body language

At first glance, this tweet in response to my previous post looks like a simple joke. But it’s actually true the more you think about it.

Understanding body language is important because software engineering is more about dealing with people than with software itself: almost all failed software projects are due to people problems (e.g. management and client problems) instead of technology problems.

Here are some cases where knowing body language can make a difference:

  • A client asks for too many features under an impossible deadline – by gauging the client’s behavior, you can determine if she’s basically bluffing (to which you negotiate a compromise by reducing the scope) or if she’s really that stupid/sadistic (to which you drop the client for better ones).
  • A developer puts in too many hours into overtime – depending on the dev’s behavior, a good manager would determine if that dev is simply temporarily getting brownie points for a promotion or upcoming long vacation. On the other hand, it may also mean that that dev is incompetent to the point that he needs more hours to fix his crappy code. At the worst case, it may also mean that that dev is already at stage 2 – 3 of going into burnout.

Another non-technical language you need to learn is Basic English.

Go ahead, laugh. But then recall the last time you’ve seen a “plz send me teh codez” post in a public forum or a job posting full of misspellings and grammatical errors (a big warning sign) and you’ll quickly realize how important it is to have a good grasp of the English language.

Lack of proper written English skills is a somewhat widespread problem in the current generation, with the prevalence of text-speak and the fact that a lot of young people don’t join international community websites/forums/mailing lists/chat rooms. This can be a problem when they enter the corporate world, where semi-formal English is the lingua franca: I’ve even heard of stories of project managers re-writing some of the team members mail before sending them to their foreign counterparts because of their poor English.

Note that your English doesn’t need to be at the level of essayists or other professional writers. In fact, simple, direct to the point (but at the same time, polite) messages is much more effective at communicating to clients or team members when compared to long-winded messages full of highfaluting words. Doubly so when dealing with clients whose primary language isn’t English.

To wrap things up, I just realized that I wrote about a similar topic a few years ago. You don’t need to click that link, as the tl;dr is just the same thing I’ve been saying all the time: developers need to learn more than just coding.

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