An Engineer’s Guide to Giving and Receiving Feedback

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Feedback is a vital tool for development and collaboration. As a Software Engineer, whether you’re reviewing code, discussing project strategies, or leading a team, providing clear, constructive, and effective feedback is essential for continuous improvement and team success. In this blog, we explore practical tips for giving and receiving feedback effectively.

The Importance of Feedback 

Why is feedback so essential? It’s simple. Feedback fuels growth. Without it, you might not realize your strengths and weaknesses. At Agoda, a key value is to be direct, but respectful so we encourage people to seek that gentle nudge from a colleague that might highlight and give insights to something that you might be missing. Without such feedback, you could find yourself spending excessive time figuring out what’s impeding your progress. 

Key Principles for Providing Feedback 

Timing and continuity are critical in a constant feedback cycle. Timing means your feedback should always be as close to some event as possible, and continuity means you keep track of your engineer’s actions and shape your feedback according to your growth plan, which was set earlier. This approach fits well with our experimentation culture which lets us explore and test, and in turn helps engineers immediately understand the impact of their actions and adjust their work accordingly. And we don’t just learn from mistakes, it’s just as important to focus on what was done well in a bad execution and what could be done better in a good execution. Focusing on both the good and the bad ensures a well-rounded perspective. 

Methods and Channels for Feedback 

Various methods exist for giving feedback, but one-on-one meetings stand out as the most personal and frequent. However, don’t wait for scheduled meetings if something urgent arises. Tools like Slack or impromptu calls can convey important feedback in real-time. Performance reviews (end-year or mid-year) should not be where you give feedback to shape your Engineer’s work. It is more of a retrospective session where you observe what was done before on your growth plan, as you must’ve been doing lots and lots of sync points during this plan before the actual performance review. 

Balancing Critique and Encouragement 

Engineering work is rarely all good or all bad; there is always potential for improvement, whether streamlining processes in successful projects or recognizing valuable efforts in less successful ones. 

Technical Skills vs. Soft Skills 

Feedback on technical skills tends to be more straightforward, as it involves concrete topics, like focusing on a particular technology or area of study. However, advising an engineer to simply “learn more about [technology_name]” is not a quick fix; it requires time and dedication to integrate and apply new knowledge in their daily tasks. However, you can always measure the progress here and rely on specific steps and actions.  

On the other hand, soft skills present a more complex challenge because they encompass behaviors and interpersonal skills cultivated over a lifetime. Engineers might need to adjust their directness, manage their opinions more carefully, or adapt other aspects of their behavior to suit Agoda’s diverse workplace. Unlike technical skills, there is no straightforward formula to gauge improvements in soft skills or to determine a perfect fit for everyone. Recognizing the diversity in personal growth paths is crucial; working in a company with more than 87 nationalities it is impossible to design a one-size-fits-all development plan and so you must find unique and supportive ways to encourage growth in each engineer, ensuring they do not feel left behind. 

Navigating Cultural Diversity in Feedback 

If you work in a company with a global team like Agoda, cultural differences and diversity offer invaluable insights into the vast spectrum of human behavior, which can influence how you give feedback. Some people are very reserved; others are more expressive or direct. These traits are often rooted in their cultural, ethnic, or familial backgrounds. While as an organisation we share a,’common society’, governed by universal norms and codes of conduct, it is crucial to remain sensitive to the potential reactions and behaviors of those around us. Be respectful and open-minded, speak more with people outside work, listen, and learn about them as individuals as well as the work they are doing. This will help you deepen your understanding of your team with each interaction. 

Dealing with Defensive Reactions 

Preparation for difficult discussions is crucial, and this involves having concrete evidence to support your feedback, be it performance metrics or specific examples of behavior and its consequences. While some individuals may internally recognize their mistakes despite outward denial, a straightforward conversation can aid in their understanding. For others, presenting factual evidence is necessary. It is important to approach these situations not as an adversary highlighting faults but as an ally focused on resolving issues. Avoid personalizing conflicts; instead, emphasize the positive aspects and explore solutions together. Encourage the engineer to share their perspective on the matter and how they believe it can be resolved. Subsequently, you can collaboratively develop incremental steps toward improvement, avoiding abrupt or unilateral decisions. 

Soliciting Feedback on Your Own Work 

Seeking feedback is equally important. It demonstrates self-awareness and a commitment to personal growth. The best way to describe it is that you can’t see the back of your head in a mirror. There is only so much self-reflection can reveal before the need for external perspectives becomes essential. Receiving 360-degree feedback from various sources, including those of your mentor, colleagues, and managers, provides a fuller picture as each offers a unique viewpoint. If you sense a need for personal or professional growth that isn’t materializing, proactively seeking feedback from those around you becomes crucial, rather than waiting for directives from a manager. This kind of self-ownership shows you are ready to change. 

Feedback as a Tool for Team Building 

Feedback should not only focus on individual performance but also on teamwork and collaboration. Recognizing and addressing the impact of one’s work on the team can strengthen team cohesion and performance. 

Best Practices for Documenting Feedback 

Documenting feedback is beneficial for tracking progress and ensuring clarity. My approach involves maintaining all discussions in separate OneNote notebooks, accessible to me and my direct reports. This practice ensures transparency and mutual understanding of all conversations and tasks. Additionally, I find it beneficial to keep a personal timeline for each engineer, noting my observations on their activities and my reflections on their progress. This method allows for thoughtful reflection on past interactions, facilitating more meaningful discussions with engineers and providing valuable insights during performance evaluations. 


Feedback, when given thoughtfully and constructively, is a powerful tool for personal and team development. 

About the Author

Andrey Smirnov is a Development Manager at Agoda.

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