know how these things are, right. It's like kind of fuzzy, what do I do? It's not clear. So we talked through it. And he said, you know, wouldn't it be nice if there was a place where this kind of advice was just given? And we thought, yeah, that would be nice. There's probably two or three people who would listen to that, and maybe ask a question or two. And so we decided, 'You know what, we know podcasts. Let's make a podcast. This is 2016.' So it's been five years now. And we thought we're gonna make a podcast where we answer questions that people ask us. And to start out, no one has asked us any questions. So we're gonna make up some questions. And pretend like people ask them, and we're gonna answer them on the air. And so we did a we did an episode. And we put it out there. We didn't even have a website or anything. We just threw the episode out there and tweeted about it. And people started listening. And sure enough, people started writing in with questions. And I thought, there's probably five episodes worth of content here before we're gonna completely bone dry, you know, and but here we are 272 episodes later and five and a half years, and there is no end in sight, we have a backlog of soft skills related questions from software engineers. That's over 500 questions long now. People just have a lot of questions about how to navigate their career in a technical field.

Aaron Moncur:

Well, congratulations. That's awesome to hear. I'm curious, how long did it take before the questions started flowing in? Was it immediate? Or was there kind of a ramp up period?

Dave Smith:

I think it's been a steady ramp for five years, but they started flowing in one or two a week, within a couple of weeks of putting out the show. And you know, now we're probably getting, I don't know, 10 plus per week, so really, really ramped up pretty fast.

Aaron Moncur:

That's awesome. Before we get too far into the details of the the soft skills, and I've got a bunch of questions for you about about the podcast and the topics that you cover there. Can you define? I mean, we hear this term soft skills quite a bit. But what are soft skills? What are a couple of examples of soft skills? What does that mean, really?

Dave Smith:

You know, it's funny, I, I don't know if I've ever actually thought to define it. I usually define soft skills in terms of what they are not. So it's almost like it's a gigantic Venn diagram that includes everything. That's not a technical part of doing your job. So for a software engineer, it's not the code. It's not the programming language choice. It's not the hardware you're running on. It's everything else. So that includes things like, how do I negotiate for salary when I'm, when I've got a job offer? How do I, oh, here's a good one. How do I tell my coworker that their feet stink? How was?

Aaron Moncur:

How are you gonna talk about that one?

Dave Smith:

Yeah. That's a classic. How often should I change jobs? Let's see, should I go to conferences? How do I recover from making a mistake? How do I? How do I get good motivation to work when I'm working from home? How do I sign a nondisclosure agreement? Should I move into product management? Should I move into engineering management? Should it how do I ask for a promotion? How do I manage my time at work? How do I say no to people, when they're asking questions where the answer is no, but I don't want to say no. Anyway, just so many questions like that there's actually a universe of questions that I just never even thought existed.

Aaron Moncur:

Can you pick a couple of either the most interesting, or the most common questions that you and Jamison have fielded over the years? And then share what were the answers that you came up with? And if the stinky feet one was really included in there, I would love to hear you answer that one?

Dave Smith:

Well, the first thing you need to know about our show is that we are first and foremost here for comedy. So when you when you get our answers, they are silly. They're fun, and Jameson is the wise one. And my job is to be the laugh track. You may have gathered that already in this interview, but it's interesting. I have gone through our questions. You know, at this point, we've answered 500 questions. We've got 500 in the backlog. And I've been looking for common themes. And it's actually very hard for me to pinpoint themes. The questions are just all over the map. But the answers almost always boil down to the same answer, which is, who should I talk to about this? And what should I say? You know, and and should I quit my job?

Aaron Moncur:

That seems to be a running theme? Should I quit my job?

Dave Smith:

Yeah, we've thought about renaming the show to Quit Your Job Show. Just like, you know, there's better jobs out there. This job sucks. And a lot of people I think maybe that is a common theme and questions a lot of people are writing in, and then they describe a situation. And then there there's this underlying question of, is this normal? You know, like, Is this is this amount of suffering normal? And I find that our job is to give them a perspective and say, 'Yeah, I've seen that, like, that's normal or no, that's not normal. You need to quit that job.'

Aaron Moncur:

Okay. All right. Well, I'm gonna take just a real quick pause here and share with our listeners that teampipeline.us is where you can learn more about how we help medical device and other product engineering or manufacturing teams, develop turnkey equipment, custom fixtures and automated machines to characterize inspect, assemble, manufacture and perform verification testing on your devices. We're talking with Dave Smith of the Soft Skills Engineering Podcast today. So maybe there aren't like the most common questions that that you can recall. But can you think of what are a couple of the craziest most out there zany questions that you've encountered?

Dave Smith:

Well, we were going to have to go to the stinky feet one for that.

Aaron Moncur:

Yes, I was hoping we'd get there. Okay.

Dave Smith:

Let's see if I can just pull that one up. Here we go. Episode 242. Someone wrote writes in and says, I sit at a desk with three other people, one of those people does a great job on personal hygiene, hygiene. The other two, not so much. I have dropped a couple of hints about it. I mentioned it as a good idea not to wear the same pair of shoes every day. So your feet don't start to smell. Sundays, my stomach churn from the smells that inevitably, what should I do? I'm worried if I tell my boss to talk to them, my boss will mark me as a troublemaker. To make things worse, one of them sits opposite and puts his feet under my desk. So let's be frank, this aweful stench is right under my nose. Oh, man, that was just such a good question. We always refer to it I don't even remember honestly, I don't even remember what we said.

Aaron Moncur:

That's excellent. That's fantastic. Do you guys discuss the answers to these questions beforehand? Or is it just in real time she kind of shooting from the cuff?

Dave Smith:

We sometimes do, especially for the more sensitive ones where it's like, there's a really serious question. And we used it, you know, at the beginning of the podcast, we used to really go deep and talk and make notes and then kind of collaborate. And nowadays, we've kind of gotten into a rhythm. And I think one of the things that makes the podcast popular is that Jamison and I have a really good chemistry, like he he and I just we don't think alike all the time. But we just complement each other really well. And so we can just jump in sometimes and answer these questions. And frankly, both of us have so many years of experience that we've seen a lot of things now, you know. And so oftentimes we can draw from our own experience and say, 'Oh, yeah, that's happened to me, here's what here's what it looked like.'

Aaron Moncur:

The slogan for your podcast is 'It takes more than great code to be a great engineer.' Based on the context of our conversation so far, I think we can kind of all guess where that's going. But I like to hear your answer anyway. What what, what does it mean, it takes more than great code to become a great engineer?

Dave Smith:

Yeah, I think a lot of people have this idea that if I can just sit down and crank out this genius levels of code, as a software engineer, I can be an amazing engineer and do amazing things. But the fact of the matter is that if you are unable to convince others of your ideas, to be a supportive team member, and to help your business, you will be stifled the effectiveness or the scale at which you can make a positive difference in the world will be severely limited. The best engineers in the world are not those that are the smartest, they're not those that write the best code or the most clever algorithms. They are those who can, who can build camaraderie and trust with teammates, there are those that know how to ask the right and important questions. There are those that know how to be a good team member and a good leader, and so many things that require you to work with other people. In fact, just when you think about some of the most impactful software in the world, in almost every case, it was not just some individual sitting there and then throwing code out to the world. It was it was a team of individuals that grew over time, and was able to bring in lots of other people who have skills they don't have and help them to be effective. And then and only then did they actually become influential and make a positive difference in the world.

Aaron Moncur:

So even though, typically, anyway, engineers spend a lot more time on on the technical aspects of the work than they do on the non technical aspects. You're saying that even though that's the case, there's I don't know, maybe it's 80% of the time they're spending on technical work and 20% of the time they're spending on like communication and time management and the soft skills things. It is those those engineers that have strong soft skills that eventually are able to move up into leadership and in management positions, even though that's a minority of the time that they might be spending, of course, I guess, once you get into leadership, then you're spending probably a majority of your time on, on more of the soft skills side, that the technical side.

Dave Smith:

That's definitely, what you said is definitely true. But even among those engineers that choose not to go into formal management, even they, I think, have to be skilled in the soft skills arena to be able to be effective as engineers. Just to give an example, I've got a good friend of many years, who has chosen not to go into formal management, but who has made himself very valuable on every team he's been on by helping the team to build camaraderie and trust with each other, helping them to establish good practices and patterns, you know, good policies, good designs, and he does that all through unofficial influence. He's a great partner to his manager as well, his manager can say, how do we help this team and he can provide that kind of input? And so he is so much more effective than just the code he writes, even though the code he writes is also excellent.

Aaron Moncur:

Nice. Okay. Well, well, Dave, you are a VP of engineering, which is a pretty high level business. If you had to choose between someone to add to your team with excellent technical skills, but poor soft skills, and someone with pretty good, say maybe seven out of 10 technical skills, but really fantastic soft skills, which do which do choose?

Dave Smith:

Well, first of all, I'll say that soft skills are a requirement, regardless of your technical skill. So you could be a 10 out of 10 on the tech skill rating scale, but we're not going to hire you if your soft skills are, are very poor. And you might think, 'Well, how do I, you know, how do I know that?' Well, there are ways that we asked both in the interview, but also with feedback from your previous peers and others. And I have had a few instances where I had a very capable engineer technically apply for a job over the years. And we had to say no, because we got such strong negative indicators on the soft skills side. So so it's not so much that I would pick between those two, but rather, I would say there absolutely is a minimum required level of soft skills.

Aaron Moncur:

What are some of the questions that you asked to determine whether people have good soft skills or not?

Dave Smith:

So I like to ask questions where I, instead of just saying, like, what would you do? Or what do you think makes a good communicator? I like to ask questions about what people actually have done. So I'll tell I'll ask questions like, 'Hey, tell me about a time when you had a conflict with your manager? You know, how did you resolve it? What did you do?' Or, 'Tell me about a time when you needed to communicate a complex topic to another engineer? Like how did you go about communicating that? Tell me about a time you receive negative constructive criticism, meaning someone had some critiques of the way you work? How did you respond?' And people would tell you, they'll tell you exactly what they did. And I think even even people who are insistent on kind of sugarcoating, they'll tell you, they'll tell you enough that you need to know. And some of these things, we say okay, yeah, negative marks in this one area, but it's coachable. And sometimes we say that's a strong negative mark, I don't think we can coach that or we don't have the capacity to coach that on our team right now. So this isn't someone that we can take on, they won't be successful with us.

Aaron Moncur:

Let's say that I, I've done through a few years, working professionally, in a technical position. And I've gotten some feedback from maybe my manager, maybe even from other teammates that buy soft skills are not excellent. People don't love working with me. But I really want to get better I want to improve, what are some things that I can do to improve my soft skills.

Dave Smith:

This is great if you have people at your company that are willing to tell you that, that first of all, it means your soft skills are probably not that bad. Because they don't say

Aaron Moncur:

Good point, okay.

Dave Smith:

Very, it's actually a very good sign. And I would pull those people in close. So the first thing you need to do when someone comes to you like that, in my opinion, is, first of all, you thank them, because they are giving you a gift. And I got to tell you, like when your peers go out of their way to tell you something like that. It's scary for them. It's also scary for you, but think about them for a minute. So when you say when when you lead with thank you for bringing this to my attention, you you help disarm the situation because they don't know how you're going to react. Right? There's not a lot to gain for them, when they come to you like that. And there's a lot to lose. You know, you could you could freak out. Like I reject that, like, I don't think you're right, I think you're an idiot. Yeah. Who knows, like you're really putting your neck out there when you do that. So, so first and foremost, say thank you. And then the next thing you need to do is you need to have them share with you specific examples of things you did. It is extremely difficult to act on generic, ambiguous feedback. For example, if someone were to say to you, I just don't think your communication skills are very good. What would you work on? What would you change? You can't, you can't act on that. But if someone came to you and said, when I read your emails, there's so long and repetitive that I find myself getting lost in the message you're trying to send. Now you've got something you can work on, right that that is also a communication issue, but who you probably never would have guessed that that was the thing. And so, so first of all, try to get them to give you specific examples. Now again, this is a bit of a dance because that takes effort on their part, effort that they are really doing out of the goodness of their heart in most cases. So you have to be very encouraging, and just exuding gratitude. And then once you hear the specifics, then you can say, thank you. I usually like to take time to think on that and set up some time for a couple of days later to come back and say alright, here's what I've heard you say is this right? It because one of the things with a soft skills criticism is that it is almost always a blind spot for us. Nobody sets out to be, for example, a bad communicator. Like nobody goes to work and says how can I be worse at communicating today? So you're already trying to be a good communicator, likely, maybe not trying hard enough, but you're trying. And so when someone tells you to be better, it's not helpful. So, so it's almost always a blind spot. And that's why I say go back to them and clarify exactly what you heard and make sure that what you heard is what they wanted you to hear, then share with them things that you're going to do to improve. So you might say, alright, thank you so much. Listen, can I ask you for a favor? I hear you, my emails are too long, they're too repetitive. And you're, you're getting lost in the message? Can I send you some sample emails that I'm considering sending over the next couple of weeks? And just have you give me like a thumbs up or thumbs down on the length and brevity, and let them say yes or no, some of them sometimes they'll say, 'No, I'm too busy for that.' Or sometimes they'll say yes, and be too busy anyway. But you know, ask them if they will. And then, and then, of course, more gratitude, more thankfulness. And see how that goes, play that for a few weeks and then iterate. So that's how I that's kind of my general pattern for responding to feedback. Now, unfortunately, in this in, in the software industry, and probably in many other industries, these kinds of moments where someone comes to you with feedback like that are very rare. And this might happen to you once every few years. And so, kind of you didn't ask this question, but I would say in order to actually get that feedback, you need to make people know that you're open to it. And you need to ask them for very specific questions. So just like your you want them to share specific examples, you need to ask them specific questions. So instead of saying, like, 'What feedback do you have for me?', you could say something like, 'How's my written communication? Like how would you grade it on a scale of 1 to 10? Am I brief enough, am I clear and to the point?' And then they can answer with a very specific answer. So that's my, that's, that's my pattern.

Aaron Moncur:

That's really good advice. Thank you for sharing that. I consider myself to be an introvert. And I think maybe a lot of technical people also consider themselves to be introverts. And it can require a lot of energy to be social with people, people, I think it being socialist is, you know, loosely correlated with, with soft skills. What advice do you have for for introverts out there, who are in these technical fields were probably really good at the work that they do, but have a really hard time just, you know, getting out there and talking to other people. And maybe they're super nice people, but because they're so introverted, others might think that they're maybe not very easy or pleasant to work with.

Dave Smith:

Yeah, that is you're absolutely right. So many of the questions we get, have either implicit themes of the writer being an introvert or they just come right out and say, 'I'm an introvert. And so this is hard for me.' And I actually consider myself to be an ambivert. I don't know if you've heard that term.

Aaron Moncur:

I have not, no, this is new.

Dave Smith:

So ambivert is, honestly it's a cop out where I can't let my

Aaron Moncur:

Like amdextrous?

Dave Smith:

Yeah, exactly, that's right.

Aaron Moncur:

Yeah, okay.

Dave Smith:

So in some cases, I feel extroverted. But in other situations, I feel introverted. And I think a lot of people are not, they're not squarely in one camp or the other like that. And so they paint themselves with the introvert brush, or the extrovert brush, but they don't realize that actually, there are situations where I can thrive. So let me give an example. Some people might do really well, in big group settings. Like I'm the center of attention, there's 50 people in the room, there's lots of noise and talking and they're just energized. This is like the textbook extrovert, right? But then you have interest, on the other hand, who consider that to be an extremely draining and energy draining experience. And they would have to recover from that, they would, they would tolerate it and then recover from it. And then from what you've described, I suspect that's how you feel about yourself. Then I think though, a lot of introverts actually thrive in one on one settings. They don't find it to be as draining as a big group setting. And in fact, they might even find it energizing. And so I think the advice I have, and again, this advice is not based on my own experience, because I find I'm a little I kind of go between the two camps. But my advice is to find those situations wherein you have a high energy, you know, energy is returned to you, and use those situations, more so than the opposite. This can be hard to do, because sometimes you just have to be in the group or you just have to be in the isolated you know, one on one environment. The other thing we often advise introverts is to, to move communication to an asynchronous channel. So instead of you know when someone gives you like, let's say someone dumps a feedback on you, like we were just talking in an in an in a live conversation face to face, if you find yourself to be if you find that to be a draining moment, try to end the conversation graciously and quickly before it starts to drain you and then move the conversation to an asynchronous channel like email or instant messaging. So like an EEG and you say to the person like, 'Look, I have I'm so grateful for your feedback, I want to incorporate it, I need to go process this. Would you mind if I write down what I heard you say? And then we can, I can share that with you in a written form. And then we can discuss in written form and see if that works better for you.' So just because someone comes to you in one vector doesn't mean you have to reply in kind in the same vector.

Aaron Moncur:

It's really interesting to hear you talk about how introverts perhaps do better with with small groups or even one on ones versus large groups, because that's exactly how that's me to a tee. I detest going to parties where there are a bunch of people that I don't know, and I have to mingle and talk with people. I just that is not my happy place at all. And some people have been surprised that I do this this podcast because well, doesn't that force you to like, talk to people and be open? Well, I really enjoy the the one on one aspect and getting to talk with interesting people in that, you know, kind of one on one setting. So I think there's really something to that, and I've never really thought about it specifically like that before, but I think I think you're onto something there. Introverts sometimes do really enjoy those one on one conversations, even though they might not enjoy larger conversations.

Dave Smith:

I think you're right. And there's a there's a bolt on, I should add there. Which is that some introverts, myself included, I know I said, I'm an ambivert. But one of the ways I overcome my introversion is when there is an official requirement of me to go and be more extroverted. So for example, if my team lead says, 'Hey, team, I've asked Dave to lead this design discussion, then suddenly, I feel like I have a blank check to go communicate with five people at the same time in a meeting and set it up and run it and it doesn't feel awkward to me anymore.' Like, 'Well, why is Dave kind of side channeling in here and sneaking into this conversation?' It's like, 'No, no, no, I have this special card that says from our team lead, I'm supposed to do this.' Right. So now suddenly, I'm an extrovert, right. So there may be triggers for people that kind of convert them to the other side temporarily.

Aaron Moncur:

Yeah, give them permission to step outside their own box. Well, what? You've been doing the soft skills engineering podcast for what is it five, five or six years, something like that now?

Dave Smith:

Yeah.

Aaron Moncur:

Okay, so you've you've fielded a lot of these questions and had lots of conversations with Jamison, your co host about the answers. If you had, I'm stealing this from... Oh, shoot, I'm having a brain fart now. Four-day workweek, who was that, Four-Day Workweek? Two-Hour Workweek?

Dave Smith:

Oh, something...

Aaron Moncur:

Tim Ferriss

Dave Smith:

Tim Ferriss

Aaron Moncur:

Tim Ferriss. Yeah, I'm stealing this from from Tim Ferriss. Yeah, to create a billboard that said something on it that all you know, millions and millions of technical people were going to see what would be on that billboard.

Dave Smith:

Probably something like there are better podcasts out there.

Aaron Moncur:

Well, like you said, it's for entertainment. Right?

Dave Smith:

We're not, we're not the best marketers. I don't know what to say.

Aaron Moncur:

All right. Well, is there anything that we haven't talked about that that you think that we should talk about before ending the show?

Dave Smith:

Uh, no, I'm well, I mean, no, I don't think so. We've, we've obviously covered every single aspect of soft skills. So obvious, no reason to go any further down that

Aaron Moncur:

This is the definitive guide, all encompassing, and all we're done. Nothing else needs to be written or said about this topic ever again. What an accomplishment. Thank you, Dave.

Dave Smith:

Congrats

Aaron Moncur:

I feel like I should patent this episode now. Thta's good, all that knowledge we have. Alright, well, how can people find out more about the Soft Skills Engineering Podcast?

Dave Smith:

Well, if you go to our website at softskills.audio, you can find links to subscribe. If you have a podcast app that you use, if you just search soft skills, we tend to show up pretty high on the search results. If you type Soft Skills Engineering, which is the full name of the show, you'll find us

Aaron Moncur:

Well, as I watched or listened to a few of your episodes and saw the format. It's a cool format. It's you and Jamison just talking together as opposed to one of you interviewing a guest. I don't know, maybe you have interviewed guests as well. I haven't listened to all of them. But typically people write in right, they send you a question and then you talk about the answer between the two of you. It's a cool format. And I would actually love to start doing some of that myself. So I'm going to put this out there if if any of you listeners have questions or even topics that you would like to hear discussed in the being an engineer podcast, please shoot us an email at [email protected] We would love to hear from you and talk about the questions and topics that that you're interested in. Well, Dave, thank you so much for joining me today. It was awesome getting to know you and learning everything that there is to know about soft skills, I really appreciate your time.

Dave Smith:

Congratulations, you learned it all.

Aaron Moncur:

I'm Aaron Moncur, Founder of Pipeline Design & Engineering. If you liked what you heard today, please share the episode. To learn how your team can leverage our team's expertise developing turnkey equipment, custom fixtures and automated machines and with product design, visit us at teampipeline.us. Thanks for listening.