Communica­tion is key: Giving the hard sell on “soft skills”

(Cross-posted from Medium.)

A row of women seated in front of what appears to be an enormous telephone switchboard

Today at school we got an hourlong presentation on using LinkedIn effectively, which ended with a summary slide of statements we were to evaluate as true or false. One of these was “You should add soft skills to your skills,” and the “correct” answer seemed to be, more or less, false. My hand shot up, and I said that well, actually, soft skills are extremely important in tech, as they are everywhere, and that if you’re an excellent programmer who can’t communicate with other people, nobody with any sense is going to want you on their team.

Later, I elaborated via Slack to one of the school administrators as follows:

…one of the few advantages that bootcamp graduates have over recent CS graduates is that they do, on average, tend to have more real-life experience working on teams, managing, being managed, and working with other humans in general. And chronic undervaluing of soft skills is specifically part of why the tech industry is a notorious trash fire, not just for women and people of color, but for everyone (encouragement of burnout, lousy work/life balance, etc.). So to have a career services person tell the entire student body to deemphasize soft skills in our LinkedIn profiles and similar places seems counterproductive.

This is literally why we can’t have nice things.

A more helpful approach would be to explain how to use this experience to one’s advantage, in statements of interest, cover letters, and interviews.

Several hours later, I’m still mildly exercised about this. So I sifted through my bookmarks for a couple of favorite discussions of the communication issue, to share with my classmates. It ended up being too much to dump into Slack, and we’re supposed to be blogging regularly about tech-related things, because personal branding, so I’m throwing them here.

This post is so totally on brand for me.

1. Andrea Goulet: “Communication Is Just As Important As Code”

Excerpt:

…getting better at your communication is the best way to level up your career.

If you want be a Lead Dev, a CTO, or own your own business, communicating effectively with people who don’t code every day is a big part of your job.

If you want people to contribute to your open source project, communication is what makes them feel welcome and keeps them around.

And if you want other people to use your ideas, you need to learn how to blog, speak, and maybe even write books. All of that is communication.

☚ Sidebar: “Soft skills” as feminine, and therefore utterly worthless, duh

The cultural tendency to identify soft skills with “women’s work,” which is obviously not worth paying real cash money for, is a whole other infuriating aspect of this topic, which I could spend all night posting links about, assuming I didn’t suffer a rage-blackout within the first half-hour. Instead, I will just mention this oldie but goodie: Lauren Bacon: “Women in Tech and Empathy Work.”

2. Sam Phippen: “On the unreasonable reality of ‘junior’ developer interviews”

https://medium.com/@samphippen/on-the-unreasonable-reality-of-junior-developer-interviews-946498c0ad57

Excerpt:

Communication is the most important thing we do as developers. All computer problems are people problems. [boldface in the original, but I would double-bold it if I could]

☚ Sidebar: !@#$% whiteboarding

If you’ve heard me rant about whiteboarding tests, the literally impossible one described in Sam’s post is the kind of thing that sets me off. Yes, whiteboarding is a worthwhile exercise for us as students. Whiteboarding forces you to think through a problem differently, when you can’t rely on autocomplete or test your ideas as you go along. But a lot of places that use whiteboarding tests are just trying to cover up for not having any idea of (a) what jobs they’re actually hiring for, and (b) how to actually identify the right people for those jobs. I have so many other great links about how whiteboarding is trash as an interviewing technique; don’t get me started.

Well, more started.

3. Sarah Mei’s Twitter thread on coding bootcamp grads versus CS grads

https://twitter.com/i/web/status/881958594094268416

Excerpt:

Code school grads…often already have communication skills from a previous career. They just need to adapt them to tech.

Because of these existing skills, while code school grads stay junior longer, they accelerate dramatically past their CS peers at mid-level.

Anything technical can be spot-learned with google & wikipedia; communication skills are harder to teach, & seem to take longer to learn.

With most people, when I 🖤 their tweets, what I really mean is ★, but with Sarah Mei, I actually mean 🖤. She is so fab.

</rant>

So, yeah, maybe you don’t want to list your so-called soft skills at the tippy top of a tech CV, but they are by no means unimportant, and over the long run, they may give you an advantage over developers who have had more formal training.

One thought on “Communica­tion is key: Giving the hard sell on “soft skills”

  1. Excellent post! I kept thinking that soft skills could be re-named into something like “personality UX”, because it doesn’t help if you are super clever and brilliant, if working with you makes everyone want to run away and hide. (Fancy/new names for obvious stuff always helps make it trendy.)

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