Soft skills for IT Professionals are often overlooked.
When I first launched my career in tech, I thought hard skills were everything. I scoured bootcamp offerings, closely scrutinising the merits of each programming language. Little did I know, I was completely ignoring soft skills, which are considered ‘core skills’ by many leading organisations.
After several years in tech I’ve learned you can always add more technical skills to your tool belt. Soft skills, however, are much harder to develop since they’re less about rote memorisation and more about innate personal characteristics. Yes, you can develop soft skills but starting with a leg up is always preferable.
Whether you’re a freelancer or part of a team, developing these 5 soft skills will help you adapt and thrive.
Important Soft Skills for IT Professionals
A key soft skill for IT professionals is communication. Tech is all about accurately relaying messages internally within projects and teams, as well as externally with clients and stakeholders.
If you want to be a strong communicator you need to be clear in both writing and speaking. You’ll also need an ability to explain complex problems and solutions clearly.
It’s about going beyond how a product or solution works and explaining why it works. Remember, not everyone you communicate with will have a background in, or an understanding of, tech.
With this in mind, here are some quick pointers to level-up your communication skills:
- Practice with a variety of audiences, including individuals and groups, technical and non-technical
- Adjust your wording and tone depending on who you’re communicating with
- Test your ability to convey information directly and succinctly
Empathy is the ability to understand the perspectives and feelings of others. This helps you anticipate and mitigate project or product roadblocks.
Without empathy, programmers and engineers sometimes have difficulty anticipating problems from the perspectives of users. If you can’t put yourself in the shoes of your user, how can you design a solution that meets their needs?
Empathy is a soft skill for IT professionals that is critical to building trust in teams and organisations. When you trust your team, you aren’t afraid to disagree with them, leading to better solutions.
Below are some simple ways you can build empathy:
- Be curious and ask lots of questions
- Challenge yourself to understand the motivations and goals of people around you
- Practice understanding the viewpoint of people you disagree with
3. Emotional Intelligence
Emotional Intelligence, or EI, is the ability to recognise and process feelings. Having high EI means you manage your emotions, rather than letting your emotions manage you.
This soft skill empowers us to work effectively in teams, respond to ambiguity, understand motivations, and collaborate effectively. By labeling and interrogating our emotions, we can respond to them more effectively.
For proof that EI matters in tech, consider Google’s enhanced recruitment processes to test for EI in candidates. Clearly, tech leaders understand the value of EI in an evolving field.
To develop your EI try:
- Identifying your emotions using specific labels
- Looking for emotional nuance. Instead of settling for happy and sad, distinguish between confident and hopeful, nervous and embarrassed
- Being conscious of your emotional state as you weigh decisions
4. Time Management
Managing your time well is a critical soft skill for IT professionals. Proper time management makes you more efficient, effective, and productive.
It is not just about planning in the present. It requires anticipating future projects and their time needs. This is all part of being dependable, a crucial ingredient in successful tech projects.
To improve your time management try:
- Dividing large projects into discrete steps, creating realistic deadlines for each. Start with the final product and work backward to determine which small steps you need to take now to finish on time
- Avoid multitasking. You may feel more productive when multitasking, but research shows it doesn’t actually improve productivity or efficiency
5. Critical Thinking
As technology overtakes human capabilities to gather and analyse data, it becomes crucial we develop our critical thinking. This is the ability to holistically analyse situations and facts, make inferences, and solve problems.
A crucial component of this is asking the right questions. Tech teams can use questions to identify problems, challenge assumptions, and develop better solutions.
Here’s how you can hone your critical thinking skills:
- Practice identifying and questioning your assumptions
- Asking open-ended questions like Why? and What if…?
- Seek out different points of view