Engineers learning to say yes

Published on 2021-02-21 by John Collins. Socials: YouTube - X - Spotify - Amazon Music - Apple Podcast

Throughout my long career as a software engineer and later as a manager, I have worked with some very smart engineers. I have spotted many bad habits in these engineers, one of which is an apparent reluctance to answer with a simple "yes" when asked if something is possible.

I have seen many combinations of the same conversation take place that goes something like this:

Stake holder: "Is it possible to have feature X in our application?".

Engineer: "Well, in order to have feature X, we need to firstly implement feature Y, and also fix bug Z. What do you want us to do with those?".

Stake holder: "Well until now, I did not know about Y or Z. Can't we just have X?".

Engineer: "I don't think its possible, we need to take care of Y and Z first. Maybe, I need to check first".

And round and round it goes, until the stake holder gives up asking.

While the engineer may be justified in what they are saying technically, in terms of dependencies or other considerations with the code, all they are achieving with these responses is creating a very negative perception with their stake holders, effectively their customers, who are left thinking that the engineer is coming up with obstacles so that they don't have to commit to anything.

Put simply, the engineer is ruining their own reputation.

"As an engineer, try to remember there is a big difference between "yes, but..." versus "no, maybe..." answers"

As an engineer, try to remember there is a big difference between "yes, but..." versus "no, maybe..." answers for your audience. In your mind they might seem the same, but to your audience the perception of "yes, but..." is positive, and "no, maybe..." is negative.

If you keep on giving negative answers, you appear to be negative. Sorry if that is unfair, but in many aspects of life perception is greater than reality.

If you answer every feature request with a list of issues preventing you from delivering on that, which again technically may be accurate, you will come across worse: that clear list of technical considerations in your mind sounds like a list of excuses by the time it reaches your audience. They want to hear a solution, not a laundry list of problems.

For your sake, and the sake of your career, learn to say "yes".