Why the Preponderance of Poor Social Skills in IT Is Unacceptable

Don Tennant

It's hardly a secret that people in the IT profession are disproportionately more likely to have poor social skills than people in other fields. It's widely, openly discussed in the context of such topics as the preponderance of IT people with Asperger's Syndrome. But what isn't so widely discussed is the dark side of being devoid of those skills.


It's one thing to simply have a preference for a solitary work environment with little social interaction. But it's another thing entirely to be so detached from other people that you forget how to relate to them with a sense of decency and tolerance.

In my post, "Stealing Your Kids' Dreams-and Years from Their Lives," I expressed the view that disenchanted IT workers shouldn't dissuade their children from pursuing a dream to enter the IT profession. Citing research that shows that positive, optimistic people live longer, healthier lives than negative people, I also suggested that parents should take care to avoid passing their own negativity on to their kids.

That the post drew a rash of mean-spirited comments and baseless personal attacks didn't surprise me, because I've written on this topic in the past and I knew what to expect. But it's worth presenting excerpts from the comments of a couple of readers here to make a point that needs to be made. The first reader had this to contribute:

And there have been any number of scientific studies that show that 1) America is being duped by a NASSCOM-paid media occupied by washed up hippie-commie shills like Don, 2) there is no shortage of skilled workers in the U.S. 3) Americans who created the IT industry have been screwed out of their rightful due by the greedy and undeserving third world and social manipulators like the gov't and corporate media.

The second reader chose to be a little more directly insulting:

The bit in your article about Catherine Jewell saying that it's a mistake for parents to sway their children from any career path is a bunch of nonsense -- neither you nor her have worked in IT and are absolutely clueless about the conditions in this field. Oh, wait -- I get it now -- YOU'RE SHILLING FOR HER TOO! Hyperlink and everything. Wow Don, nothing like a few extra bucks under the table to pay for a little extra vacation, eh?

Now, the reason I'm recounting this here is that yesterday I had the opportunity to speak with Peter Handal, chairman and CEO of Dale Carnegie & Associates, and it turns out that improving the interpersonal skills of IT people is big business for Dale Carnegie. Handal noted that some of the biggest and best-known software and other IT companies are clients. But it isn't just IT vendors that are seeking to train their employees in the art of interacting with other people, Handal said:

Some of the largest clients that we have are the IT departments in very large companies. I think in large part it's because interpersonal skills are really essential to success. We all have gotten so used to sitting in front of our laptops or working with our iPhones that we're more comfortable doing that than we are dealing with other people. A lot of companies are realizing that and are encouraging their people to take the face-to-face interpersonal skills-type training that we give, because it makes them more comfortable [relating with other people]. People to a certain extent forget how to deal with other human beings. The essence of customer service and leadership is interpersonal-the skills that you learn from dealing with other people. So I think one of the reasons why IT has been such a large and growing part of our business is that there's a real need for redirecting people back to some of the basics.

Yes, there's a huge need to redirect people back to the basics-to things like civility and common courtesy that far too many IT people have lost in a profession that has tended not to provide enough opportunity for social interaction. Isolation is unhealthy, even when it's isolation in the company of a computer. Or, perhaps, especially when it's in the company of a computer. That seems to be when the darkness is most successful in enveloping us.

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