4 min read

Soft skills have been high on the tech agenda for a while now. This was largely down to the stereotypical (and unfair) image of the IT team as quiet, uncommunicative and awkward. But it is also related to broader changes in tech. Today, more people have a stake in software related projects. Product and project managers, even financial managers, will have their work impacted by software. That means everyone’s communication around it is so important.

This year’s Skill Up report clearly highlights that developers are aware of how valuable soft skills really are. A huge 96% of respondents said they believe that developing soft skills is important:

The Skill Up 2018 report will be available to download on Monday 4 June.

Perhaps this isn’t that surprising. We all know how much of a difference effective communication can make on a project. Without good communication, the technical bits of work become even harder.

Why soft skills are important to developers working today

If we go back to the stereotype of the ring-fenced IT team, it’s not hard to see why soft skills are so valued by business leaders and management figures. It’s almost as if trainers and consultants and management have conspired, saying ‘we need these engineers to be more like us’.

But whatever the management industry want from tech pros, it’s clear that the real advantage of developing soft skills are for developers themselves. Here are just a few reasons why soft skills are so important for developers:

  • It makes collaboration easier. You can’t of course, collaborate if you don’t communicate. And in today’s Agile-centric software world, clear communication is crucial. When you’re working to tight deadlines, being clear about your challenges and problems is vital.
  • Soft skills can change how you focus on problems. Communication changes the way you understand problems. It changes the way they are framed. For example, is the database issue simply a technical issue, or is there a wider point about what the knock on effect for the user will be? There’s usually a number of technical solutions, but to select the best one, you often need a frank and clear discussion about the impact different decisions might make.
  • Soft skills open up your career path. When you develop your soft skills you find that you occupy a subtly different role within your team or even within your organization. You become more visible to other people – maybe even more trusted. That can only be a good thing. At a superficial level it’s about status; but more importantly it allows you to push forward your own interests. How often have you found your opinions and ideas discounted or ignored? Yes, maybe your ideas were just really bad, but maybe you just didn’t quite communicate them properly. Similarly, soft skills are also essential for anyone networking. True, networking is rarely anyone’s favorite pastime, but doing it well could do wonders for your future. Also, meeting people is sometimes fun! Good people do exist!
  • It makes work more enjoyable. Work isn’t going to be great every day. But anyone who’s worked in a job they hate will probably know that communication challenges are often at the root of their dissatisfaction. Of course, sometimes other people are the problem. But if you can keep up your end of the bargain, you’ve done all you can. And if you can start to help other people develop soft skills then you’re well on your way to becoming an important and valuable leader.
  • You learn more when you communicate. This really comes back to collaboration, but it’s a little more specific than that. When technology changes so quickly and there are so many options out there – from what you learn to how you learn it – engaging with others can be so important. This might just be about the conversations you have with colleagues. But it’s also the wider conversations you take part in within a given community. Perhaps you contribute to a forum, or maybe just like tweeting – either way you’re not only playing an important role in the community, you’re also pushing your knowledge and understanding forward.

The reasons why soft skills are important could be huge. And given 96% of developers believe it to be important, it would seem that no one really needs convincing. However, it is important to see how soft skills impact different parts of your job, and even your life. Yes it’s about writing great emails, but it isn’t just that. Yes it’s about learning how to network at conferences but it’s also much more than that.

You can’t have great technical skill without soft skills

The bottom line is that it’s hard to be a great technician without soft skills. It’s possible, but very rare. Nothing technical happens in a vacuum – technical things are always about people. Forget management speak and training courses: that, really, is the one thing you need to remember.

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Co-editor of the Packt Hub. Interested in politics, tech culture, and how software and business are changing each other.


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