The Software Developer’s Life Manual
John Z. Sonmez
Manning – paperback
I really wish I had had this book when I started a 14-year career in software development and testing. I was hired back in the days when you could get a software job by having a college degree (in anything), a couple of positive references and some decent writing skills. If you could also turn on a computer and bring up the DOS prompt, so much the better.
No matter how many skills you actually had, you were going to spend a couple of months learning your new environment and your new job, while also attending free, company-sponsored training classes (during working hours). Meanwhile, if you had any questions, you could just go ask the C guru down the hall or dour Mister Assembler, who lived in the big, corner cubicle and seemed to have no other life.
I am retired now from the corporate world of software. And when, out of curiosity, I look at today’s help-wanted postings for developers and testers, I am stunned by how much knowledge, training and verifiable skills one person is expected to bring to the table. At least ten jobs, it seems, have been rolled into one.
For that reason and more, I highly recommend Soft Skills by John Z. Sonmez. He believes, he says, in taking “a holistic approach to software development. This means that I think that if you want to be a better software developer—a better anything, really—you need to focus on the entire person, not just one or two areas of your life.”
Sonmez offers up a wealth of how-to information and useful advice covering everything from “hacking” a job interview to developing a personal brand and staying physically fit in a job that requires long hours sitting on one’s butt. He also offers tips for learning new things quickly, staying productive (using a modified version of the Pomodoro Technique)–and investing part of your paycheck so you can retire early or at least have a comfortable cushion if you get laid off and decide to become an independent consultant.
Yes, there is a lot of common advice sense in Soft Skills–the kind of advice you likely have heard before but ignored. Still, Sonmez’s book makes clear, compelling cases for why you really do have to watch out for–and take care of–yourself these days. You seemingly can’t count on an employer to do much of anything anymore, except view you as a unit of cost to be reduced or eliminated as soon as possible.
“Most software developers starting out in their careers make a few huge mistakes,” Sonmez writes. “The biggest of those mistakes, by far, is not treating their software development career as a business. Don’t be fooled; when you set out into the world to write code for a living, you’re no different than the blacksmith of old times setting up shop in a medieval town. Times may have changed, and most of us work for a company, but our skills and our trade belong to us and we can always choose to set up shop somewhere else. This kind of mindset is crucial to managing your career, because when you start to think of yourself as a business, you start to make good business decisions.”
This is a mindset I wish I had acquired and expanded when I got my first job in software and then began to surf the periodic waves of layoffs. If you are new at working in software development or still trying to get your foot in the door, you can get some very good information and guidance from this book. The same goes if your career currently is floundering and needs a reboot. Don’t just hit CTRL-ALT-DEL and go storming out the door. Try reading some of Sonmez’s chapters first–and at least have your resume reworked by experts who can help you boost your personal “brand.”
— Si Dunn