Why Soft Skills in Tech Are More Important Than You Think
By Ashley Brooks on 06/24/2019
You have a natural talent for all things tech. You’re on the fast track to launching a successful technology career, and you don’t need a formal education to slow you down ... or so you think.
Technology is a competitive field, and your natural talent and DIY attitude can only take you so far. Though you might think degree programs are bogged down with courses that don’t add to your technical skills, they offer a boost in soft skills that can be a game changer for your tech career.
What are the necessary technology soft skills, and why do they matter to employers? We spoke with tech managers who have spent years working in the field and supervising employees. They’re giving us the lowdown on the importance of soft skills in technology—and how they can impact your career trajectory.
What are soft skills?
Soft skills—sometimes called “transferable skills”—are nontechnical skills that can be useful in a variety of different career paths. Unlike technical skills that are specific to a particular job, like knowing a specific programming language, soft skills come in handy across a variety of job titles and workplaces.
Soft skills are more than learned knowledge. They’re behavior traits that can help you grow in your career as you think outside the box, overcome obstacles and work with others. Communication skills, empathy and problem-solving are just a few examples of soft skills.
Why soft skills matter in technology careers
Managers are always on the lookout for employees who bring transferable skills to the table. Soft skills are considered essential to a workplace, even in the technology industry. Technology is a competitive field. When two or more job applicants are equally talented in technical skills, soft skills can be the difference between landing the job and walking away disappointed.
“Employers highly value hard skills, but in the rapidly growing tech industry, you always need those soft skills to be able to keep up with the industry’s latest demands,” says Armen Saghatelyan, vice president at 10Web. “It would be naive to expect yourself to succeed if you only obtain and develop your hard skills.”
Soft skills are especially important in the tech field, where employees must be careful to focus on the people a piece of technology serves, rather than getting lost in the tech itself. “Soft skills provide critical context to why a technology should be implemented,” says Eric Leland, principal at FivePaths, LLC. “Teams work best when this context is well understood, becoming motivated to meet goals that have a purpose to the end user and client.”
The technology soft skills employers are looking for
Though all soft skills are valuable, there are a few that can make you stand out from the crowd in the tech field. Our experts pointed to these essential technology soft skills that could help you take your career to its furthest potential.
“Technology, in particular, needs strong and clear communicators,” says Larissa Lowthorp, founder and president of TimeJump Consulting. Technology projects require team members with individual strengths to accomplish a goal, and that means plenty of communication between colleagues and clients.
Lowthorp adds that communication is especially important on Agile teams, where group members work together to quickly solve a problem. “A key strength of Agile is the ability to course-correct issues on the fly, but it doesn’t work well if team members have not cultivated the ability to not only communicate problems, but voice potential solutions,” Lowthorp says.
Being friendly and open may not seem like much of a job skill, but this characteristic can go a long way. “Do you vibe with the team? Would you be someone we’d enjoy spending hours a week with?” These are questions Lowthorp considers about each potential employee she interviews. If you’re a nightmare to work with, the value of your overall technical ability plummets—even if you’re an absolute whiz.
Being approachable and willing to help others is a key part of what makes technology teams successful. “Every team member needs approachability to be able to share their skills with each other and feel free to ask for help and advice whenever needed,” Saghatelyan says.
Problem-solving and critical thinking
Technology careers often focus on finding innovative ways to solve problems using technology, or fixing bugs within technology itself. It comes as no surprise that critical thinking and problem-solving are top technology soft skills.
“We value strong critical-thinking skills applied to programming,” Leland says. “Well-rounded and highly valuable technology talent will be able to decipher and critically examine user stories from their source—the user—to get a great understanding of the problem to solve.”
How to develop technology soft skills
You can see that soft skills matter to your future technology career, but how do you go about acquiring these skills that are so valuable to employers? Many people have a natural talent for certain soft skills. However, everyone can improve their soft skills with practice and experience.
“These skills are learnable and teachable, and it’s super important to acknowledge their importance,” Saghatelyan says.
College degree programs are full of opportunities to expand your soft skills. The classroom offers group projects that help you improve your teamwork and leadership abilities, assignments that stretch your creativity and obstacles that will put your problem-solving skills to the test.
Gaining real-world experience through internships or side projects can also help you build your soft skills. Think of these transferable skills as a muscle: The more you use them, the stronger your soft skills will become.
Technology soft skills: setting you apart from the crowd
There’s no doubt about it: Technology soft skills are an important part of landing a job and advancing in your career. Improving your soft skills is a process, and a degree program can help you along the way.