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soft skills for software developers

5 Steps for Becoming a Better Technical Communicator as a Software Developer

In a team environment, effective communication is the most important skill that a software developer can have. Coding in complete isolation won’t work on a team – the details of robust software architectures can almost never be understood by just one person. It’s pivotal to learn to communicate effectively to wrangle these technical details.

1) Empathize with These Technical Perspectives

Your first step in becoming a better technical communicator will begin with understanding other technical perspectives. Starting with other developers, think about all the domains of technical knowledge that inform them – languages, tools, best practices, etc. This will ultimately shape their point of view and the decisions they make when contributing work. These different perspectives matter significantly because as developers they will write code accordingly. Keep this in mind during code reviews and when making development decisions.

Another perspective to consider is that of QA engineers as they will markedly impact your work as a developer. The sign of an excellent one is someone who can meticulously organize the interactions a user can have with your code. The key word here is user, and you should strive to understand this perspective. Software is ultimately for end users, and an effective QA engineer will prioritize the user experience above concerns like code structure. You should always remember that usability is the primary focus of anyone who tests your code.

Keep in mind that it’s important to understand the role of technical leaders too. Whether they are technical leads or software architects, they’ll be concerned with the “bigger picture”. Assembling all of the technical and resourcing aspects of a project to satisfy end users requires a more holistic system of thought. This means that the granular details of coding may not matter to a technical leader as much. Because of this, it’s usually easier to communicate at a higher level with them.

Consider the bigger picture with software architects, tech leads, and other technical leaders

2) Learn How To Adjust to Skill Level

It’s vitally important to consider skill level when communicating with technical coworkers. Understand that because of the nature of software development, relevant knowledge is often difficult to initially grasp. Adjusting your communication when a coworker knows more or less technical information than you is essential to connect the dots.

When a coworker knows less information than you on a technical topic, it’s important to do two things. You must first avoid using jargon. Instead, you should elaborate on technical information that they may not understand. Additionally, you should proactively ask questions to ensure they understand you. Do this periodically to ensure that they’re following your train of thought.

Put your thinking cap on and learn from (or teach) other developers when skill levels differ

Following another coworker’s train of thought requires it’s own effort. Be extremely forthcoming about your personal knowledge when you don’t understand a technical concept. It’s better to admit this early in a conversation rather than having to backtrack. If something still doesn’t make sense, see if your coworker can actively show you what they’re trying to say. In some cases, it’s best to just see how something is coded or built rather than talk about it.

3) Use These Tips to Stay Clear and Concise

It follows that clear communication is key for any developer when different roles and skill levels come into play. The different perspectives of your coworkers will inform you on how to communicate clearly to them. To start, become an active listener in any conversation. This will enable you to learn how your coworkers verbalize different ideas and give glimpses into their body of technical knowledge. From there, you can cater your communication towards their perspective.

Moreover, always consider the motivation behind your communications. Knowing your motivation will keep you focused on reaching the desired outcome. This will help you boil communications down to their essential elements by leaving out frivolous details. Consider your communication medium, too. A quick Slack message requesting a code snippet is a different scenario than an in-person discussion about building a new backend API.

4) Distinguish This Kind of Technical Knowledge

While it’s important to recognize different technical domains, also remember to distinguish between general knowledge and job-related knowledge. This means any terminology, processes, and technical practices that are specific to your team. Technical practices can vary from team to team, so be cognizant of those differences.

Know when, and why, other teams differ and address gaps in knowledge

On your own team, your collective understanding of work-related technical knowledge will be a testament to the onboarding process. Onboarding developers inconsistently will most likely create knowledge gaps related to how technical work is done. Part of this relies on having a consistent set of best practices and a technical vision as a team. Either way, identifying this subset of technical knowledge will help to bridge potential communication barriers.

5) Know Why Personality Always Matters

Underlying any communication is the interpersonal context surrounding it. This means that factors like nonverbal language and tone of voice will have a significant impact. When discussing technical topics that often require deep concentration, it’s best to have positive body language and tone. You want your listeners to be comfortable and focus on the technical ideas you’re conveying. If you’re not cordial in your communications, your listeners are more likely to emotionally respond to you. This takes the focus away from the stack and more on unnecessary interpersonal conflict.

Start a technical conversation off on the right foot with positive body language

Positive body language includes relaxing, leaning in, and maintaining appropriate eye contact. These nonverbal cues communicate your engagement with whomever you’re speaking with. For more sense of ease, remember to smile and use a clear and friendly tone when speaking. Learn to respectfully disagree with someone, too. It’s not advisable to roll your eyes or be sarcastic in disagreement with someone else. Focus on understanding their point of view, voicing it, and then offering your own.

Ready to Become a Better Technical Communicator?

This post has detailed five crucial techniques in improving your technical communication. Use these often to increase the effectiveness of both yourself and your team. After all, everyone will benefit from clear communication because efforts and expectations will be aligned. This holds especially true for software development, where complex technical efforts require lots of friendly and focused communication.