Soft Skills Matter

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A good friend of mine — a developer I respect a great deal — and I have an ongoing, friendly argument. The essence of the argument boils down to which set of skills is more important for a developer: hard, technical skills or soft, people skills?

Developers can hardly be blamed for focusing on hard skills. It seems like every day a new language, framework, API, or toolkit is released. Developers can, and do, invest considerable time in simply keeping up. And, let's be honest, we work in an industry that makes a virtue out of technical prowess. Rock star programmers, anyone?

Why should developers care about soft skills? For most of us, there is one very good reason: We don't work alone. The overwhelming majority of us will spend our careers working in teams. Our fate is not solely in our own hands. If we want to succeed, we need the help of others. So, what are some of the skills that can help us in a team situation?

  • The ability to communicate ideas and designs quickly and clearly.
  • The ability to listen to the ideas of others.
  • Enough confidence to lead.
  • Enough self-esteem to follow.
  • The ability to teach.
  • The willingness to learn.
  • A desire to promote consensus combined with the courage to accept conflict in pursuit of that consensus.
  • Willingness to accept responsibility.
  • Above all, respect for your teammates.

Respect, while not normally recognized as a skill, is essential and covers a lot of ground. It can be exhibited in something as difficult as politely delivering (or receiving) constructive criticism. On the other end of the spectrum it can be something as simple as bathing regularly. Believe me, it all matters to your teammates.

Of course, the answer to our friendly argument is that you need both sets of skills. However, I've never personally witnessed a project go south due to a lack of technical expertise and, while I know it does happen, I generally have faith in my colleagues' ability to absorb new technologies. On the other hand, I have seen projects fail, almost before they left the gate, simply because the team couldn't work together. And I have seen teams of developers who might otherwise be described as 'average' come together like finely tuned engines and produce something amazing. I know which I prefer.

By Bruce Rennie

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3

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