Why This Engineer Prioritizes Effective Communication as a Must-Have Skill

By modeling better communication skills, this Evidation engineer has made a growing positive impact on his team. Built In SF asked him what he’s learned so far.

Written by Conlan Carter
Published on May. 20, 2024
Why This Engineer Prioritizes Effective Communication as a Must-Have Skill
Image: Shutterstock
Brand Studio Logo

Half of employees believe poor communication reduces productivity and trust in their leadership and team, according to a a 2024 survey from Forbes Advisor. 

On the other hand, half of the respondents reported that both productivity and job satisfaction are positively affected by good communication. 

These conclusions resonate to Chris Donati, a staff backend engineer at Evidation, from an intersection of home and office. When his partner identified miscommunication as the source of some obstacles in his work, Donati made effective communication a priority for his work going forward.

 

READ MOREWhat Are Soft Skills?

 

Built In San Francisco caught up with Donati to hear about how thinking about and prioritizing effective communication has changed the way he and his team work together — and what lessons he’s taken away from the experience.

 

Chris Donati
Staff Backend Engineer • Evidation

Evidation offers a health data and analytics platform working to bring people individualized, proactive and accessible healthcare faster.

 

Tell us about a principle, habit or ritual that differentiates your unique approach to engineering. What is it, and when did you start doing this?

I consider effective communication to be the most important aspect of my job. I look at all of my responsibilities through this lens.

During code reviews, I try to give an appropriate level of feedback in the places that matter the most. Whenever a coworker sends me a message, I try to unblock them as quickly as possible. When I have an idea or an opinion about something that could have an impact on our product, I share it with the team and ask for feedback. Even while writing code, I ask myself how I can make the intent of each line as clear as possible for future maintainers.

I started thinking this way shortly after I met my partner, who has a background in writing studies. When I shared stories about projects I was working on, she would quickly identify the root cause of many problems as originating from a lack of clear communication. At the time, it blew my mind to hear there was a whole field of research dedicated to finding the best techniques to give people effective feedback. Pull request reviews are a genre!
 

What differences did you notice after you adopted this principle of communication in your work?

Before prioritizing communication, I found myself giving feedback too late. Without a timely review of their work in progress, my colleagues were sometimes left to guess if they were on the right path. When this path turned out to be based on a miscommunication, we both felt demoralized.

Additionally, I saw teammates lose time trying to figure out what I meant when I wrote something in haste. I didn’t adequately account for the context that needed to be shared for them to see the problem in the same way that I was seeing it.

As I dedicate more time to making my messages clearer and my expectations more explicit, these misunderstandings have become rarer. Follow-up discussions are also more productive. By putting myself in the position of someone with little to no context about the problem, I find that I am better able to anticipate edge cases or dependencies that I wouldn’t have considered otherwise.

I believe effective communication is like a muscle. It can atrophy if you don’t exercise it. Like working out, it can feel uncomfortable and exhausting when investing effort into it. But as I make it a part of my routine, I find that it becomes less arduous and more enjoyable.
 

What does this approach to engineering help you and your team accomplish?

When everyone is on the same page, there are fewer surprises. And when the inevitable surprises do come, it’s easier to discuss and re-assess the situation with a shared vision.

From a productivity standpoint, the scope and pace of our work is a lot more predictable. Attention to nuance and clarity in documentation adds smoothness and consistency to our process. In turn, this allows us to take on more ambitious projects.

I believe the focus on effective communication is contagious. The more I try to model it, the more I see it from others as well. It’s so encouraging to see posts from a teammate sharing something they recently learned about or helping someone solve a problem they’ve encountered.

 

“I believe the focus on effective communication is contagious. The more I try to model it, the more I see it from others as well.”

 

But beyond the measurable productivity boosts, deliberate communication also makes work more enjoyable. Some of my most rewarding moments have been times when someone has taken the time to show me something I missed or ways I could have done things differently. If I can give someone else that same feeling of having learned something new or having seen something in a different light, then the extra time it takes to formulate an effective message is more than worth it.

 

 

Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Images provided by Shutterstock and listed companies.

Hiring Now
JPMorganChase
Financial Services