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To market yourself effectively, and thus, improve your career prospects, you need to know how to communicate effectively. It's not just that communication "gets the word out" about you - it has value in and of itself.

At the risk of this becoming a regular feature here on Fridays, Raganwald covered the same topic as the chapter from MJWTI that I'm covering this week. (This also happened a few weeks ago, when we discussed not overcommitting yourself).

There are many ways to communicate - and you should practice them all. In the post linked to Raganwald above, Reg talks about physical communication (as opposed to virtual) and suggests volunteering to present in front of a group as a means to improve your communication skill. It's something I get some small practice with at school, and something which I'd like to eventually do more of in a professional capacity - but I've yet to take the time or show the cojones and actually do it, outside of what's been required of me.

Anyway, he covered it better than I will, so I'd suggest reading it over at his blog. I'll continue with the real point of this one, about not being a "grumpy old code ogre [whom] everyone fears" (Quoting Fowler, pg 125).

Managers and customers are
responsible for something gravely important which they ultimately have to trust to some scary IT guys for implementations... In this situation, what's the most important attribute they're looking for in a team member? ... It's not whether they've memorized the latest design patterns or how many programming languages they know.

They're going to be looking for someone who can make them comfortable about the project they're working on... They're afraid of you.
Recognizing this deficiency in the relationship, you can bridge the gap by reversing the polarity: try looking at your customer or manager as the one on whom you depend for information about it and without whom you could not do your job (that's the case anyway).

I try to do this, but it's hard to tell how effective I've been. Chad suggests finding some email you've written to a manager or client, telling your mom it was written by a colleague, and asking her how it could be improved. That may work, but I don't know if I'm willing to try it. He also says going through old mail yourself will help give you a more objective perspective into your own mail.

Of course, this type of thing isn't for everyone. As one commenter over at Reg's post points out:
Rag, see, we don't want to improve our careers, exactly because an improved career would mean more communication and less code. And we became programmers exactly because we wanted to be spared of that "Hey, how are you, is everything fine?" kind noise most biped animals call "communication", and rather talk to a computer which does not expect any more information than it actually needs to do it's job.
That's the kind of programmer I used to be. Obviously, I've tried to move away from that in recent years. However, it's certainly not a view about your job to be ashamed of: I think an overwhelming majority of us got into this because we were socially awkward. But, I'm not sure the types of jobs where you can do that are going to be around forever. I hesitate to say, "much longer," because I have no idea, to be honest.

The point of it all: This goes beyond simply speaking up. You want to be the "adventure tour guide:" hold hands when you need to, help them navigate the treacherous landscape. Being helpful and somewhat outgoing puts people at ease, where terse messages loaded with talk about details they know nothing about does the opposite.

You want to be open, not shut off.

Do you have any tips for communicating well with non-technical people?

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