Personal Development for Software Developers: An Interview With John Sonmez

Developers have never been in greater demand. These days, they can seemingly write their own tickets. Despite their increasingly valuable skills, many developers and techies could use some help dealing with people.
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Developers have never been in greater demand. These days, they can seemingly write their own tickets. Despite their increasingly valuable skills, many developers and techies could use some help dealing with people. (It's a major theme in my forthcoming book, Message Not Received: Why Business Communication Is Broken and How to Fix It.) We all know people who are far more comfortable with inanimate objects than animate ones. What if programmers and developers could improve their people skills?

To this end, I recently sat down with John Sonmez, author of the new book Soft Skills: The Software Developer's Life Manual.

PS: Why did you decide to write the book?

JS: I've never liked the idea of writing a technical book.

To me, it seems that there are already plenty of technical books out there. Don't get me wrong. We need books on iOS development and the latest Java frameworks, but when was the last time you read a book about how to program in some new programming language or technology that actually changed your life?

I wanted to write a book that would change lives--plain and simple.

I also wanted to write the kind of book that I would love to read. Not the kind of book that I would feel like I should read, or that I need to read.

Soft Skills was designed to be the book I wished that I had 10 years ago.

I wanted to take all the timeless things I learned about advancing my career, learning things quickly, being productive, building a reputation in the IT industry, and even fitness and finance and combine it into one guidebook that would allow any software developer to take the short-cut to success.

PS: It seems like this book doesn't have very much to do with software development. Is this book really only for software developers?

JS: No, it's not.

In fact, you could replace the word "software developer" with "human" and the advice in the book would still apply.

There are very few things in the book that would be considered specific to software developers, but I named the book Soft Skills: The Software Developer's Life Manual because I am a software developer and I wanted to reach other software developers, who would be much more likely to see things from a similar perspective as me.

Really, though, any person in the technology field will probably resonate with this book.

PS: How do you define soft skills?

JS: To me, soft skills are any skills that are not technical skills.

So, this would include things like dealing with people, managing your career, personal finance, fitness, marketing yourself and building a personal brand and even being super-productive.

You could also really call these skills "life skills."

These are the basic skills that you need to succeed at life, accomplish your goals--and perhaps most importantly--feel good about the kind of life you are living and enjoy it.

PS: Aren't you covering a few too many topics in this book? What makes you an authority to talk about so many subjects?

JS: Yes, the book is really designed to cover most of the important topics that a software developer would deal with in their life--even romantic relationships!

I realize I'm covering a large amount of ground in this book, but I'm not trying to go too far in-depth into any topic. Instead, Soft Skills gives a short treatment to the most important sub-topics in each area and tries to deliver you the biggest bang-for-your-buck in the areas where I have personal relevant experience, have consulted experts who do, or both.

Each chapter of the book is short--about 3-to-4 pages. But, it's packed with information and is written in a way that I hope will be entertaining to read.

So, yes, I'm not an authority on each subject in the book. But, I don't claim to be and I don't really need to be in order to deliver no-nonsense practical advice that is pulled directly from real world experience.

I'm not a professional career coach or marketer, but I've used the techniques I talk about in the book to more than quadruple my income as a software developer and to build my own business.

I'm not a fitness expert, but I've competed in bodybuilding competitions, successfully lost--and kept off weight--and I run and go to the gym every week while maintaining a crazy schedule. So, I have a pretty good idea of what works and what doesn't.

I'm not an accountant or financial advisor, but I've been investing in real estate since I was 18 years old and I own over 26 rental properties.

I could go on and on, but I think you get my point.

The book is not about being the definitive authority on a bunch of different topics, but instead offers practical advice that has been battle-tested by reality.

PS: What would you say is the overarching theme of the book or message you are trying to convey with the book?

JS: Continual self-improvement.

Soft Skills is all about becoming a better version of yourself.

It's all about learning how to work smarter; build discipline and good habits; to improve your mind, body and spirit.

Throughout the pages of the book, I embedded a special message: "you can do it and it's not that hard." We all need a little bit of encouragement. We all need a little bit of motivation to take ourselves to the next level, to get out of our shell, to find our groove.

The message of Soft Skills simple: "Don't strive for perfection, just strive to be a little better each and every day."

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