Thanks to Silicon Valley legends and stereotypical characterization in popular culture, the rude, rigid, almost inhuman “tech nerd” has been glamourized beyond redemption. It is no surprise that in recent times, several startup founders have built a personality of ruthlessness just to come across as driven, ambitious technology stars. I am sorry to break the bubble, but unless you are making the 2020 equivalent of the iPhone or the Internet itself, there is no real antidote to basic human decency.
Our engineering college curriculums don’t quite focus on building admirable personalities. I have been there, done that. Top leaders and founders may have learned it on-the-job because they realized that beyond a point, niche technical skills could only take you so far. It is difficult to make any real impact without skills like communication and persuasion.
So what are some soft skills you must develop, irrespective of whether yours is a technical role or a customer facing one?
Articulate speaking, comprehensive writing, and active listening are crucial skills are the workplace. Inadequate speakers, writers, and listeners have a hard time building teams, negotiating, and being fully effective. Any workplace interaction, whether it is internal or external, customer-facing or with your boss and team, is full of opportunities to be misunderstood. Without being able to listen and communicate effectively, solving roadblocks becomes much more difficult and time-consuming.
No matter what your role, there is slim chance that you work in isolation. The sooner you learn how to connect with other human beings authentically and articulately, the sooner you will be able to signal readiness for more responsibilities.
Ability to adapt to change and uncertainty
Workplaces as well as industries are fraught with constant change. Industry dynamics change with every big and small political, financial, and social change in the world. In technical roles, customer requirements and technologies at one’s disposable also change incessantly. Being able to adapt quickly helps people stay flexible and pivot their strategy in ways that make sense. Science education is all about stark blacks and whites. There is often only one right way to do things. Real life is vastly different. While the end goal remains the same, the means to get there are affected by many variables, including customer budgets and industry landscape.
The ability to adapt helps overcome errors, changes, and uncertainty more easily. It helps you protect yourself from being blindsided every time a new piece of information comes you way.
Collaboration and leadership
No matter what your role, you rarely work alone. Even individual contributors need to take diverse perspectives and agendas into consideration in their decision-making process. Simply put, teamwork and collaboration are essential components of work in any environment – start-up, corporate, or freelance. At the same time, every employee works towards professional growth. A leadership role is the outcome of years of hard work and collaboration. Leadership itself is a combination of various behavioural best practices in addition to technical know-how. Much of leadership skill is based in behaviour and character. It is extremely crucial to prepare technical employees for higher, more hybrid, or generalist roles. The sooner they start learning these skills, the faster they will find themselves on the proverbial ladder of professional success.
Good leaders are good human beings first. Without these crucial elements of interpersonal collaboration, they not only lose reputation, they also make a deep impact on company culture and employee morale. The sooner technical employees understand this, the faster they will be prepared to steer their teams and organizations in the right direction, equipped with means that are healthy and wholesome.