5/02/2019

How to talk about technical topics to other developers?

The most important soft skill for developers is the clear and effective communication. There are several situation when this skill is really needed. It is simply because the most of the projects is done is a kind of team work, so you need to simple talk to the other team members. One usual topic is to discuss about technical topics. Unfortunately a lot of developers are missing such skills and that’s why team work is becoming non effective in several cases. Let’s see how should these discussions to be done.

Why to talk about technical topics?

I often meet developers who think that it is simple a waste of time to talk about technical topics, just let them work and they will implement everything. This way of thinking is really not fitting to the modern ways of software development. First of all it is totally against teamwork. Additionally at a company usually the developers have different levels of knowledge in different topics, so really often knowledge transport is needed: you need to ask more experience colleagues for better solutions and you need to teach the less experienced ones to let them work more effectively.
The other point is that it is not always trivial to find the best technical solution for a problem. This topic is totally not black and white. For most of the solutions you can not tell that this is better, than the other, because it is not a scalar topic. Most of the cases you can tell for example, that this solution is better in runtime, than the other, but the other solution is using less memory. In our current situations we don’t have issues with the runtime, but we have a lack of memory, so let’s choose the second solution.
To be able to talk on this level you need multiple alternative solutions with all pro and cons. And to collect these ideas usually you need to talk about them, to talk a lot.
There’s also a point at quality: to improve software quality reviews are part of the daily work and at reviews you need be able to describe in an effective way why do you think that your solution is good or why do you think that the used solution is not good.
That means communication about technical topics is part of your daily work, if you don’t want to waste so much time you should learn how to do it in an effective way.

How to coach colleagues?

Typical situation that there’s someone at the company who has really good experience with a specific topic and he needs to support the other colleagues working with this topic.
In this case you need to do technical coaching to the others to support them to finish their work. It is also important for you that they are able to finish their work and it is also important that they are understanding the how and the why and they are not asking the same questions in two weeks again.
In this situation first try to understand what if the level of knowledge of the others. You can easily do it by some nice questions: “Do you know how this and this is working?”. But important: don’t try to make them feel that they are stupid just because they have a lack of knowledge. After that try to clarify the theory with all the reasons what are you doing and why. Once it is done do an example or a small part of work together, but don’t finish the work together, let them try it on their own, but stay always open for questions.
For coaching pair programming is also a good approach. Sit together in front of the computer. First you should do it and clarify each step. After a while let's change but still tell what should be done. With time you need to talk less and your partner needs to talk more.

How to ask colleagues for support?

The next situation is you are blocked in work and you need support from someone more experienced in the topic. First of all don’t ask as soon as you’re facing with difficulties. First try to understand what is exactly the problem and why is it not working. Also search for that in google and check for possible solutions online. If you can not find a working solution within a certain time don’t waste your time anymore, ask for search. Before asking for search try to summary what is really you problem and your question. Make sure if the chosen colleagues has some free minutes and he can listen to your problem. When you are asking don’t waste in details, because if you are giving a lot of unnecessary information it will be more difficult to understand your problem. But also take care about enough details. I got questions really often in a similar way, like: “I would like to push a shared_ptr as parameter and it is not working”. Ok, come on, why are you pushing the shared_ptr? Shared_ptr of which type? Is is const? What does it mean, it is not working? But the best if you are showing simple your code and clarifying what is your goal. If your code is far too complicated try to create a minimal example where the issue appears by removing irrelevant code part. You also need to understand that even if the other one is expert of the topic, he needs to understand your goal and problem first and it is not so easy.

How to ensure colleagues about your idea?

Also really typical if you have an idea about how to do something. It is always good to discuss about that with your teammates before implementation, since it is possible that even if you think it is a good idea in practice it has some disadvantages which are still not clear for you. It is also important if the other have other solutions listen to them, let’s try to understand their purpose and let’s try to understand what are its advantages over your solution. Then try to think what are the possible disadvantages and point out them. If you are talking about your idea first describe what is the problem to be solved and what are its main challenges. If it’s clear for everyone you should tell your idea step by step. At the end you can point out why do you think that it is a good solution, but you should also mention if you see some disadvantages. It is also good if you are talking about alternative solutions and at the end you are telling which one seems to be the best for you. If the others are criticizing your solution try to understand their reasons and ask them for suggestions. If your idea is to complicated it is good to create some diagrams of minimum working code example.

How to give a feedback about a technical solution?

If you are on the other side and one of your colleague is talking you about his idea it is also not always easy to answer in the right way. If you agree with the solution then it is easy, underwise it can be difficult.
Even if you think that the idea is super stupid you need to trust your colleague and his idea. You need to first understand his idea fully and also the reason why he is suggesting it. If you still think it is not the right way just point out why you are feeling uncomfortable with the solution (what are your fears) and try to give some solutions how these issues could be resolved. Never forget to mention the parts of the solution which you like. For example:
“This solution would really be well-structured and clear, but I think there are some corner cases when it wouldn’t work correctly. But if you are changing this part to that it would do what is required.” Something like this.

Summary


Communication is never easy, especially between developers and about technical topics. Try to always use the rules of assertive communication, give reasons and trust the others and you will see, it will work and it can really burst your career.

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