Great Developers Possess the Ability to Influence Others


Political savvy and influence is an area of weakness for many software engineers. Often they are not interested in navigating organizational politics to get work done. While this may not be important in some scenarios, in other cases, the potential of these developers becomes severely handicapped. Some of the most productive and motivated software engineers from small organizations have had difficulty producing the same level of output in large organizations. This is not the result of suddenly losing skills when changing organizations, but failing to realize that a new skills are required to influence the masses in large companies.

Merit is More Easily Recognized in Small Organizations

The ability to influence is necessary in all sizes of organizations. However, software engineers who lack this skill are much less handicapped by it in small organizations, for many of the reasons outlined below.

  • The relative value of each developer tends to be rather well-known. Each developer's contributions in a small organization are more transparent. It is quite likely that if each developer were to rank order all of the developers in the organization, each developers list would be pretty similar.
  • It is easier for leadership to recognize accomplishments. The leadership team usually a pretty good idea of what each developer has accomplished and the value they provide to an organization.
  • The informal pecking order matters. The best developers are usually afforded a fair amount of leeway to make decisions and influence change, even if this isn't one of their strengths. This is the result of credibility credits they've built up through easily recognizable accomplishments.

Large Organizations Require More Politics

However, things are much different in large organizations. Software engineers should realize that the ability to persuade and lead other will make it easier for them to get work done. These skills may not come naturally, but they should still work to develop them. They are valuable in ways which many developers have not realized. Some of the reasons software engineers in large organizations require more ability to influence are listed below.

  • Developer don't know what other developers are working on. While the informal pecking-order still matters, it may be established at a team or department level, and not organizationally. This makes it more difficult for software engineers to build credibility within the development organization as a whole.
  • Departments are competing for budget. A developer with a great idea won't necessarily be able to implement it simply on its merit. Budgets are often allocated far in advance of actually project implementation, and there are lots of ideas competing for budget.
  • There are many concurrent projects. Software engineers need to influence the leadership team that the idea is worth creating a project for, and is somehow more important to the organization than dozens of other "high priority" projects.

Things Software Engineers Can Do to Increase Their Influence

Software engineers looking to increase their influence (in both large and small organizations) should create opportunities for themselves to do some of the following type of activities.

  • Present information to differing groups of people. These informational sessions will provide others with the opportunity to learn who you are, will help brand you as an authority, and will give you credibility. You will find that this credibility will make it much easier to get others to support your thoughts and ideas. This might be presenting a new technology at a developer lunch-and-learn. Giving a presentation to leadership on potential process improvements, etc.
  • Inject yourself into the conversation. When various discussions come up, provide your opinion. While it may be difficult for some to provide their thoughts, especially when with people they don't know well, the risk of embarrassment is low, compared the increase in credibility received for providing an opinion.
  • Take initiative. There may be times when a developer has a great idea. While it may be difficult to convince their peers if the idea is just conceptual, creating a working proof-of-concept demo makes it much easier to display the benefits and value of a particular idea.

For a much more detailed article on ways to influence change, see building a coalition to influence change.

Potential Interview Questions to Identity Influence

What Have You Done to Promote Technological Change Within Your Organization?


There are a couple of things that an interviewer is looking for with this question. What is your ability to influence? What is your propensity to look for better solutions than the status quo? Being able to recognize when a change will improve operational efficiencies and then being able to influence others to change will make you incredibly valuable to an organization. If you possess this talent, be sure to mention it, even if you are not asked about it.

Good Response

  • "When we started down the path of micro-service architecture, I realized that our dev ops deployment model was not going to scale well. I researched how we could leverage Docker to improve the speed and efficiency of our deployments. I created a proof-of-concept, and demonstrated its functionality to the dev ops team. Once we adopted Docker, we were able to go from weekly deployments in development to multiple daily deployments."

Positioning Possible Negatives

It may not be a deal-breaker if you aren't able to provide specific examples of promoting change. However, you should be able to demonstrate that you have done some related things on a smaller scale. Maybe you refactored a particularly troublesome piece of system functionality to make it more maintainable and easier to understand. Maybe you promoted some change within your team to improve how it functioned. You should mention any examples that demonstrate initiative or influence.

Explain How You'd Convince Your Organization to Implement an Idea that Seems Unpopular?

The Context

Suppose you had an idea that you knew was a great one. However, after floating the idea around, the idea generated very little interest. Explain the process or steps that you would employ to try influence others that your idea is worth pursuing.


This question is used to get an understanding of a candidate's knowledge of the change process. Do they have an awareness of the differences required to convince their peers, as compared to convincing management and leaders. Their engineering peers will be more interested in how the idea will make their lives easier. Management and leadership are going to be more interested in how it makes the development process more efficient, reduces cost, or increases revenue.

Good Response

A good response will have a number of the following components.

  • An awareness of the need to convince both peers and leadership. So often developer may be able to convince their peers, but then aren't able to sell the benefits in a way that captures the attention of management and leadership.
  • The necessity of tailoring the message for each party. While an idea may be beneficial to a number of parties, often the benefits are different based on the party's perspective. There may be multiple marketing messages required to influence differing groups of people.
  • Influence the influencers. A developer should have enough organizational awareness to realize that getting certain key individuals on board will make the job significantly easier. They should have a strategy for getting key influencers engaged in the change process.
  • Be aware of the politics and agenda. A software engineer should be aware that there will always be individuals who have a vested interest in the status quo. They should have a strategy for neutralizing those people.

For a really good example that demonstrates all of these factors at work, see building a coalition to influence change.

Interested in How the Best Software Engineers Provide Exponential Value by Taking Initiative?