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Edward Huang
Edward Huang

Posted on • Originally published at on

Why Building Relationships Matters in Software Engineering

bowl of tomatoes served on person hand

I asked for an estimation from multiple gardeners for a bid on a major project renovation last week, and this gardener's cost estimation stood out to me.

"How much will you help fix the leaky sprinkler cost?" I asked.

"It's free, man! You need to pay for the material, and I can help you fix the leaky sprinkler."

I was shocked. I thought, "Why is he being so nice to me? Another gardener would charge every fixed and work for 300-400 dollars. He said all of these labor costs are free?"

After thinking that the price and the terms were too good to be true, I chose that garden.

The gardener has reminded me of good lessons about relationship building. We demand every dollar cost we put our effort into any client's work. However, what this gardener is doing is that he knows to count everything and build a great rapport because he knows that next time when I need to do another major renovation in the house, he will win my business. In other words, he is focusing on the relationship with his client because that relationship can have far more recurring opportunities in the future.

As software engineers, we should also approach our career like this gardener's relationship-building strategy by building relationships with our stakeholders and colleagues for long-term benefit.

In this article, I wanted to share with you why relationships matter in software engineering and ways to build good relationships in your workplace so that you can get more opportunities.

Why Relationships Matter in Software Engineer

The relationship is the critical driver of growth. Just as countries get richer, the more they have good relationships with other countries; software engineers grow faster by creating good relationships to help each other grow.

I once heard a senior engineer in the team say that he got his PR approved and looked at it faster because he also helped review others' PR first. His strategy will be publishing a PR for the team to review. After posting the PR message to the team, he would go through the channel and start clicking all the PR links posted from the previous chats - looking through each one and giving feedback.

Building a Relationship Helps You Become Luckier

Actively building relationships was vital for my career. I deliberately built a relationship with my manager at the beginning of my career that helped accelerate my promotion to the next level.

Each time during our 1:1, I make sure to also account for his concern in the team and help him as much as I can to make his job easier.

By building a good relationship with my manager and team, I was assigned to better and more impactful projects. Those impactful projects help accelerate my career growth.

How to Build a Superb Relationship As a Software Engineer?

One aspect I learn from building relationships with anyone is to bring value to the table. The more value you bring to the table, the more trust you'll earn. The more trust that you earn, the more window of opportunity that you'll get.

Give Give Give

In Gary Vaynerchuk's third book, Jab Jab Jab Right Hook, he gave his business philosophy around providing customers with value.

The Jobs are the value you provide your customers with. As a software engineer, this can be creating a better documentation system for new hires and helping answer questions in the Slack channel. The things that your teammates will appreciate you on.

The right hook is the asks. Regarding entrepreneurship, it's when you go in for the sale, ask for a subscription or a donation. You ask your team members for help or favor in software engineering.

One tip about giving is that don't expect a return. Giving value in expectation of a return will show that your effort is not genuine. Moreover, you felt entitled to receive a return, which will hurt your expectation.

Offer a 1:1 Mentorship Session.

Mentorship opportunity is always a one-way street. In the grand scheme, the mentee benefits most from mentorship opportunities. However, mentorship help mentor transform and grow their leadership ability.

Mentors are in great positions to step back and see the big picture of their mentees' professional life and gain critical skills to recognize the strengths and weaknesses of others. Giving sound advice and, most importantly, looking within to make changes.

One of my action points during my 1:1 career talk with my manager to move into the leadership role is establishing mentorship to the team's junior members. My manager wanted me to support one of the junior members and support him in advancing his technical and communication skills.

While a mentoring relationship is first and foremost to benefit the mentee, the mentor has just as much to gain in experience, confidence, and knowledge.

Offer Sponsorship

Sponsors are people who will do practical things for you.

Sponsorship is different from mentorship because sponsorship is about allowing other people.

I first heard about sponsorship in Carlos Arguelles's blog post, "Why Sponsorship from Senior Engineers Matters." One of the quotes that he had stuck with me was, "At times in my life, I've felt like Weird Person#1. I had some idea, something I was passionate about, and for whatever reason, I couldn't get people around me to feel my passion for a while. I tried and tried and tried. The times that I eventually succeeded, it was because a Weird Person #2 showed up at the right time, right before giving up."

And at some time, he noticed a person putting themselves out there took courage and guts, so he offered his sponsorship by believing in that person because he remembered how lonely it felt to push your ideas out there when people look at you like you are crazy.

At Disney Streaming Service, I remember what it means to be sponsored by my manager and director to keep pushing forward on the rule engine patent. There were a lot of other directors that questioned the benefit and uniqueness of the idea, and through their sponsorship, I could push to fulfill my idea.

Now that I am stepping into the leadership position, I want to adopt the same methodology as how my manager sponsored me. Lots of hungry junior engineers have ideas that they are passionate about. However, most of them gave up voicing their ideas because they kept being shut down.

Therefore, by offering my sponsorship, to gave them get recognition and opportunities.

Final Thought

A successful relationship is vital to accelerate a software engineer's career. Just like a gardener who focuses on building rapport with clients, software engineers can benefit from fostering positive relationships with stakeholders and colleagues. By building strong connections, providing value, and offering mentorship or sponsorship, engineers can create long-lasting relationships that lead to continuous growth and increased opportunities.

šŸ’” Want more actionable advice about Software engineering?

Iā€™m Edward. I started writing as a Software Engineer at Disney Streaming Service, trying to document my learnings as I step into a Senior role. I write about functional programming, Scala, distributed systems, and careers-development.

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