Balancing Hard and Soft Skills

Many of us would prefer that the technology industry were a strict meritocracy. One where we get opportunities and are compensated according to our skills. We learn to code better, or manage more systems, and we’re seen as more valuable (and rewarded appropriately). Or maybe many of us would prefer that things stay the same, since we might worry that we’d be paid less because our skills aren’t as sharp as our co-workers or our competition for that next job.

In any case, we don’t work in a strict meritocracy, but if we did, we might recognize that it’s not just your programming skills that are being measured. In this piece on hard and soft skills, the author notes that the importance of soft skills is both more and less serious than we might imagine. If that sounds contradictory, it is, but read the article and you’ll see that this is a complex issue.

The main point from the author is one that we’ve realized at Redgate for some time, and it’s why we’re constantly refocusing our efforts on teamwork. Most modern systems are too complex to be built by one person, which means a group of people need to work together. DevOps asks us to build a culture of collaboration and communication, which are critical soft skills. It matters less and less if you’re an amazing developer that can’t work with others for some reason.

I do think that the more you advance in your career, the more important these skills become as your job is not just code. It’s also helping shape the direction of software, teaching others, and sharing what you know. If you don’t have the skills to interact well with others, then I suspect your ceiling may be lower than you like. Or worse, your tenure shorter than you’d prefer.

At Redgate, we do embed a lot of customer research, discussions, and more inside development teams.  At times, I think we do too much, but then I stop and think about the teams I’ve worked with that didn’t do this. They didn’t necessarily code quicker, certainly lacked understanding and empathy, and certainly didn’t make more customers happy. We’re trying to adopt more soft skills inside the company, while learning to build better software. We still value technical programming skills, but not necessarily above teamwork. More alongside teamwork.

To build a team, we need to value those in the team, and work with them, not against them. Those are skills that can certainly help us in our career, as well as skills that help any organization learn to operate more smoothly, with more retention. At least, more retention of those that have strong soft skills.

Steve Jones

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