We know that tech jobs require expertise in hard skills like programming and math. However, as Holly Benson, VP and Organizational Transformation Consulting Practice Leader at Infosys, pointed out, soft skills are becoming increasingly important.
“As the war for talent escalates, good management becomes an even more important tool in retention of key employees,” she stated. “In addition, managing a globalized, volatile and largely millennial workforce requires a higher level of managerial skill than managing a stable workforce in a brick-and-mortar setting.”
As developers navigate through their career path, it's easy to focus on hard skills that are required for certain job roles, Manu Singh, a mobile architect at Clearbridge Mobile, added. “Hard skills may show that you're qualified for a job or not, but there are many other skills developers and tech professionals alike need to develop to not only be qualified for a job, but to be successful in the fast-paced environment.”
Here is a list of some of the more important soft skills that tech professionals should be familiar with. Having most, if not all of these skills, could be the deal breaker in getting that dream job.
Empathy is a must-have for those building a career around technology, according to Eric Sigler, head of DevOps at PagerDuty. “The most valuable developers, engineers and IT operations people have a high degree of compassion and will use it to enable those around them,” he said. “It is critical to walk in other people's shoes and understand their challenges, which increases the likelihood that you'll be a powerhouse contributor to your team and others. By being open to alternative ideas, you can pick and choose the best skill sets and best practices needed for the problems at hand.”
Collaboration and team work are important because in the tech industry, no matter what role you play, you are always working with other colleagues toward a collective goal, explained Logojoy's CEO Dawson Whitfield. For example, a web designer’s work may be conducted independently; however, they need to be able to patiently explain their work and process with colleagues who are not in the same field, as well as come to an agreement with those colleagues on the vision, artistry or functionality of their projects.
The ability to communicate effectively is important, especially if you're working in teams, which tech professionals often do, Singh pointed out. “You'll need to communicate with your team as well as clients, which reflects directly back onto your brand. This is particularly difficult for tech professionals as they often need to explain highly technical concepts to people that don't have a technical background. This applies to clients as well as colleagues in other departments.”
If you want to communicate effectively, you also need to be a good listener. “Great engineers are opinionated and most love to share those opinions. I would never hire an engineer who didn't have a strong point of view. But the best will also have the ability to listen, to continually take in new information and use it to inform their perspective. There's a big difference between a strong point of view and an entrenched point of view. Listening is what keeps the mind malleable,” said Manny Medina, CEO of sales automation platform Outreach.
Reading and Writing
Communication goes beyond a verbal conversation with team members. The ability to read critically and write clearly are equally necessary. “Imagine getting email from one person who can’t write clearly and one who can. Now force yourself to read their emails, wiki posts, specifications, tweets, every day. Can the unclear-writing-engineer win you over to their point of view even one time?” David Parmenter, Adobe’s director of Engineering and Data, asked. “Now turn it around. Can you read what you are reading critically? The one who skims at best, cannot compare to other things they have already thoughtfully read, cannot synthesize the key points for the benefits of others.”
Another variation of communication, customer service is another soft skill that Malik Brown, assistant vice president of Employer Relations at Peirce College, recommended. “In the past, software programmers and other tech professionals could perform their job responsibilities without a strong reliance on soft skills or a customer service mindset,” he explained. “Today, with greater connectivity across business functions and a greater focus on delivering a positive customer experience to a diverse set of stakeholders (e.g., vendors, partners, internal staff), tech professionals must possess a higher degree of emotional intelligence and cultural competence to deliver results.”
“Curiosity and fearlessness are essential qualities that I look for in every candidate,” said Christopher Ensey, COO of Dunbar Security Solutions. “When I interview people, I always ask what their hobbies are. If they have interesting hobbies – those that involve lots of little tiny parts and opportunities to break things and they always end up with a screw left over, or those that require a certain level of challenge and instill a little fear — those are good hobbies that expose or train a certain type of mindset. In a field like technology that's always changing, that mindset is invaluable.”
Thanks to curious people, technology is always evolving, as people want to know more. For this reason, experts recommend that tech employees have the humility to recognize they don’t know everything and still have a lot to learn.
In a tech company, leadership skills are critical. Writing code is a creative process that requires a shared vision, said Ximena Hartsock, cofounder and president of Phone2Action. “Leadership capacity in tech teams helps engineering teams build a healthy culture. Leadership and management are different, but engineers who develop leadership skills will have more management opportunities and when they are a manager they will be more successful.”
“Technical experts are masters of facts, data management, and control processes but to advance as leaders they need to hone their ability to work with and through others,” said Sandra Smith, program director of Brown University's Executive Master in Science & Tech Leadership. “Leaders inspire their teams, manage conflict, cultivate diverse perspectives and give feedback that rapidly moves others toward shared goals. Emotional intelligence is important for success. This is particularly true for technical professionals who need to know their own biases, strengths and weaknesses. They need to understand the culture, working style, functional background and agenda of others in order to connect with and influence them.”
It is easy to underestimate the amount of time a project will take, and the inability to manage time effectively has a negative impact on the team. “Being able to schedule and prioritize work tasks is crucial. Setting deadlines and delivering high-quality work on time is even more vital. Remaining focused and staying strategic will help tech professionals to be productive and manage their time efficiently,” said Dawson.
A Sense of Humor
It takes all sorts to make a world. This is especially true in tech fields, said Mark Robinson, co-founder of Kimble. “From geeks to fast-talking sales people and unicorn inspired egomaniac entrepreneur founders, you need to be able to work alongside all of them and keep your sense of perspective. So being able to take a more light-hearted view of some of your colleagues’ antics will help.”
Sue Marquette Poremba has been writing about network security since 2008. In addition to her coverage of security issues for IT Business Edge, her security articles have been published at various sites such as Forbes, Midsize Insider and Tom's Guide. You can reach Sue via Twitter: @sueporemba