I have finished a book. A book about how to become a successful software developer and have a happy life. I was actually curious about the first part of it, the one treating on developers’ careers. But the second part of the book intrigued me as well. What is the book? It is “Soft Skills. The software developer’s life manual”.
It was written by John Sonmez. He is a developer and life coach. As he describes himself, John helps IT people become better in terms of their jobs and have better lives in general. He is pursuing making complex things simple. He is also the founder of Simple Programmer where you can find a lot of stuff on various topics related to IT professionals. You can find his channel on Youtube with plenty of videos as well.
What about the book itself? It is divided into seven parts. Every part focuses on a different topic and is composed of a bunch of short chapters. This form was perfectly suitable for me since I usually had time to read just one or two chapters at once. Below you can find my notes from the reading.
The first part of the book is devoted to Career of an IT professional. It is about managing your career by yourself and how to look at it from the business point of view. In the beginning, the importance of soft skills is presented and which are the most significant ones. I could summarise it as “accept the other person’s point of view and avoid arguments” but it is worth to read the whole chapter.
Next, John presents various paths of a developer career. Not everyone has to run a start-up company, right? And equally, not everyone has to feel good working in a corporation. John presents what and how to do things that can be helpful on a chosen career path.
There is a lot about “How to get a job I am dreaming about” topic. While this is interesting and nice to read, I did not pay much attention to it. Why? I am working for this company with these fantastic people, so… I have the dream job already. 😉
In this part of the book, you will find John’s opinion why being professional and a specialist is so valuable as well.
Then, there is Marketing yourself part. You can find here a bunch of good hints how to leverage various ways to become a known and recognisable software developer. There is a plenty of ways to achieve this. You can run your blog, make presentations, be active on social media and even publish your own books.
For every activity, the most important things are described. So to have a successful blog it is crucial to constantly publish posts. With social media, you need to be active but the content you share with others has to valuable for them. And it is worth to schedule the activity with some tools to not waste time browsing Twitter, Facebook, etc. Making presentations and training is the opportunity to have a direct contact with people you are trying to reach. Additionally, this is a way to present yourself as a specialist in a particular topic. Books are not as profitable as one could think but they boost your credibility and helps to reach a broader auditory.
Everything is summarised with a chapter how to tackle initial fear when you are going to start those activities. Simply speaking – if you do not try to do something then you will never know whether it is for you or not. Waiting for something to happen in this matter is pointless. Do you want to do one of these things? Take action on it. Try it. This chapter is definitely a good reading.
We, developers, are working in an industry that constantly changes and evolves. Thus to be up-to-date with recent methodologies and technologies we need to learn. To learn a lot. So it is not surprising you will find Learning section in the book too.
What caught my attention here was the 10-steps process John is using to tackle a new topic or issue. He crafted it when facing shortages of a time he could spend on learning. I believe almost all of us experiencing this. The key assumptions here are: get to know what you do not know about given technology, set a scope of what you want to learn and define how the success will look like. The whole process looks really interesting and I would need to try it when dealing with a new stuff.
The last chapter about learning contains reasoning why it is worth to fill gaps in our knowledge. It is actually about why learning new things make sense and why it is valuable to know what we do not know. Those unknown things usually are slowing us down. Our performance is not as good as it could be. While the content of this chapter is quite obvious it is absolutely worth to read.
The next part treats about Productivity. As you can guess the key role here is the ability to focus on a single task at the moment of doing something. John explains why this matters and why a multitasking way simply does not work. Avoid it as much as you can. “Doing” a couple of tasks at once ends with more time spend on them comparing to a single task mode.
What else can boost your efficiency? The author presents his approach to tackle tasks he has to do, based on the KanbanFlow tool and the Pomodoro technique. He strongly advises having an own system, adjusted to individual needs. This helps to organise work to be done. It also allows measuring constantly a progress which is very important if we would like to improve the way of working and effectiveness of ourselves in general.
Find your time wasters. This is another advice from John. In my case, for a quite long period and with no surprise, this was watching TV almost every evening. The same thing is blamed in the book as the biggest absorber of every single minute of our time. After stopping this I get the extra hours that result with way more books read and more time I could spend to play with code.
When it comes to sitting in the front of a computer, there are useful applications measuring what amount of time was spend on what activities. Installation of one of them can really help to overcome bad habits resulting with more time wasted on non-productive things. For more than half a year I have enabled RescueTime tool, the same that John mentions in the book. Since then I am more aware of what I am doing at the moment. The tool shows what I was doing during the day and, with various reports available, I can easily see where my time leaks.
The other case is a burnout feeling (or state). It often causes that our effectiveness dramatically drops. How to avoid this? You can find a recipe in the book. Describe what needs to be done to accomplish a given task with a sequence of smaller steps and stick to this. When you hit the wall just follow the sequence. This will help you to overcome this unpleasant state.
However, even the best system we could create is not sufficient if there is no willingness to work hard. You can find a chapter in “Soft Skills” about this of course. And I urge you to read it. Here is the excerpt from it, named Reality:
The reality of your situation, of all our situations, is that nothing comes easy. If you truly want to succeed, if you truly want to be successful, you’re going to have to pull some all-nighters. You might have to spend a few years of your career doing 60- or 70-hour weeks. You might have to forgo watching TV or hanging out with friends for a few years to pull ahead. You can’t cheat the system. You get out exactly what you put in. In one season you plant, in another season you reap. You never reap what you didn’t plant.
But it doesn’t mean that you’ll never be able to take it easy. Success begets success. The more successful you are, the easier success will come. It’s just that the first hill you have to climb is a long and steep one.
Few people ever make it to the top. Few people ever actually see real success. Most people go through their careers being mediocre. They aren’t willing to put in the time and the sacrifice necessary to truly succeed. You could follow all of the advice in this book, but if you weren’t willing to work hard, it would do you no good. No good at all. You have to be willing to work. You have to be willing to put the things you learn into practice to make them effective.
So far so good. The parts above deals with the topics familiar to the majority of developers, I believe. The content can be useful to every IT professional. However, the book contains more.
The next three parts, i.e. Financial, Fitness and Spirit, treat about things that not everyone could expect in a book for developers thus can be seen as controversial ones. Personally, I have mixed feelings about them. Why? I did not buy a financial advisory book to learn about investments. As well, I felt no need to read a motivating writing about being fit. And finally, I had no mood to go through psychological position about feelings, life and so on. Definitely, if I want to get a deeper knowledge on one of these topics, then I will get a proper publication and read it.
Does this mean the rest of the book have no sense? Is their only purpose is to increase the volume of the book? Not necessarily. The author is of the opinion that a complete view of a career and its improvement possibilities cannot be detached from a financial perspective and physical and mental health. As you can read on the pages he felt somehow obligated to share with readers his own experience in these areas. I think, I can agree with this point of view keeping in mind that John Sonmez presents himself as a software developer AND a life coach.
So, what have I found in the last sections of the “Soft Skills” book? Let’s have a look.
In Financial section do not expect a deep diving into the world of investments. If you are looking for detailed recipes how to become rich, I have to disappoint you – there are none. This part contains a couple of general hints, what could be worth to consider to invest in and what worked well for the author.
The main focus here is on options’ market and real estates. In both cases, you will find fundamental things you need to know and think about before you put your money there. Next, John strongly recommends having a retirement plan, with clear goals to achieve. Here, he shows why investing money is important and what this does mean for him and why he pursued to retire as young as possible.
There is a chapter about his history. This is somehow interesting reading but keep in mind what worked for him, but remember – this does not necessarily have to work for you or me. 😉
What are my takeaways? I am aware of finances and know the basics at least. I am sure I cannot count on any programs provided by the state when I will retire. I know I will have to rely on my own finances in that time. And I have no retirement plan, actually. So I guess the most important takeaway is to think about this more seriously.
Ok, the Fitness time! This one is about eating and being healthy. As a health of software developers is in danger because of working in sitting position mainly, the author on pages of the chapter tries to give us a basic education about fitness. While general tips presented here applies to any kind of sport, the main focus in the section is on building muscles and jogging – the favourite sports of John.
As you can find in this section, setting up a daily routine with dedicated time for sport’s activities helps a lot to maintain the motivation to keep going. I know this from my own experience. I love running but trying to do this in a systematic way, without fixed time of the day for it, was really hard.
The hacks’ chapter do not appeal to me. Some of them look really bizarre. 🙂 The only thing I am finding interesting here is the standing desk. I know from my colleagues it does the trick and currently, I am in the middle of finding the proper one.
You can find two appendices at the end of the book presenting problematics of healthy eating. There is no rocket science described there, however, it is worth to recall the fundamentals and then try to follow them on a daily basis.
The last section, Spirit, treats about psychological topics. I was looking at the book from the technical perspective and I had a strong feeling this one does not match here at all. But I read it. Its content is rather obvious and there is nothing new I could found here.
Issues about a power of positive thinking constitute the core chunk of this “Soft Skills” part. With the right attitude, it is way easier to start doing something and achieve goals. However, you should be aware of failures. Prepare for them since they will come. And be ready to overcome them with all those unpleasant feelings accompanying them.
Unfortunately, there is the chapter about a relationship and finding love. Yes, this topic is important in our lives, but I would say it does not fit into this book. Sorry, John 😉
What I found quite useful is the list of books, recommended to read. I have bought some of them already, and some other ones are on my to-read list in Goodreads.
The final thoughts on this section? I am still not convinced whole content should be in this book. I would shorten it to two chapters instead of this whole content – one about positive thinking with the failure warning and some other with the list of books. This would be just fine I think.
All sections are discussed so it is the time for the overall summary of the “Soft Skills”. I bought this book with a couple of things in mind like boosting my motivation to do something more after work hours, improving my learning techniques and so on. And I found here what I needed. While a lot of things sounded familiar to me (I watch John’s Youtube channel quite often) it is good to have the compilation of John Sonmez thoughts in a form of a book.
The author has something to tell you on the pages. Well, there are many things he is talking about actually. He is going to tell you something about your career, habits, a way you can work, your health, finances and even your life in general. Yup, this is quite a lot of topics for a single publication. You do not have to agree on all of them with the author. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the “Soft Skills” book. And, I think, you should read it too. From all of those tips and tricks, chose those that resonates with you and apply them to your daily routine. Cheers.