Communicate your way to Happiness

Successful engineers have great communication skills.

July 2021

Chris Laffra, software engineer, impostor, student, and author

Chris Laffra is an experienced, passionate, and talented software engineer, with a strong drive to help other engineers grow. Chris understands what motivates engineers. He understands what stresses them out. He understands how to help them define and achieve their dreams.

Using his advanced communication skills, Chris is able to help engineers discover the right path for their professional and personal development. Chris has been a manager, tech lead, technical lead manager, advisor, mentor, researcher, and staff software engineer with companies such as IBM, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, Google, Uber, Plato, and Sourcegraph. This wide variety of experiences ensures Chris can use his empathy to understand someone's situation quickly and make meaningful suggestions to help engineers grow to the next level.

Mentoring, guidance, and coaching on hard and soft skills is what allows engineers to grow to the next level. Achieving maximum happiness and energy within a team requires deep insights into how the entire software development process is organized, the role the team plays in this, and how all this impacts individuals. Through decades of personal experience, Chris Laffra has analyzed and summarized this entire field into numerous blogs, presentations, and books.

The value of Communication Skills

Impactful software engineers tend to be great at “hard” skills, such as solving problems, design, analysis, coding, debugging, scaling, and testing. This is what we think. Technical interviews focus on this. Universities emphasize those skills in their curriculum. However, really successful engineers combine those skills with advanced knowledge of “soft” skills, such as being able to manage their emotions, articulate their own impact, influence others, collaborate, understand how others feel, and their ability to see the bigger picture.

A rule of thumb: engineers spend 30% of their time coding and 70% talking about it. For engineers, communication is crucial to success. An example is self-awareness, enabling us to run “retrospectives” on ourselves. Another is understanding how others think and feel, so our emails, chats, and design docs will be more effective. Good writing skills allow us to describe our contributions and our impact to the rest of the company. Being able to express how we make a difference is a crucial skill towards growth and being successful as an engineer.

The lack of insights into how we can grow, limits our ability to impact and success. This may in turn lead to feeling inadequate or inferior. In our eyes, our team members look more successful, smarter, or more productive. The negative influence caused by impostor syndrome, stress, and burnout easily impacts our ability to become successful, productive, and happy.

To become successful, we should follow three simple rules. First, we must realize that a productive engineer is a happy engineer. What makes us happy? Second, as an engineer, we need to communicate with facts and conviction. This will increase our influence. Third, we must realize that success is about achieving the best we can be. It is not about winning.

The communication Pyramid of Skills

The base of the pyramid is formed by basic human skills, in yellow, not specific to engineering. Above that, in green, we find objects engineers interact with and basic communication skills. In blue, we find interactions with other people, including non-engineers. Finally, in pink, we find meaningful skills that grow us as a successful engineer and that prepare us for our eventual goal, in red, which is getting recognized for our achievements.

Improving our communication skills helps us deal with many challenges that face us as engineers. Most communication skills are learnable. We should learn by doing. We can and should reach out to others. We are all here to help each other.