3 Tips for Effective Collaboration with Software Engineers

December 6, 2019

Prior to joining SEP, I’d met maybe 3 software engineers in my life. Stepping into this new company and new industry felt overwhelming, and I had no idea how to approach working with an army of 100 software engineers.

I’m now approaching my 1-year anniversary of working at SEP. Looking back on the past 11 months, I’ve started to pin-point mistakes I made as well as approaches that have served me well. I’ve found a few themes woven through these observations that I’d like to share with you.

Maybe you’re in my shoes, navigating collaboration with engineers. Maybe you’re way ahead of me and have mastered this already. Maybe you’re a software engineer yourself. Wherever you’re coming from, I hope the lessons I’ve learned aid your self-reflection, professional development, and collaboration.

Ask questions

I think asking questions is key to getting to know any new place, company, or culture.

Coming into SEP without a software background meant there was (and still is) a lot I didn’t understand about what we do and how we do it. So, my first weeks here consisted of observing meetings, shadowing people, and asking tons of questions.

Thankfully, SEP makes it pretty easy to ask even my dumbest questions and has patiently taught me about the world of software engineering.

I’ve learned so much from the people I work with. Asking questions has helped me appreciate their work and perspective in a way I couldn’t have before. It’s helped me better understand their thought processes and what’s important to them when we’re working together.

Prepare and frame your thoughts

As an external processor, my natural tendency is to rattle off all my thoughts in order to figure out what I’m actually thinking.

To take it a step further, my Enneagram-six-ness invites an inner committee of voices, what-ifs, and perspectives to the table. All of this in verbal form doesn’t tend to go over well with a company of mainly introverted, internal processors.

I’ve had more than my fair share of failures in this area. I’ve gone into meetings unprepared. I’ve talked through all the perspectives and possible approaches and scenarios only to be met with blank stares and awkward silence.

I’ve also had some victories. I’ve found ways to externally process before meetings so that when I’m actually face-to-face with others, I can lay out my thoughts concisely and clearly.

Processing my thoughts before meeting with others allows me to do what SEPeers describe as “framing” a question or problem. I’m far from perfect at this, but the goal is to explain the context of the problem you’re trying to solve and why you’re trying to solve it, before moving into a solution space. This context is key to problem-solving with others – especially software engineers.

Don’t assume silence = disinterest

The next step in the collaboration process? Waiting. I’ve learned to be okay with looooong pauses. I’ve learned that those looooong pauses are almost always composed of wheels turning and careful thoughts forming.

I’ve learned that silence doesn’t equal disinterest. In fact, sometimes silence can indicate intense focus on the conversation topic at hand.

I’ve also learned that my software engineering pals don’t tend to be as externally expressive as I am. During my first week at SEP, Raman, our CEO, explained this to me with a very helpful illustration. I can’t remember the full context, but as he was explaining this personality difference to me, he looked at me with a completely straight face and said, “This is my excited face.” I laughed, but this illustration has actually proven to be incredibly helpful.

It’s easy for me to expect someone else to react the same way I would in their position, and easy to be upset if they don’t. As simple as it is, remembering that other people express their thoughts and feelings differently than me and not reading into their reactions has helped me work with others effectively.

There you have it – my tips for collaborating with software engineers. The overarching theme, though? People are different, and that’s a good thing.

Especially during my time at SEP, I’ve learned again and again that it’s important to appreciate our differences and to step back long enough to understand what’s going on in someone else’s world. Our varied perspectives help us grow and make us better as a company, as teams, and as individuals.