Magazine Article | June 1, 2018

9 Soft Skills For Your Tech Talent

Source: Software Executive magazine

By Giancarlo Di Vece, President, Unosquare

Has every one of your software company’s engineers and developers mastered these nine nontechnical skills?

Technology is integrated into all aspects of business; however, it is only fully comprehended by a small percentage of the workforce. Because of this, it’s imperative that your technical employees can communicate effectively, and that they possess other necessary soft skills. Aside from understanding and being fluent in technical jargon and coding languages, your developers and engineers should be able to interpret client and business needs, translate those objectives into production, and efficiently deliver the results.

A recent study from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found respondents cited the following as the top four applied skills gaps: critical thinking and problem-solving (40 percent), professionalism and work ethic (38 percent), leadership (34 percent), and written communications (27 percent). What this translates to is that your software buyers require more than just a good product. They need to absorb what the product truly is and feel like their input has merit. Below are nine nontechnical skills every software engineer within your company should master.

Very few people actually grasp the technical side of what developers do. Even with the huge impact technology has had on our everyday lives, most people know the basics, but not the specifics. One of the most important soft skills an employee in any industry must have is the ability to communicate effectively. Developers ought to craft their estimations and statements about their products to be comprehensible and transparent for everyone, especially those without a background in tech. Effective software development is equal parts process, communication (of all kinds), and technical ability.

In addition, listening skills are a crucial soft skill every engineer needs to grasp. It is expected that software engineers will have strong opinions about their creations, but no one wants to work with someone who only values their own judgment. Listening is a critical part of customer service, and providing a positive customer experience extends beyond programming. The ability to listen to new perspectives and consider other viewpoints will only benefit the team and the final outcome.

It doesn’t matter if your workforce is in the same office or halfway around the world. Software development these days is all done in teams, and it is imperative that employees are able to function well with other people. A good team effort will always trump the individual rock star. Supporting team decisions, being open to others’ ideas, having the capability to explain their processes, and respecting the vision of the group are just some of the ways tech talent can foster collaboration.

While technology and engineering are inherently known to be creative and innovative fields, the way a developer uses that mind-set can be what sets them apart. Creative thinking and imagination aren’t just limited to design. Sometimes original thought must be utilized in order to find new solutions, make connections, or solve a problem. Developers should have creative outlets outside of the workplace. Hobbies, interests, and volunteerism will break them free from the technology bubble.

Technology professionals are often caught in unrealistic deadlines, so it is key to be able to manage time effectively. Even when a deadline has passed or the project runs off course, the team must be able to schedule and meet their targets successfully. This requires focus, transparency, and team collaboration.

"A delay or bug can severely impact a client’s business, and software developers have to show empathy in these situations."

Modifications, scope creep, and timeline changes all have the implication of breaking process and ceremonies in our methodologies. It is essential to keep these things in check, but it is equally important to be adaptable. More often than not, the first try at something won’t be perfect, and engineers need to accept this and be flexible enough not only to expect change, but to embrace it. Being open to searching for alternative solutions, learning to solve problems, and taking constructive criticism well shows an aptitude for maturity and cooperation.

Missed deadlines, software glitches, production problems … errors are bound to happen. What matters more is how your team handles these errors. Communicating professionally and with the support of the entire team shows your software company is accountable and takes responsibility for their imperfections. Furthermore, having compassion and responsiveness for those affected by these changes goes hand in hand with delivering unpleasant news. Sometimes, a delay or bug can severely impact a client’s business, and software developers have to show empathy in these situations.

While team members must collaborate and respect one another’s ideas, developers and engineers do need to have leadership skills. Not necessarily management skills, but leadership abilities including taking charge of projects that require more of a push, uniting conflicting visions, building a positive workplace culture, and demonstrating a dedication to the fi rm.

There are not many other industries that change as quickly as software. For that reason alone, team members should be open to learning well after their initial hire date. Training, conferences, networking, and continuing education need to be something technical employees don’t only have to do, but want to do. By expanding their knowledge base, the leadership team will not only recognize that those employees are more motivated and informed, but they will be the first ones considered for management positions.

Research conducted by Harvard University, the Carnegie Foundation, and Stanford Research Center revealed that 85 percent of job success is a result of having excellent soft skills and people skills. And, while technical skills are a must in a technology-focused position, possessing soft skills is what will bring about the difference in our industry. So how can potential hires in the software field commit to having these abilities? Being self-aware and open to continuous improvement are critical first steps. Work on your technical employees’ communication skills and investigate other ways to increase their involvement in aspects of your business. The results will be employees who possess a more well-rounded skillset that will serve them in their work and beyond.

At Unosquare, we meet with prospective hires face to face to assess their personality. We try to do this casually with a number of different team members present. We also have employee onboarding on best practices from a soft skills consultative perspective. We measure soft skills and continue training employees throughout the tenure of their stay with Unosquare.

What software firms should think about is why we are hiring developers. Are we hiring them because they possess design talent? Yes, but it’s equally important to hire them to solve problems and meet the goals of our customers. If they cannot comprehend soft skills, or if they fail to appreciate those objectives, then we all neglect to deliver a veritable software solution.

GIANCARLO DI VECE is the president of Unosquare, where he believes software engineering is not only a science, it’s also an art. Unosquare was named one of the 100 fastest-growing private businesses in Oregon for four years in a row and is one of the fastest-growing U.S. companies on the Inc. 5000 list for three years in a row.