- Soft skills are just as essential as hard skills for tech professionals. The right personality traits can help you excel at work.
- Highly valued soft skills include communication, time management, network building, empathy, critical thinking, being proactive and self-awareness.
- You can develop soft skills in many ways, such as by taking online classes and conducting practice scenarios.
- This article is for tech professionals interested in developing essential soft skills to enhance their career.
Hard skills are essential for a successful tech career. Many tech positions require specific knowledge and specialized technical skills to perform crucial job functions. However, don’t underestimate the power of soft skills. Soft skills help you navigate many aspects of life, including careers in any industry. Specifically, soft skills in the tech industry can make the difference between a qualified job candidate and one who can become a leader and valued team member.
We’ll explore the soft skills most valuable for tech professionals and how to develop them and stand out from the crowd.
7 soft skills every tech professional should have
Soft skills are considered inherent behaviors or personality traits. They’re the “people skills” employees bring to the workplace – intangible qualities that set professionals apart as good communicators and team members. If you are a tech expert but don’t work well with others, you won’t bring as many benefits to your company as someone with both hard skills and soft skills.
Here are seven soft skills every tech professional should have.
1. Communication and collaboration skills
Technology doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and building tech with someone else or as part of a team is more fun. This makes for better applications and products, according to Marta Jasinska, chief technology officer at Bloom & Wild.
“It’s also really hard to scale something if you build it on your own,” she said. “You don’t always need to work in a hub or in the office; you can still work remotely, but as part of a wider team all working towards creating something together.”
Effective communication is also crucial. There are two major keys to communication, according to Richard Tyndall, owner and founder of TYN Consulting:
- Explain how and why. Sharing how something works and why it matters is essential. “You have to be able to explain how something works, but you also need to be able to explain why – translate a person’s needs and explain why they need a certain solution,” Tyndall said.
- Know your audience. Tyndall said another aspect of communication is communicating well with customers or other audiences that may not “speak tech.” The ability to adjust your tone and understanding based on who you are talking to is an excellent soft skill, especially when explaining something technical to people unfamiliar with specific technology.
Jasinska agrees that the ability to explain complex problems in everyday language is crucial. “We are always dealing with quite complex problems, but being able to explain them in nontech ways is a game-changer. This is a skill which will open the doors, make life easier, and ultimately allow you to position technology as something that is key to the success of the whole organization.”
Jasinska suggests using graphic presentations, analogies and everyday language rather than tech jargon to ensure your audience understands.
Tip: One way to improve customer communication is to address negative customer reviews quickly with personalized responses where you apologize, empathize and make the situation right.
2. Time management skills
“Having good – or bad – time management skills can create a ripple effect on the rest of the team,” said Christopher Navalta, communications manager at Ubisoft. “When a team is working on a project, that project could go sideways very quickly if one person misses a deadline. As a result, the entire team could face consequences by upper management simply because one person wasn’t able to manage [their] time efficiently.”
Time management is especially important given that IT isn’t in charge of just a single system; there are many moving parts that all need some TLC.
“Creating a schedule for maintenance, and then finding the in-between time for things that are not part of the normal schedule, is crucial,” Tyndall said. “This kind of time management will decrease a company’s exposure to cybersecurity threats because you will have allowed yourself time to deal with and manage systems appropriately.” [Follow these tips to improve your business’s cybersecurity in an hour.]
Time management affects many other soft skills, like dependability in meeting deadlines.
“When someone can get work done in a timely manner, they immediately become more valuable,” said Steven Page, vice president of digital strategy at data and digital marketing services agency Giant Partners. “Also, your employees will want to give you important work to do because you can have an optimal turnaround time.”
Page added that workers who lack time management skills become a hassle to work with and ultimately put more work on the other team members because no one wants to give that person tasks they’ll take forever to complete.
Tip: Need to improve your time management skills? Try a productivity app like Todoist that focuses on time and project management.
3. Networking skills
Networking is crucial on many levels. One of the benefits of a strong professional network, according to business coach and consultant Connelly Hayward, is that it becomes a resource to help overcome challenges and solve problems.
“When we have people to discuss things with, we open up the possibilities for insights and solutions,” Hayward said. “We not only elevate our own thinking, but we get their best think also. Great thinking happens when ideas, thoughts, challenges, problems and solutions are openly and freely discussed. A strong network of people we are comfortable with reduces the barriers of free-flowing conversation.”
Tyndall echoed this sentiment. “You’d be surprised how often someone else hits the same problem at the same time. When you get together to discuss, now you have a brain trust of different expertise that can help come up with the best solution. Networking is crucial for solution development.”
Building technology is about solving problems, but you can’t solve a problem unless you understand the user’s pain.
Christopher McCann, CEO of AI-enabled healthcare company Current Health, said that the worst products are the ones where it’s clear designers and engineers have no real understanding of users or their daily lives. The ability to empathize with your user and understand their problem is vital to solving that problem.
“The lack of ability to empathize may lead to tech professionals feeling frustrated by stakeholders who do not see eye to eye with them as a result of their ability to communicate in a way that is understandable,” said digital and IT consultant Clarence Lam. “This is further worsened when tech professionals have a lack of understanding of the overarching business objectives they are trying to achieve, which can lead to plenty of miscommunication.”
5. Critical thinking skills
Employers look for candidates with the capacity to think on their feet. They want to know you can make informed decisions no matter what situation you encounter. With critical thinking skills, you assess a problem and then offer a productive solution. Critical thinking is crucial in all types of industries and job titles.
Critical thinkers also have a high degree of flexibility. You’re not in a fixed mindset; instead, you’re prepared to accept solutions that may be outside the norm.
6. Being proactive
The technology industry changes rapidly, with shifts in tools and best practices seemingly happening overnight. While critical thinking skills can help tech professionals find the best ways to integrate new products and solutions, being proactive helps you pinpoint business tech trends.
Being a proactive critical thinker helps tech professionals see industry trends, suggest workflow changes and improvements, and implement changes as necessary.
A general sense of self-awareness supports all other soft skills. Not everyone can be a master communicator, networker, time manager, etc. However, cultivating self-awareness will help you understand essential skills you lack so you can cultivate them. [Related article: 10 Tips for Leaders to Improve Their Self-Awareness]
Knowing where to focus your time can go a long way toward a better career. It also helps demonstrate to management during review cycles that you are actively cued in and are seriously working toward self-growth.
Did you know? Along with hard and soft skills, IT managers need business skills like decision-making, targeting goals, strategic thinking and negotiating.
How to develop soft skills
Developing soft skills requires an awareness of what a position requires and which skills you lack and want to improve. As a first step, ask your manager for an assessment of areas where you can grow. If you are self-employed or don’t have a direct manager, take a soft skills assessment like this one from the Graduate Management Admission Council.
Fortunately, there are multiple ways to develop soft skills:
- Ask for feedback. Asking for – and being open to – constructive feedback is essential to the development of soft skills. While asking for feedback may make you feel vulnerable, it’s one of the fastest ways to learn where and how to grow. Supervisors, managers and co-workers can all provide valuable viewpoints.
- Take an online class. For soft skills like leadership or communication, online platforms like LinkedIn and Udemy offer many classes. Your HR department may also have partnerships with online learning companies offering relevant classes.
- Take time to communicate. The fastest way to develop communication skills is to dive in and start communicating. Making time to communicate with co-workers will create a positive feedback loop where you’ll feel increasingly confident while actively developing the skill. Find ways to practice each communication type, such as face-to-face (in person or video chat), email and chat applications.
- Keep a journal. Self-awareness is a key soft skill that transfers easily between roles, and keeping a journal is an easy way to understand yourself better. As a bonus, the additional writing will help improve your communication skills.
- Practice with a co-worker. Role-playing workplace situations with co-workers can be a low-pressure way to improve soft skills. Running through a presentation with them can help boost confidence. Additionally, discussing a potential design change to fix a product’s technical hurdles can lead to new insights and better, faster development work.
Tip: Find fun ways to improve your soft skills that also feed into your interests or hobbies. Adult sports leagues, for instance, can be a great way to network and improve teamwork and communication.
Standing out from the crowd with soft skills
The core skills for tech professionals are hard, knowledge-based skills. However, soft skills act as differentiators, helping you move up within your company or stand out to hiring managers looking at multiple applicants.
Along with improving your career, soft skills can make you a more well-rounded person and ease everyday life, helping you flourish at work, home and everywhere in between.
Adam Uzialko contributed to the writing and reporting in this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.