Engineers with Strong Soft-Skills (& Technical Ability) Build the Best Products
A Recipe for Building Better Things
I’m a professional front-end developer and a passionate home cook. I think that building great products is a bit like preparing a 3-course meal. You can follow the recipe, but it’s instinct, experience and personality that take your food from tasty to taste sensation.
One of the things that experience has taught me in my career as a developer, is that it’s the engineers with strong soft-skills (as well as technical ability) that build the best products.
Below are the vital ingredients, which when combined create the perfect recipe for beautiful builds:
This is pretty obvious but listening is a real skill.
I would challenge you to ask yourself the following question:
As a developer when someone is taking you through an idea for a new, slightly unnecessary feature, what are you thinking?
a) You can’t wait to get this project over and done with.
b) You are coming up with a mental list of technical limitations.
c) You are thinking that this person has put their neck out, so the least I can do is engage with what they’re saying.
The correct answer is C. In spite of this, more than a few times in my career, I have found myself thinking A or B, and I know this has come across in my response.
Often a developer will pile on complexity or limit the scope of an idea on the grounds of technical impossibility, when most of us know that truthfully almost anything is possible. It is just a case of time, knowledge and effort.
Ideas are very delicate things; they are all too easy to smother, limit or even extinguish. So when someone is next talking you through an idea you think is bad, take a moment and LISTEN. It might turn out that with a little bit of work it could be the best thing you’ve ever built.
I really enjoy my job at Eventbrite, and this is primarily because I work with a fantastic bunch of people.
I make a point of having discussions over cups of tea with Design, Engineering and Product, before and during every project (yes, I am British!). I find having an informal chat about what we are building and why often reveals nuances that can be missed in formal kick-off meetings.
A set of requirements on paper is great, but you should never take them as gospel. If you think changes will lead to a better project outcome, by all means make them. But don’t go off and do your own thing without talking to the team first.
I have found that on countless occasions talking something through before making tweaks to a spec or design has led to a better end result.
If you’re really trying to make that designer or UX architect in your life happy, this is where you can score major brownie points.
When faced with styling a UI and turning a flat design or prototype into a glossy end product, a lot of developers are filled with a sense of dread. They either leave it right to the last moment after the ‘real coding is complete’ or knock something out quickly to get it out of the way. This often does not end in beautiful results.
The way to build beautiful products is to really care about users’ interactions. Spend the time that a well-crafted design deserves, and focus on executing every small detail.
When approaching the end of development, go back to your designer to discuss what you have produced and ask for feedback. This is also a great opportunity to put forward any UI tweaks that you think would improve the final result.
Being nice is nice! You don’t have to go overboard and buy kittens for all your team mates, but it is a fact that if you are nice to people they are always more willing to go out of their way to help you when you need it. It leads to a better team working environment that encourages new ideas and creative solutions of hard problems.
So my recipe for building better things is as follows:
Line your baking tin.
Listen to an idea and leave it to prove.
Take requirements with a pinch of salt.
Then talk through all ideas until they settle.
Bake at a low heat for the length of development.
Apply icing with a little concentration and attention to detail.
Sprinkle on some nice-ness.
Then serve and enjoy.