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Book Review : Soft Skills


Soft Skills
The software developer’s life manual

A guide to a well-rounded,
satisfying life as a technology professional.

Buy Now

I have published a few book reviews now and apparently some people really enjoy reading them while finding them useful too. I have been fortunate enough to introduce these people to books they would never have previously contemplated. Some of the feedback, I have received has been pretty cool and there have been a few cases, where people have taken the time to say thank you for introducing them to a book that has a very positive affect on their careers.

These books have been Rework , The Lean StartUp and even a more technical book like A Philosophy of Software Design . It is really surprising how books can have a really profound affect on people. Which is also one of the very many benefits of frequent reading. I take great pleasure in reading, but it is also vitally important to take the time to implement what you learn from books.

The Lean Start Up

How Today's Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses

The Lean Startup is a new approach being adopted across the globe, changing the way companies are built and new products are launched.

It was while reviewing some of this feedback from others that I suddenly realised that I haven't actually taken the time to review the book, that probably had the most impact and provided me with the initial motivation to actually start my blog in the first place!

In fact, it was during the period when I first initially read Soft Skills: The software developer's life manual  I took the plunge and registered my domain name, acquired the hosting and installed WordPress to start my journey as a technical blogger.

I can still recall the day everything just feel into place. It was when I was using my Audible Free trial originally downloading the book to listen too while working out in the Gym. For whatever reason during that session the words really resonated with me and the scenarios John Sonmez was portraying were exactly the things I'd happened to be thinking about around that time.

Why I read this book?

I was contemplating what exactly it was I wanted to achieve in my career and in particular what it was exactly I really wanted to do with my life.

At the time, I had already been Contractor/Freelance software developer for about 12 years or so and although I was still kind of enjoying it I felt that I really ought to start considering other angles and opportunities. The problem was, I really didn't know what!

For background, I have been Self-employed/Freelancing or have owned my own businesses for most of my adult life. In fact, in total I think I have only had what some people call, a Permanent job, for about 3 years in total out of 20 years at that time.

Climbing a career ladder wasn't something I have ever been a proponent of. I remember when I was in my very early 20's having a discussion with one of my mates and they were outlining their plans and strategy of becoming a Managing Director of company within the next 10-15 years. They had it all planned in their mind and were convinced that they could make it happen.

It all sounded, like well "Too much work" for me and I thought that there had to be a better way. It was then I realised that I could just start my own business and call myself whatever I wanted and could get to that position a helluva lot quicker! So that is what I did.

I'd started my first business, when I was just 22 and just 7 years later sold it and moved countries, then within 3 years of arriving started another and haven't really looked back.

The lessons I learned from my first business, is that building a successful business takes a lot more than just being good at what you do. It is actually about getting the best out of the people that you have. You're not always going to be able to afford the best people, but you can easily afford ensuring you develop the best people at your disposal.

At one point in my first business, I employed and was responsible for over 80 people. Anybody who has ever been in that position will be able to testify that it is incredibly difficult position to be in. There are countless sleepless nights worrying about whether there is going to be enough money in the back to pay them!

You learn pretty quickly, that you just can't do everything on your own and that you really need to build a team around you. You also learn that despite what your intuition tells you, those people are not necessarily going to have all the skills you think you need, but they are actually going to have the skills you didn't know you needed.

Hiring people is a difficult process, primarily due to the aforementioned fact. I learned very early on, that despite thinking I needed to have the best person in the world that could do X, it was far better to look for the person who actually wanted to be or was willing to become the best person in the world to do X but was also equally willing to do Y and Z.

I learned this fact, the hard way, buy actually employing the best person to do X only to find out that when Y and Z happened they only wanted to do X! Which I have to be honest, didn't work for me for long.

My business became successful, because I changed the way I hired people and I focused more on the Person behind the skills, in many respects the skills they possessed although somewhat important they were never going to absolutely essential.

What I learned from this book

After moving countries and essentially starting a whole new career from scratch I pushed aside my previous business experience and got caught up in the bubble of the software development world. Which can be quite an intoxicating world to become involved in, especially if you're someone like myself and loves to learn and the only thing that is constant is change!

Over the years, I became obsessed with wanting to learn everything and trying to master as much as I could. To the extent that anything that wasn't software related wasn't of much interest. I suppose one could say, Software Development was more of passion, than a job, albeit a quite well paid passion.

I also found that the hiring process within the software development industry is fundamentally flawed and I have previously posted how not to do technical interviews, highlighting some of my frustrations and pointless aspects of technical interviews I have experienced over the years.

I appreciate that these points are purely from my own perspective and entirely derived from my own experience of being both sides of the process.

So to bring it all back to focus of this post, Soft Skills: The software developer's life manual. I came to realize that I had been conducting my career as Software Developer all wrong and that I actually had a lot more value to provide organisations than just another guy who knew why strings were immutable or can come up with a solution to the FizzBuzz problem on a whiteboard when asked.

What I like about this book

This book is about how you can prove you add more value to an organisation than being just another code emitting unit or be thought of as that anti social geek in the corner drooling over algorithms.

All software developers can provide more value than just writing software. Sadly, the majority or organisations and most software developers don' realize this hidden potential. It is also difficult more software developers to set themselves apart from the coding herd. We are all often pigeon holed as geeks who are better with machines than they are humans.

I for one, despite my previous business experience, had also started to believe in this myth. Over the years, I had started to spend more time with my head in laptops and books than being in the outside world.

In one sense I was getting great intellectual stimulation from my passion, but it was also my passion that was holding me back. It appeared that the only way to progress in a career as a software developer was to know more obscure facts or features of framework or programming language than the other guy in the interviews! Which in reality is complete bullshit!

I was inspired by this book to start thinking outside of the box I had put myself in. I had to start to get myself out of my self imposed career rut!

The advice and tips offered in this book, have had a very profound affect on me and it is actually helped me in more ways than I had anticipated.

I think what I personally appreciated about this book, is that John Sonmez seemed to have had similar background to me, so the advice and strategies provided really resonated.


This is book is not some secret recipe to becoming successful as a software developer or making your next million from slinging code. However, this book actually contains some great tips, strategies and insights to help unlock the real potential trapped inside your software developer self!

For me some of the many results of reading this book, were starting this particular blog and improving on my approach to marketing myself better by providing examples of how I can provide more value compared to other developers.

One of the key aspects, is taking one of the bits of advice and concepts John talks about that, you only really learn something when you teach it and hence why I try to write tutorials on this blog, as they are a mechanism to help me learn by sharing what I am learning with others.

The book provided me with the impetus to explore other aspects to my chosen profession and learn a load of different skills.

This book is a must read for software developers who want to take their careers to the next level and beyond!

Gary Woodfine
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