Why emojis help reviewing pull requests as a software developer

Vatsal Patel

Vatsal Patel / January 09, 2022

4 min read––– views


As software engineers we tend to write a lot, whether that be through code, comments or conversations in pull requests on github (or other places). Writing is an often overlooked skill in a software developer. I'm not talking about writing with beautiful words, captivating metaphors or becoming the next Shakespeare. I'm talking about the ability to communicate with the right emotions through a simple writing style. Using simple words and sentences but being clear about your meaning and intention. As a coder I've realised that expanding my UTF-8 vocabulary has been more useful than memorising the dictionary!

Reviewing and creating pull requests are the bread and butter of a software developer. In good engineering teams, it’s where knowledge sharing happens, technical decisions are challenged and ideas are openly discussed.

When I first started reviewing pull requests I was naturally shy and thought my comments would not be worthy. Over time I gained confidence by understanding the codebase and the technologies used by our team. I gradually started to ask why the author chose certain ways of doing things. "Why did you choose to extract that specific code into a function and not the rest? What is the benefit of using a new library instead of writing the logic ourselves?" I also started to highlight things I thought would cause us pain in the future. Eventually I was brimming with so much confidence that I even started rejecting pull requests (don't worry I'm not addicted, yet)!

Anyone that knows me well knows that I love a good debate and form strong opinions but I have never let them get personal. I value my relationships more than winning debates. At work the points and questions I raised were (mostly) all useful and worth raising but I started to get a feeling that I was coming across a bit big-headed. I spoke directly with my team members to address this, which helped considerably, but I still couldn't help the feeling of lacking something.

That’s when I received an invaluable piece of advice from my manager. He suggested I start using emojis in my writing, especially in pull requests; he told me to sprinkle in some 😀s and 🚀s in my comments. I had observed emojis being used by others but I never thought much of it.

So I began to use emojis in my pull requests. (Auto)Magically, my comments and suggestions seemed to come across a lot more friendly and warm. The 😀 at the end of a suggestion comforted the receiver that although I was questioning his/her thinking, I was trying to help. On the other hand, adding 🚀 and 👌 next to praises about great work made them feel more genuine and uplifting. Supplementing (sometimes difficult) questions with 🤔 gave a tone of curiosity that I could never achieve before. Eventually I got feedback from my peers that they enjoyed my reviews and were grateful for the questions I raised since it saved them extra work in the long term 🎉.

Since then, using emojis has become a crucial part of my software engineering toolkit 🛠 and has started to creep into other aspects of my life too!

My current go-to emojis are

  • Smile 😀
  • Ok 👌 (I like to call this 'perfect' in my head)
  • Thinking 🤔
  • Eyes 👀
  • Thumbs up 👍
  • Rocket 🚀

I would love to know your thoughts on using emojis as a software engineer, so please reach out using any of the social networks below. Also feel free to share this post with your friends!

Special thanks to Neha Patel and Darshan Hindocha for reviewing this post.