Speak Up And Make Space For Others

This is a guest post from Hannah Seligson. Enjoy.

Dear developer,

Speaking up was something I always struggled with during my career as an engineer. Speaking up during sprint planning meetings, speaking up when requirements were given with little detail, and speaking up when I felt stumped and didn’t know how to move forward. Asking for clarification may seem like a nuance to others or require courage you think you haven’t built yet within yourself, but speaking up will save you time and headaches throughout your journey as a developer.

However, speaking up doesn’t just apply to your day-to-day interactions and tasks. Throughout your career, speaking up when you’re a new hire gives you an invaluable perspective on how things could be improved or recognize existing team or company processes — speaking up also applies when problem-solving and collaborating among you and your team. Identifying a problem, whether the problem is in your code or something much more significant, is part of your role as a developer to find effective solutions. Collaborating with others with different perspectives and skill levels to determine the best solution to a problem can be a powerful combination!

Now, let’s explore why speaking up is such an important skill, why it’s important to let others speak up, and how you can build your muscle for speaking up more and asking more questions.

Why is it important to speak up and ask questions?

When you and others on your team can speak up and ask questions, it increases the success rate for any project and even your career.

Here are some key reasons you should speak up as a developer and ask questions:

  • Clarify requirements: You need to understand a project’s requirements before beginning your work. Asking questions and speaking up can help you clearly understand what needs to be done.
  • Identify and resolve issues: By asking questions and speaking up, you can identify any potential issues or challenges earlier than later, which can help you find solutions before they become more significant problems down the road!
  • Learn and grow: Asking questions and speaking up is an opportunity to learn and grow as an engineer; it allows you to seek additional information and insight from others that can help improve your skills and develop more knowledge.
  • Improve the quality of a project: By asking questions, it can help ensure your project is completed to the highest standard and help avoid issues or bugs later on and improve the overall quality of whatever you’re working on.

Why is it important to let others speak up and enable an inclusive environment?

Suppose you’re more senior in your development career or seeking an opportunity to mentor someone more junior on your team. In that case, it’s essential to let them speak up and enable the opportunity for them to do so.

Here are some key reasons why it’s important to make space for other developers to speak up and feel included:

  • Foster a culture of learning and development: Encouraging others more junior or even those more quiet to speak up creates a culture of learning and growth within your team. Helping others feel more comfortable seeking additional information and insight can help improve their skills and knowledge.
  • Identify and resolve issues: Allowing others on your team to speak up and ask questions can identify and resolve issues they may be encountering and don’t have the courage to share for many reasons. Giving others the space or encouragement to ask questions and speak up can help them feel more confident and capable of their work. This can also ensure that whatever project you are working on is completed on time or efficiently!
  • Encourage collaboration and communication: Encouraging others to speak up can promote collaboration and communication within a team or community. This ultimately leads to a more positive and productive environment which can also lead to better outcomes for a project.

Creating a safe environment for others to speak up opens the opportunity to promote collaboration, diversity, and growth, whether on your team or within your industry. However, ensuring folks are saying what they think instead of what you want to hear can be a roadblock.

This is why creating an environment or culture where others feel empowered to innovate and problem-solve without fearing failure or consequences is absolutely necessary.

How do you encourage speaking up or challenge yourself to speak up?

The key to speaking up more as a developer is to practice and build confidence. Just like writing more code makes your code better, as you continue to gain experience and become more comfortable speaking up, it will be easier and come more naturally to you.

Here are some tips if you want to start speaking up more or make space for others to do so:

  • Practice active listening. One way to speak up more is to ensure you pay attention and understand what others say. This can help you understand the conversation better or even a project and allow you to contribute more.
  • Ask others if they have any questions and pause during discussions/meetings. Whenever in a meeting or discussion, ensure you include opportunities for questions or clarification by pausing before transitioning to the next topics so you can make sure others follow along and understand what’s being discussed or reviewed.
  • Prepare questions in advance. If you’re shy or nervous about speaking up, something that can be helpful is preparing a list of questions in advance and scheduling a 1:1 with your manager or more senior developer. This helps you feel more confident and prepared to contribute to conversations and better understand a topic so that you’re able to engage more.
  • Schedule regular one on ones with others. Scheduling regular coffee chats or check-ins with developers creates a safe space for open communication and sharing ideas, which can lead to more effective problem-solving and collaboration. Creating a space or time to ask questions and share ideas allows you to support their development and even address concerns or issues without fear of reprisal.
  • Take an opportunity to present. I know this sounds terrifying – but trust me, it helps! If you have an opportunity to present internally or externally on a topic you’re knowledgeable about, then take it! This is a great way to build confidence in yourself and practice speaking up in front of others. It doesn’t have to be an hour-long, fully polished presentation, either. Taking 15 minutes to walk the team through a gnarly problem you solved or a tool you explored is valuable.
  • Recognize and seek opportunities for others. If there is a topic that a developer you know is particularly interested in or knowledgeable about, encourage them to present on it. If possible, consider also giving the developer an opportunity to present to external stakeholders, such as clients or partners. This can also be a great way to gain experience and build confidence in their communication skills.

Closing thoughts

As you can see, speaking up and allowing others to speak up is invaluable for your career and technical skills. However, I know it’s not always easy and can often be oversimplified. Speaking up with your opinions and trying to gain clarity can be nerve-wracking, and it’s easy to assume that others expect us to be perfect and understand everything immediately – but don’t put that pressure on yourself!

Your point of view is valuable if you are new to this role, and if you are mentoring someone new, this will allow you to reinforce your skillset and help someone else grow within their career by fostering an inclusive space.

If you have any questions or want to get in touch, please feel free to contact me via email or Twitter!

– Hannah

Hannah is currently a Developer Advocate at HubSpot supporting their API developers and CRM platform. Hannah’s background as a .NET API developer in regulated environments for various insurance companies allowed her to support the API Evangelist efforts and lead CoE efforts for the developer organizations. Hannah has spent her career improving processes and creating training materials to help support and enable developers to achieve their development and deployment goals. When she isn’t trying to learn more about Python or Kubernetes and contribute to open-source projects you can find her outside backpacking, baking, or hanging with her cats!

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