Blog 2021 05 08 Soft Skills: The Software Developer's Life Manual (Second edition) by John Sonmez

Soft Skills: The Software Developer's Life Manual (Second edition) by John Sonmez

This is the second edition of the book and it was promised to include some important updates. As I liked the first edition and I could it get from Amazon for less than 10 Euros, I gave it a try. In general, I can say that most of the changes are all well-marked. This might seem a bit odd and breaks the reading flow, but on the other hand, it also shows how the view of the author on certain things changed and often this comes with some explanations.

I felt sometimes that more parts should have been revised.

Something that definitely didn’t change is that I like the structure of the book. There are around 70 small chapters and this makes it easy to read.

Oh, and the book also has some sections that you wouldn’t necessarily expect from a book targeting developers: investing both in general and in real estate, health, fitness, philosophy. These topics are often neglected, but they are and they should be important parts of our lives.

I’m going to cover a couple of topics from the book a bit more in detail.

The way to wealth

When someone talks about wealth, the first question to ask, is the person credible in speaking about wealth? In fact, this verification should be extended. Whenever someone tries to teach something, you should verify if the person is an authentic source of knowledge.

The author seems credible as he has moved from corporate jobs to contracting ones, then both built his own businesses plus he successfully invested in real estates.

He is not a Warren Buffet for sure, but I guess most of us doesn’t aim for those heights.

So the first question to define is what is wealth and what it means to be wealthy.

Do you earn a lot of money? Are you in the top 5 per cent?

Congrats, but the bad news is that you might be rich, yet it doesn’t make you wealthy. According to his - and others’ definition - being wealthy means that you have a “perpetual supply of more than you need”.

Based on that riches and wealth do not necessarily walk hand in hand, but you need two simple things:

  1. Have an automatically renewing supply of resources
  2. Need less than that supply provides you

Having said that, we can see that making a lot of money is not enough. You might just spend more than you need and if that money comes from paychecks, it’s not something that would qualify as something automatically renewing.

So what is an automatically renewing source?

Sorry, it’s not your paycheck. You have to put in your work - almost - every day. But if you buy some assets, such as stocks that pay dividends, some bonds, business, royalty rights. Assets that generate money.

If you want to become wealthy, you’ll need to accumulate assets generating passive income and - depending on how fast you want to go - lower the money you need to burn every month.

Is there any new in this? Of course not and the book doesn’t claim there is. It’s just a reminder and some personal stories. The biggest value is that it’s in a book for developers. You might not be interested in such topics in the first place, but the book might serve you as an eye-opener.

A healthy mind in a healthy body

One another topic that is seldom discussed when you talk about the life of a developer is fitness. That’s sad because our job, our lifestyle is more dangerous than one would assume.

Sitting all day long is not what our body was created for. And let’s be honest, often when we finish work, we just switch laptops or just close a window - no, not the one in your wall - and continue sitting till midnight - or later.

If you read the chapters about fitness, you’ll get some basic insights on the relationship between your diet, exercise, weight and fitness level. You’ll get some ideas on how you should start out without compromising your goals right away.

This seems extremely important because apparently, it’s very difficult to gain muscles and lose fat at the same time. My impression was that the author doesn’t talk about people who are extremely overweight but only with some moderate extra fat.

I’m not to judge, but probably the most negative part of the book for me was reading what kind of food John eats and how he prepares it. It’s not unhealthy, but just mixing together different frozen, pre-cut ingredients with bulk egg white and put it in the microwave… Thanks, but no thanks. But I have to admit, for a lot of people eating such food would be a huge step forward. And to be fair, probably it’s healthier than what I eat, just no so varied and exciting. We don’t look for the same thing, and it’s fine.

Anyway, given his pictures from the past and present, if I wanted to take some fitness advice, I’d consider his words. In fact, I’m considering some of them about repetitions and series and mostly that I should take the question of physical health more seriously.

Stoicism Taking Over

While having an appropriate mindset was a cardinal question in the first edition as well, Stoicism didn’t appear in it. I was happy to see it in the new edition. I can honestly say happy, as you could read some Stoic content from me already, including some own posts and some book reviews.

From this book, you’ll be able to get the most important ideas of Stoicism in a nutshell and some ways to apply them in your life as a developer.

Just to give you one idea. Whatever happens in your life, take it just as a fact. It’s not a negative event, it’s not a positive either. It’s just an event. The interpretation of it comes from one person. That person is you. You have to actively choose your interpretation and then the most appropriate response.

My best takeaways from the book

Let me share my three best takes of this book.

Negotiate your salary, negotiate just everything

A very important message. If you are offered a salary, it’s almost sure you can get more than that and nobody will be offended if you try to negotiate. I never did, but for sure I will the next time (I’m not someone changing jobs often as you can see).

The money you can gain in the long run can be quite important.

Salary is not the only thing you can negotiate. You negotiate multiple times a day without recognizing it, so why not make it a conscious activity and take advantage of it.

Focus on your pomodoros instead of goals

Trust the system as the author says. It doesn’t mean the political establishment, but rather your own productivity system. If you want to achieve something, you have to put a supporting system in place. For him - and for me as well - a key element is the Pomodoro technique.

I usually have a goal in mind when I start a pomodoro. When I achieve it too quickly, often I just wander around the code, the article, I don’t focus the same way anymore. And if I don’t meet my goal, I might become a bit stressed and cranky.

The author suggests that on this low level of operating your system, you should focus on just pushing through the pomodoro, keep focused and work without a specific goal. You have your tasks of course, but you don’t have a specific goal for your pomodoro.

I tried and indeed, I felt I achieved more and I didn’t get anxious if I ran into difficulties that took a bit more time.

Any action is better than no action

In the book, you will read a story about a couple who didn’t finish renovating a bathroom because they could decide whether they should use a plexiglass panel or a plastic curtain. It took them like ten years just because they couldn’t agree.

Any of the two options would have been better than none.

We cannot wait for perfect agreements, perfect moments, perfect ideas. Life is not perfect. And if we don’t move forward, we will not get feedback, we will not get the information we are waiting for. If we take action, we might start going in the best direction, but nevertheless, we will move forward.


Soft Skills: The Software Developer’s Life Manual is still a book I’d recommend. It’s a very reminder of what matters a lot in your life: your mindset, taking care of your health and personal finances.  On the other hand, if you read the first edition and you have no plans to read the latest version, don’t have a fear of missing out. Instead, just take a book on Stoicism like this one or subscribe to the Daily Stoic to learn a bit about this ancient philosophy of the doers.

Reading Soft Skills will remind you of the importance of self-marketing, teach you the basics of creating wealth and maybe it will inspire you to live a healthier, fitter life.

Can there be anything more important than that? 

This post is licensed under CC BY 4.0 by the author.