5 tips for developers to improve their communication

I built an app in 5 months that made no money.

I committed to it because my friend told me she needed a solution to her password problem.

Being the hero to build her solution sounded cool in my head.

I called it called Valt. Valt sounded cool in my head.

Valt was a password keeper app that I built “to compete with OnePassword”.

I assumed the design needed to be perfect and unique.

I made its color scheme black and yellow. No app in the space had that.

I made hundred of decisions that all sounded cool… in my head.

The app did maybe $100 over a year. That’s 11 cents per hour full-time for 5 months. My poor savings.

All because I wouldn’t get out of my head and talk to people. Had I talked to my friend about a solution, this problem lasts like 5 minutes max.

Instead I could’ve talked to some people who had real problems. Problems I could solved for at least 22 cents per hour probably.

Communication — its nearly everything and yet developers often choose to ignore it.

5 ways to improve your communication as a full-time developer:

Hang out with coworkers outside of work.

Most of our daily problems are solved by talking to the people on your team. Otherwise you’ll rarely have the proper context to solve hard problems right the first time.

This means we need to be comfortable reaching out for help.

We need to understand their:

  • Communication style
  • What problems they’re good at solving
  • Which ones you can help them solve better
  • When they “look” tired or overwhelmed and how that affects their decision making
  • So, so much more

Learning the nuances of the wonderfully imperfect humans you work with takes time. We need to get conversational reps in.

This doesn’t mean “hang out as much as possible”, but try to grab lunch with them occasionally. Invite them out to non-work functions and encourage your workplace to throw more events where you can casually talk about how their kid is keeping them up through the night but their loving every minute of it.

You’ll learn to trust each other more. You’ll be more productive.

Regularly provide constructive criticism on how to improve communication

Keep tabs on moments during a sprint where communication or process broke down. The times when things sucked yet everyone was winging it instead of following a protocol.

Bring these moments up at any moment you can. Hopefully you’ve got at least a few ideas for solutions.

An example I’ve had is during a sprint, a team I’ve worked on did all our code reviews asynchronously. Which usually meant every time I pushed up revisions, I’d get more comments an hour or so later.

Large code reviews would drag on for hours. If we’d sat next to each other and went over the criticisms and changes together, we could’ve cranked it out in less than an hour. I brought this up, several people including the scrum master agreed, and now we do it way more often.

Look for the holes in your communication process and do what you can to improve them.

Speaking of working on code together:

Pair programming.

Ever worked on adding on to a large chunk of code someone else wrote? Sitting next to someone who could review a few simple changes you’ve made that you want to merge to the main branch could save you HOURS.

If you’re getting social anxiety reading this, I probably would have a few years ago. My next tip has mostly removed this problem:

Take speaking, improv, or other theatre classes.

You add value to your company communicating just as much, if not more, by being an effectively communicator and communication is very much part of your job, so why not go to school to get better at something thats part of your job?

I’ve been doing improv for two and a half years now, and its massively improved my ability to deal with tough conflicts, be comfortable in front of others, doing interviews, negotiating anything, and the most important thing, listening to other people.

Don’t try to be a know it all.

A common response to social anxiety is to try and do it yourself — meaning trying to over-store as much knowledge in your brain as a coping mechanism to shield you from talking to others.

I’m not hating on learning here — knowledge is great. But let’s not be redundant, right?

Your coworker Fred filled out the front-end of your web app. Instead of asking him how he built the animation for showing the email popup, you’re going to spend an hour looking over his code to avoid talking to him? C’mon dude.

You might feel scared to put your ego on the line and ask people for help. You might think you have to be the best developer in the room. Developers who are “worse” than you may know less than you but collaborate way better than you will move up before you.

I get it — saying “I don’t know” when you’re literally paid to know feels wrong, but almost no one judges you and you’ve given your coworkers the opportunity to feel smart by knowing, and you look good for being genuine.

These tips are tips I’ve wrote to help myself (Rob Caraway) — hopefully they can help someone else, too.

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