The Value of a Simple Conversation

Thoughts on the value of conversation for your career.

Published on 7/17/2023

Hello, and welcome to the first post of the Path to Staff blog! Today I want to go a bit deep on the boogeyman that a lot of developers (myself included) aren't huge fans of - conversation and networking and how it adds to your effectiveness at multiple levels of scope.

There's a lot of books and articles and videos out there on the importance of soft skills for developers, but I don't usually see them directly connect the simple act of talking to lots of people and how this affects the work you produce. Instead, they reference conversation or communication as one of multiple soft skills - which is completely reasonable! But it doesn't allow for a lot of depth in discussion when there are many more soft skills to discuss.

I'd like to be more concrete about the advantages of simply talking to people, as well as provide a few ideas for how to go about finding a reason to talk to people.

What it gets you

First, to relate it back to the existing resources on the topic, talking to people is a great way to practice many soft skills! Wikipedia's article on soft skills mentions:

soft skills as an umbrella term for skills under three key functional elements: people skills, social skills, and personal career attributes

The first two, which would include things like communication, collaboration, empathy, and social awareness, are hard to practice without talking to people! And I think most people would agree being better at such skills just generally makes life more pleasant - the world is, after all, full of people.

Now, more directly, it also gives you a lot of opportunity to learn about what's going on in your organization. Asking someone you've just met what they work on and how they like it is bound to give you some insight into something that at least one person cares enough to mention. If it's something they like, great! If it's something they don't, even better, we love having problems to solve! (but please validate problems before putting a lot of effort into solving them)

On the flipside, it also allows you to share your perspective and get feedback on the things you're thinking about. Having good, reasoned discussions about concerns and ideas helps you filter out the chaff and iteratively find and develop the interesting core of a concept.

From a more holistic viewpoint, you also build organic connections by talking to people who know people, and all those people could need something you can help with, or could help you with something you need help with. This expanding network and visibility also gives you a bi-directional conduit to connect you with others who are thinking about or working on the same things as you!

Ways to make it happen

So, talking to people more has a lot of benefits both directly and indirectly. The question is, what are some ways to get talking to people? And if you're like me, you're probably wondering about more passive ways to facilitate random and (ideally also) useful conversation. I'll cover some active ways as well as more passive ways for those of us who don't like being active or direct all the time.

Starting with the most direct methods, the simplest one is: find someone either in person or on Slack/Teams/etc, say hi, and ask for 30 minutes of their time in the next couple days to learn about them, or something they're working on, or a document you saw their name in, or really anything you think they can probably tell you more about than you already know!

Another way that doesn't require as much initiative is to use opportunities where people are already gathering and strike up your own conversation: do your standups (or other meetings) start a few minutes after the scheduled time while people join or make their way to the room? Going to lunch/grab water/the bathroom and walking by some occupied desks? Perfect opportunities to make a new acquaintance or two and ask how they feel about something you're working on or an idea you're mulling over!

The most passive way to facilitate conversations I have today is more of an information gathering tip than a conversation starter, but helps you understand what's happening in your organization - and over time leads you to more conversations you can be visible in! It's also very simple. Just join Slack channels that you don't necessarily need to be in but are interesting, or adjacent to your team, or are broader than your team! You should be a bit aware of possibly overdoing it, though, as this does make Slack a lot noisier than you may like. I check my "eavesdropping" channels once a day or so, and that keeps me well enough aware of most happenings I like to know about.


Talking to people and having conversations is not easy for everyone. But it has a lot of benefits for personal and career growth, and opens up opportunities for you to work on projects you find interesting, meet people with similar interests, and learn more about your business context. I hope this post has helped convince you of the merits of socializing, as well as given you some ideas for how to make it a little bit easier! Thanks for reading!