Book of the Week 9: Soft Skills: The software developer’s life manual

This (insert length of time not being a week)’s book features a well-rounded approach to life… specifically for software developers. I’m in the software field (and just starting out too so what better time!), I read, and I’m striving for a balanced life, so of course the sheer title of this book caught my eye!


23232941Rating: 3/5

Verdict: Lots of useful points throughout the book, but too broad and too introductory.

John Sonmez has quite a resume. Aside from being a developer, he dived into the realms of bodybuilding competitions, real estate, online course content creation, and writing – both in blogging and in this book. While he doesn’t brag about these achievements in the beginning or on the cover to attract your immediate attention, you see him bringing up these chapters of his life as he gives himself credibility to this holistic message. If you’re a software developer and you could only read one book in your life, this would probably be it.

While the content is useful for anyone and everyone, Sonmez attempts to relate to the reader better by using a similar perspective to his life as a developer himself, for example when he dives into the career section, or when he tells the readers that if they can understand code, they have an advantage over the average person in understanding finances.

If you’re truly an individual who’s constantly looking for self-improvement, you probably have already heard a lot of the information (and have already had the info ingrained in your brain) that Sonmez brings up. Having said that, the book is still worth a skim since you’ll probably find some golden nuggets here and there. What makes this worthwhile is reading from the perspective of a like-minded developer who focuses on life balance himself; you can’t really argue that there’s a bunch of books like this one. In addition, at the end of each chapter he includes a small section mentioning how to take action pertaining to what we’ve just read, which is especially useful.

I’ll divide up this posts the way Sonmez does in his book: career, marketing yourself, learning, productivity, financial, fitness, and spirit.

Career

The first but largest section in his book talks about the most obvious aspect of a software developer’s life: software development. While a lot of the information isn’t new, I appreciated the fact that he brought up the following points coherently in this section:

  • You, as an individual, are actually a business. When you’re looking for a job, approach the situation with the mindset that you’re trying to get the customer to buy your service (designing and writing code). I actually hadn’t heard this one before, but it resonated with me so well because he’s absolutely right.
  • You have multiple career options as a developer. Many career books only talk about skills you should focus on to make yourself more hirable, and from there to either focus on becoming a senior developer or going into management. While he does bring up those points, he also mentions the independent consultant path and the entrepreneur path, weighing the pros and cons of each (even bringing up how to quit your job if you want to switch paths, or at least companies).
  • Specialization is key. I personally love being a generalist, learning about literally everything the world has to offer, but Sonmez brings up sound arguments of why the market desires specialists; this applies to everything outside of software development as well. You can be good at every medium of fine arts, you can know a bit of everything in the medical field, you can understand the basics of everything law. But no customer goes out searching for a generalist; they want one person to do the best at the one thing they need.

I find it humorous however that this book itself takes the generalist approach, and that to me is why this book isn’t as successful as others; you’ll download one or two fantastic arguments from one book and read multiple books, instead of reading a plethora of mini-ideas in one book.

Marketing Yourself

It’s all about bringing value to others. My points of appreciation as follows:

  • Amazing talent often goes unnoticed. Best said by Sonmez himself:

There are many chefs who possess a high level of talent and can cook exceptionally well, but most of them are relatively unknown. Yet there are some celebrity chefs like Gordon Ramsay or Rachel Ray who make millions of dollars, not because they’re necessarily more talented, but because they’ve learned how to market themselves correctly to take advantage of their talent.

  • Everybody has something to offer. Different backgrounds, perspectives, and hobbies make you who you are. Even beginners have something to offer, which resonated with me well because I’ve often felt too incompetent to make bold suggestions, for example when working with the most experienced coworker on my team.

Even being a complete beginner or amateur can be an advantage if you market it well – plenty of people want to learn from someone who’s just a few steps ahead of them, because they can relate to that person.

  • There are many ways to market yourself: articles and blogs (oh hello there!), presentations, social networks. He presents this point well because he explains why and how each method helps with presenting your value, but I include this bullet because it pairs with the above argument so well. It doesn’t matter what skill level you are at; somebody will find it useful, and you’ll be helping yourself (eg. in your writing or presentation skills) while you’re at it.

Learning

Personally, I don’t feel like I’ve learned anything new in this section, but the following points I believe are the best reminders I’ve found there. While these points are fairly obvious, Sonmez does well at explaining not only why but how to do the following:

  • Learn to learn. Learn how to ask yourself questions that you want answers to. Learn how to recognize what you need to fill in missing gaps. If you don’t learn to learn, you cut yourself short, not only in your career with fewer skills and opportunities but in life with missing out on what the universe has to offer.
  • Just jump into it. Seth Godin in his book Poke the Box is all about just going in. Don’t wait for someone to guide the way. Don’t wait until you’re ready. We learn best by doing. We learn how to ride a bike by just going into it. Just. Do. It.
  • Mentorship. You need a mentor to go beyond your boundaries. You also need to be a mentor not only for altrustic reasons but also to best learn what you already know.

Productivity

Like the previous section, a lot of these are obvious tips, but Sonmez once again does well at explaining how to implement them. This section is more about tips and tricks than actual life lessons, and could be useful for future reference. Because of that, I’ll be keeping my section pretty short:

  • Once you’ve reached burnout… just keep at it. You’ll likely find better work beyond the wall.
  • Just do something. Something is better than nothing. Do it consistently. Make it a routine, make it a habit. In the end, it’ll all add up, and you won’t believe the results.

Financial

I honestly didn’t find much use out of this section. Really, any money article will bring up similar points; it’s just that Sonmez gives good practical advice on how to get started. People may find this section to be beneficial since this is definitely material that you don’t find in school, so it really depends on your current background.

In addition, Sonmez does have a very personal chapter that explains how he reached the million at an early age, and that chapter is definitely worth the read.

  • Save. Cut out unnecessary things in your life. Use your savings on investments: retirement, real estate, stock market and options, etc (he talks a bit about each of these choices as well)
  • Decide early how you want to get rich. You can save for retirement, which means you’ll be putting in a lot of money into an account you can’t touch until much later. Or you choose not to put in money into that retirement account and use that money instead to generate passive income, in Sonmez’s case real estate.

Fitness

Just like the finances section, nothing new if you’ve already been introduced to the fitness world, but if you haven’t, Sonmez does it rather well, touching upon every topic possible. He explains why fitness is so important, touches upon understanding nutrition, and introduces various workout goals and how to approach them. He even talks about equipment outside of working out that can help, from standing desks at work to headphones and pedometers. No bullet points to share here.

Spirit

In this final section, he talks about reprogramming your brain to work at its greatest potential. Put all your focus into your mindset and staying positive. He even implements these tips in a short chapter about love and relationships, especially since he claims that this can be difficult for software developers to find.

I’ll share with you simply two quotes I’ve found to be impactful from this section, which rounds out the book’s final section with the above paragraph pretty well:

I’ve made a habit every time that I’ve had the opportunity to speak to a famous or extremely successful person to ask them what single book has influenced them the most in life.

I feel like this could apply to anyone who you may deem more successful than you. Try to see what shaped their mindset and how you can apply their perspective to your own life. Or you can at least check out the book later since at least to one person it left an impact.

This last quote is Sonmez’s approach to failures in life, in this particular example with learning how to juggle:

I remember when I was first learning to juggle. I’d throw three balls up in the air and all three of them would hit the ground – not a single one in my hand. I could have thrown my hands up and said, “I can’t juggle,” but for some reason I was persistent. I knew that other people had learned to juggle and that I could also learn, so I kept at it. After hundreds, perhaps thousands, of dropped balls, I eventually stopped failing. My brain made minor corrections over time and was learning from the repeated failures I was experiencing. I didn’t control this process. All I had to do was keep trying – and to not be afraid to start trying in the first place.

I love how this really is applicable to everything in life. I’ve learned to converse so much better since high school because I was always telling myself on how to improve after each conversation, such as recognizing when I said something that could be misconstrued. I’ve learned when working on an art or design project after each revision how it could be improved, and how that improvement could be applied in the future. At work I’m always wondering why the previous developer implemented a feature a certain way, and I think about how a future project or feature could use something similar. Even in Super Smash Bros., I think about why and how I received a hit, or how I lost the game, and think about how I could prevent it next time. This innocent quote truly is a golden life secret that everyone needs to recognize more.


While there is a lot of information in this book, a great majority of it is introductory and may be excessive to you. Despite that, while it can be great refresher material, there are tidbits here and there that I still found new and resonating with my experiences well. Add the fact that all of the information you find here is coming from someone of a distinct background so something you already know may be explained in a unique perspective you haven’t seen, and I believe that it was worth the read.

You may find it to be more useful than I did; a lot of people on Goodreads have, and in fact its high rating was the main selling point for me. Almost everyone appreciated the holistic approach, especially since Sonmez writes in such a personal, relatable manner while providing a unique perspective. I appreciate the fact that Sonmez offers more than one path in multiple subjects, understanding that no one path is fit for everyone. In the end, I’d still recommend this book to any developer and probably will to my coworkers in the near future.

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Author: Kevin Who

Developer. Designer. Smasher. Reader. Creator.

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