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>professional goals

This is missing one major ingredient: Office politics, image and associated soft skills

Finding more and more that actual technical skill has less and less impact on my professional career.

As uncomfortable as it makes me the conclusion is inescapable: playing the game well is now front and center

This is something I always tried to instill in my direct reports: fix the problem. Publicly take credit for fixing the problem. Call out people who helped you fix the problem. Thank people in other departments who helped. I tried to model this as well: publicly take credit for my team’s successes. Call out individuals who helped. Call out other teams’ individual contributors (and managers!!!) who helped. Build a support network of people who want my team to succeed because we make them look good, publicly, visibly! One place I worked had company wide release notes that went to every employee, and I think this was an invaluable tool for success that I evangelize everywhere. Coding is half the battle; everything else is the other half!

Couldn’t agree more. I’ve used this approach to manage up and mentor. Surrounding myself with talent I often see this pay off handsomely. Not only do I move up the food chain, but as others in my network do they know the first person they want that helps them shine.

I would be careful grouping everything related to human communication with office politics.

Things like effectively communicating ideas, getting people aligned on a project, improving team morale etc. are very important soft skills that deserve to be rewarded.

Wasteful politics like sucking up to the right people, claiming credit for others work by giving the higher ups an inaccurate view of your contributions, putting others down etc. are what gets people promoted more often from what I've noticed, and should not be confused with good communication skills.

It's fine to acknowledge that politics and "playing the game" is inescapably important in modern industry. It is not fine to be comfortable with that, and it's very much to your credit that you're not. Don't try to suppress that feeling.

I believe it is both naive to ignore politics, and immoral to fullheartedly embrace them. You need to be wise enough to play the game, and self-aware enough to step outside of it when possible.

There's a moral aspect there -- the idea that power and organization shouldn't be tied to those kinds of petty, exclusionary games. But there's also a very practical aspect, because if you ever find yourself acting as a manager and making critical decisions, being able to look behind the game will allow you to make better, more pragmatic choices and to surround yourself with people who are actually productive and actually increase team cohesion -- not just who are popular or good at making flashy contributions.

This is a really hard lesson for a lot of people to learn. Networking, self-promotion, and playing politics at large companies will generally get you a lot closer to executive roles than just doing good work.

It’s because all of the skills that are required to become an executive are just as, if not more, important to have when you actually are one.

Most of your job will be getting people to do things (together, in the right order, without fighting).

Follow up: where can you do best based purely on technical/design/product skills? Freelance/consulting?

Nowhere. With Freelancing/consulting, you're just playing -their- office politics rather than your own. There is no place in society that allows you to avoid developing interpersonal skills.

This us true.

But different occupations need a different amount of interpersonal skills: a CEO or TV host need more, while a surgeon or a fighter jet pilot need somehow less.

It all depends on where you want to end up.

Not entirely true. Pathology or radiology has nearly zero interaction with patients, and they bill quite high.

You could probably coast along in surgery as well on almost zero interpersonal skills.

My eye doctor doesn't have great interpersonal skills. He made me feel like I was wasting his time when I asked a question. He always answered them, though, and he did cataract surgery really well. I wasn't paying him for his interpersonal skills.

Every profession also has its own social / cultural norms, regardless of the general level of interpersonal skill / communication skills / emotional intelligence (they all overlap) needed to succeed in that work environment.

If by nature and nature you are in line with said norms, that’s one thing. If you’re not (which isn’t a good or bad thing, just is) then you’ll probably need more of those aforementioned interpersonal skills than someone who “fits the profile” (especially when the profile is maybe not even a deliberate thing that people are aware of), so to speak.

Truth be told learning to develop more interpersonal skills is a _plus_. It’s so valuable in life in general, well beyond the workplace.

Probably joining (not starting!) an early stage startup where significant politics haven't developed yet and the focus is on getting to market (less than 25 people). I would say that freelance/consulting is a somewhat poor choice since self-promotion and networking are fairly mandatory to keep your client pipeline full and get your rates up.

I guess running a bootstrapped (small) online business with low touch sales.

Medicine. Unfortunately, it involves very little programming, but it does requires quite a bit of skill.

You can go very far on essentially zero interpersonal skills, especially if you specialize in pathology or radiology.

This is the first thing I tell students that are thinking about law school: make connections in the region where you want to work and do not worry about your grades. Nobody cares about your grades (except for big-time clerkships and top tier hellhole law offices, but you still need connections). I have submitted my transcript—a supposed representation of my technical talent—to one job that I applied for since graduating 10 years ago. Hiring people want to know what other equivalent professionals think of me and that’s it.

So the 48 laws of power is required reading material?

Link to google talk of Robert Greene (2018) :


This book is regarded as pseudo-science by psychologists. Although it's not like there is much good science when it comes to a subject this complex.

For anyone wondering what the list of proposed laws are: https://www.nateliason.com/notes/48-laws-power-robert-greene

> Law 7: Get others to do the work for you, but always take the credit

Always shocks me that some people are actually proud of and recommend this kind of stuff. I guess it makes sense for a google talk, especially given how the google promo and perf review system works.

It’s regarded as pseudoscience? That seems generous, it’s not even that. It’s just a book some guy wrote.

Not sure it’s aspired to be anything else. Though, in fairness it seems to have succeeded somewhat on those terms.

you dont have to be proud of it or approve of it to recognize that this is a real thing people do. it helps you realize when it’s being done to you.

That particular set of rules is a little Machiavellian for my liking bordering and possibly on the unethical but yeah that is roughly what I meant


> playing the game well is now front and center

As it always has been and ever shall be :)

I agree that social and communication skills are incredibly important in groups and generally more important than technical skills outside of deep specialties.

One of the key points of the post is:

> Developing your thoughts and a clear position in a written form that you are comfortable with people reading and using as the basis of a discussion is a terrific quality bar for those thoughts.

The more you develop your thoughts and position, the better you'll be able to play the game in a discussion or another forum. You and your colleagues can win through deeper understanding of customers & stakeholders, the problem, and solution space. I expect your colleagues will recognize that expertise and understanding even if they don't want to admit their position is 'wrong.'

Of course understanding the landscape and the 'right' move does not guarantee success. You still need to influence decision makers to give it a shot, and then you'll see whether the idea works or not.

I learned a lot about how to do this from books like 'How to Win Friends and Influence People', Influencer (Grenny), and 'Getting More' (Diamond) I also benefited tremendously from an 2-day workshop on public speaking.

There's nothing like doing this where the outcomes matter and it's a challenge for your current skills. So in addition to the publishing challenges outlined in the post, you can develop your ability to influence by:

Changing some minds

Present your ideas at user groups and conferences. You can ground the talk in material you an expert in and/or written about, but the important bit is to practice developing and communicating a point of view that influences people in some way: challenge 'conventional wisdom' or help people understand when to use or not use 'Best Practice'. My colleague Bob Lalasz has an _excellent_ series on developing a point of view: https://scienceplusstory.com/tag/pov/

Changing your org

Plan and execute some change within your team or organization, scaling up the ladder of "we don't do X" until you're satisfied. I recommend starting with small numbers of people/HiPPOs: convince the one or two engineers you're working with to adopt unit testing or static analysis for this one project to see how it goes, then convince the team to try continuous improvement via retrospectives and 20% allocation to improve daily work. And work your way up.

I don't know if this counts as 'playing the game,' though I do think developing and executing strategy is fun.

I mostly think of these practices as making things better for myself, colleagues, and customers.

Thanks for the response & book recommendation.

>Changing your org

Rapidly losing faith in this one - and frankly even attempting it. Its very silo'd. The 20 odd people reporting to me I don't really need to convince/influence - they do whatever I tell them anyway. Influencing other silos is high risk low reward thus far. Way too many vested interest/stepping on someone else's turf. I've just decided fixing company culture is the owners battle not mine

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