Engineering manager and I have a chat last Friday about some working performant code that needs to be refactored for future reusability. Not my favorite stuff but ok, let’s do it. We talk about things VERBALLY, one way of doing it, then another way. She’s in a rush to her next meeting and has to go. I feel very clear on what she wants and how it needs to happen.

After the call I do some thinking and I give her the estimate and brief her my plan. I tell her exactly the way it’s going to be done. She says do it and gives me her sign off.

I submit my MR today. And then she says why I didn’t do it another way. A more generalized way. And “the way we talked about.”

And I ask her if she can explain her way bc there is obviously some misunderstanding. And she proceeds to zero in on some functions I wrote and say how they are not generalized enough and how it’s basically the same as what we had before (but it’s actually a much different design). I patiently listen and at some point she abruptly says she’s out of time and needs to go to a meeting. I say I still don’t understand what she wants. Then she says that she will implement it bc I still don’t understand and she has no more time to explain. I feel pretty bad.

I suggest next time she can show me on zoom whiteboard, just anything visual and not auditory to make sure things are clear and we are on the same page.

She concludes that management has directed us to come to the office more so I need to come in so we can do in person white-boarding.

This whole thing feels unnecessary. We’ve never had this issue before. It seems like either some intentional plot to get me to come into the office more often or terrible communication skills and a lack of priority on my managers part. Like can you just white board your ideas for 5 minutes?!?! There are many tools to do this digitally!

The thing is I still don’t know where the communication gap is bc I still don’t know what she wants. Keep in mind all this fuss is over three cards of text on a webpage.

This is my first job in industry. How do managers normally communicate engineering ideas? And what are the best ways over zoom? And in person?

I noticed here there is not a culture of whiteboarding or pair programming.

It’s on the days like these I question what I’m doing here…

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    I honestly think a in person whiteboarding is a good way to eliminate further communication issues.
    I love remote work, but here and there an in person whiteboarding is best.
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    Still a bit confused. Is she coder? Is she a manager? Is she a supervisor who codes?

    Basically, if there's power dynamics involved it's always hard to communicate on equal footings. The higher basically can force their vision, no matter the merit. It's bad leadership but I've experienced couple of times.

    I also can relate to such people always being in meetings not taking their time to properly explain themselves or use words that are clear to them but not others. (I remember discussing domain driven development hours on end and I swear everybody had a different understanding in the end but the entire team pretended to have a consensus just to get out if the meeting.)

    Confusion and getting lost in communication is normal. It's okay to be confused. You did the necessary part already by telling her you don't understand what she means. She has to explain it now to you..
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    I recommend making a habit to backbrief once your told to do something. It may appear weird and redundant, but I caught a lot of miscommunication right then and there before writing even one line of code.

    Very contrived example:

    Boss: implement the red button.
    You: ok, let me backbrief to check I got it right: you want me on that project x to implement the button that does y and it should be red
    Boss: no, I'm talking about project Z

    Let them know you are doing a backbrief. I had people think I was dumb for repeating what they just said in different words. Especially if they are not aware of the concept.
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    Also in regards to "we need this to be more generalized", my go to remark is: Do we really need that? What other cases are we likely to have to implement next?

    There's rarely nothing worse than premature abstraction, as either: you ain't gonna need it, or if abstracted without any use case in mind, the choices you did then will come to haunt you once the real world use case comes along and completely destroys your design.

    Sometimes, a solution can be very concrete and is better for it.
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    @k0pernikus She is all of those. Basically a tech lead as a manager. she has 23 YOE in SWE.
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    @k0pernikus I conducted a written sign off in slack. Manager approved it. I suspect said person didn’t read it.

    I think I’ll bring this up in the 1:1 tastefully. “So what did I do differently from the plan I briefed you and you okayed on slack?”

    Recently, the manager submitted a new commit and it’s on something that last conversation they said was good. So now I’m thoroughly confused.

    I don’t want to annoy my manager, but I also feel the need to address this as well. And secretly start treating this as a potential Alzheimer’s situation or purposeful gaslighting. Meaning get everything in writing.
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    Had an in person “whiteboard”. It wasn’t a white board. Ended up being a discussion on being receptive to feedback. I guess I came across as not receptive or emoting frustration? Miscommunications are frustrating. I looked at my managers MR before hand and saw that the miscommunication was that she wanted to abstract away some more boilerplate into functions. And use the functions I created to wrap those functions. And again I made the ask that we do things more visual. And instead of talking about what shouldn’t be done. Show me what should be done. She even made mention that she heard from others on the team that I express myself a lot. I said I’m passionate and that I sometimes do express when I don’t agree with things but there are never hard feelings on my side. And I asked if she could explain more and she said it wouldn’t be fair to them.
    At that point, I’ve been through this before, you got to be yourself. There is a right team for everyone.
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    To be clear there’s always room for tweaks here and there. But I’ve found the only thing worse than not being myself is to not be myself bc somebody says it would be beneficial not to and it always never changed anything. I was still not accepted and on top of that I felt fake. It happens every time. Been there done that. Not doing that again. Again there’s a team for everyone. And I’ve experienced that flip side too. It’s really nice and refreshing.
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    What was good was getting out of zoom and into person form lol. Facial expressions really help clear up tones in voice and inflection. Especially smiles which you don’t get with camera off. In person is also refreshing. Slack and zoom disagreements lead to mounting frustration directed at bitmaps of a name. In person you can emote your points and come out of it with more empathy and understanding.
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