The bane of software developers everywhere be they planning, interviews, or release meetings. Listed here are a nine strategies you can use before, during, and after meetings to improve your career.

Before the Meeting

If you know it is going to be useful or not relevent to you try to get out of it. Many workplaces bulk invite employees to meetings. If you feel that you do not need to be in a meeting but your boss thinks you should be there one or both of you has an incorrect perception of the meeting.

  • Come Prepared and Early
  • Be early so that you can get a better seat. Sit to the left side, people tend to be more positive to questions from the right side of their field of view. Sit toward the front. Every conference room has bad chairs. Being early you can get one of the good ones. Also, knowing the political lay of the land before hand can greatly improve your standing.

  • Get an Agenda
  • Be sure you are prepared before the meeting with an agenda not only for the meeting but also for yourself in the meeting. Meetings have two agendas, the one sent out with the invite for the meeting and the one the meeting is really about. Most times they line up but when they do not it can be more about company politics. Build your own agenda for the meeting. What do you want to accomplish in the meeting. Know what your manager’s agenda is and create your agenda to match. Doing so will lead to positive organizational changes.

  • Have a List of Questions
  • Prepare a list of questions on topic to show interest and understanding of the topic. Find the things that you don’t know about the topic and ask to get them out there to whene you do know them. Be careful in the tone of the questions, ask to gain knowledge not to show what you know.

During the Meeting

Taking notes can strongly help, however most people’s notetaking skills are not very effective. The information is not being recorded in a useful manner and it leads to boredom in meetings. Do not take a laptop or tablet, even if you are taking notes it looks like you are not paying attention. Leave the cell phone out of the meeting except for extreme circumstance.

  • Use Graphical Notetaking Skills
  • Take notes during the meeting using a strategy that works best for you. Will prefers to make mind maps of meetings and has described his method on his blog. Mind maps start with the central premise of the meeting in a circle in the center of the page. When a new topic or idea is brought up a line is drawn from the circle out to another circle with that topic in it. It can be iterative so related topics can spawn from sources other than the central circle. BJ prefers to use the SketchNote method to put his own doodling to functional use. This involves structured doodles to represent ideas in the meeting. Mind mapping can be incorporated into the doodles. Keep an extra sheet of paper for useful details that do not fit into the structure of your mind map or doodles.

  • Ask Questions
  • You prepared questions for this meeting, don’t forget to ask the questions that you have prepared. By paying attention and taking notes you will likely come up with additional questions during the meeting. Ask in a way that elicits the presenter to educate you and the others in the meeting. Don’t be confrontational but cooperative in asking questions.

  • Offer Suggestions Where Appropriate
  • Be prepared to offer suggestions when appropriate. Vary suggestions based on your level within the organizations. For junior developers this will be rare but be prepared. Offer your suggestion and ask a more senior developer if it is a good idea. Your idea may have been tried before, asking why it might not work will also show that you are thinking about the issue. Set yourself up to win through running new ideas or suggestions by your manager or a senior developer. If it is a good idea you will be given credit, if not it isn’t an embarassment in a meeting and you look like you are thinking about the situation.

  • Learn When to Shut Up
  • Corporate meetings are like a low level language. It’s just as important if not more important to know when not to speak than when to speak. Stay out of arguments especially between more senior developers or managers. Don’t try to mediate arguments either. The best practice is to stay quiet and observe and learn.

After the Meeting

Solidify the impression that you made during the meeting. Planning before the meeting is so you don’t get hurt and to be effective in the meeting. After the meeting the goal is to solidify the impression and move forward.

  • Follow Up With the Presenter
  • Following the meeting address the presenter. This is the best time to ask questions that might not have been appropriate for during the meeting. Some questions add to the meeting and benefit everyone involved. Others, however are better reserved for after the meeting.

  • Send Meeting Notes to the Presenter
  • If you have not received a summary within a few hours send your notes to the presenter asking for insights and if you copied down all of the important information. Compile your notes and ask the presenter if you missed anything important.

Listen to the episode…

A study conducted at Harvard University found that while individuals see themselves as less competent when asking questions the advice giver see them as more competent for asking. The main caveat being that the quality of the questions is related to the perception of the person being asked.

Asking Questions

Good questions come in many forms. Many people will say to only ask open ended questions however this is a closed minded view on the efficacy of closed ended questions. Good questions are planned questions.

Closed Ended Questions

A closed ended question is one that has a single word response such as yes/no, either/or, or an identification. As mentioned in the episode this can be highly useful information especially when one is looking for the correct term or phrase for a concept in order to do further research on the subject.

Open Ended Questions

Open ended questions require more than a single word response. These are designed to dig deeper and open a dialog. With these leave the scope open by not adding in assumptions or opinions. Beyond identification and initiation of conversation most questions asked when seeking advice will be open ended.

Planned Questions

Before seeking advice attempt to solve the problem and be able to describe what you have done so far. This shows that you respect the other persons time and are actively working toward a solution. Move from general to specific questions and expect to ask follow up questions for clarification, but focus your inquiries to one subject or one issue at a time.

Giving Advice

When giving advice remember you are dealing with another developer that is just not as far along as you. They will screw up and it’s your job as a mentor to show them how to get better and apply that beyond just the issue at hand.

Focus on What You Know

Also remember that you may not know everything and your answers may be wrong. Or there may be a better way of doing something than what you currently know. In this light don’t do the task for the junior developer. Tell or show them how and then have them do it for themselves. They will build confidence in their skills and learn better by doing it. If it can be avoided do not give hacky answers.

Follow Up

After giving advice follow up with the junior developer after they have had time to implement your advice. Don’t be upset if they didn’t use your advice if they solved the problem. You may have pointed them in a direction that lead to a better solution. Finally, remember the goal is to push them to the pit of success.

Listen to the episode of Complete Developer Podcast

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