The IT sector has traditionally placed priority on the team members having gun tech skills – sometimes at the expense of other, seemingly less important soft skills. As COVID-19 redefines the way we work, the need for soft skills in this sector is becoming increasingly apparent.
Soft skills now dominate the list of proficiencies needed by our future tech workforce. As Deloitte Access Economics points out, “ten of the sixteen ‘crucial proficiencies in the 21st century’ identified by the World Economic Forum are non-technical”.
The days where the technically gifted can get away with operating as a lone wolf are long gone. Technology team members are now expected to have solid non-technical soft skills.
If you want to improve the effectiveness of our tech teams or to shine as a team member, here are eight soft skills that will give you an edge. And if you are looking to get into the sector, these skills could make a tangible difference to your employment prospects by making you stand out from the crowd.
According to an Australian Department of Employment 2016 report, a quarter of entry level employers report having difficulty filling vacancies because applicants lack employability skills.
Key soft skills for the IT / Tech sector
1. Collaboration –
The day of the specialist expert has given way to an open sharing of ideas and (sometimes opposing) views. Agile and similar methodologies require new levels of teamwork and collaboration and this in turn requires new non-technical skills. Empathy (dealt with in more detail later), diplomacy, helpfulness, clarity and grace are soft skills that are sought after and recognised in technical teams – and never more than now in the decentralised work environment brought about by COVID-19.
"Teamwork is an essential quality as it leads to better relationships with colleagues, often resulting in greater collaboration and innovation," says Angie Keller, Vice President of recruiting at Randstad Engineering. "…the best ideas often result from group efforts.”
2. Problem solving & creativity -
As technical challenges become more complex, the ability to find creative solutions to difficult problems is critical. Being able to clearly see and describe the problem is the first step in solving it. It is here that critical thinking and communication skills come into their own.
A natural curiosity helps team members identify issues and potential solutions before they occur. It also means that each member is constantly building their knowledge.
Then, having the mental flexibility and the ability to remain open to the ideas of others is essential to solving the core problem and also seeing other issues that might occur as a result. Ultimately, a team that can bring each of these skills to bear can develop solutions that give the business the competitive advantage that it is looking for.
3. Communication –
One of the greatest challenges to bringing an idea or solution to reality is being able to express your idea, concern or alternative in a way that is constructive and clear. In tech environments where issues and alternative views are a natural part of the process, these skills are often the fuel that keeps effective items moving forward. Teams where these skills are absent are often prone to misunderstandings, false starts and unnecessary conflict. Ultimately, without good communication skills the best ideas (and their owners) never see their full potential.
4. EQ / Empathy –
The ability to show empathy and to walk in the shoes of a fellow team member are critical to tech projects – especially those where the various roles of team members (business owner, scrum master, etc) are often naturally at odds with each other. Emotional intelligence is often thought to be inherent, but everyone can improve their levels of EQ.
Teams where these skills are held to be of high value often remove roadblocks more easily, and are able to resolve issues by being willing and able to see the other person’s perspective. Not only that, the benefits of increased EQ transcend the work environment. People who actively work on improving their EQ often report major improvements in their personal relationships with their partners and kids as well.
This skill goes hand-in-hand with communication skills – but takes the idea one step further. Projects are often driven by a specific need and each has a backstory. The ability to clearly express that backstory and tie it back to the project and its outcomes are vital in creating and maintaining stakeholder buy-in. Being able to bring that narrative down to a team level helps enlist emotional commitment and keeps the outcomes top of mind during times when the project’s reason for being can get lost in the detail.
The ability to lead is often confused with the act of managing, but they are very different. A good leader can bring together a combination of the soft skills listed above and merge them into a personal style that is genuine and compelling. Leaders are not born – they are built. Even people with some natural ability have a responsibility to constantly improve their leadership skills and learn new ways to be a more effective leader.
7. Commitment to ongoing development –
Tech professionals are no strangers to learning new skills. IT specialists place enormous importance on building their tech skills and staying ahead of current technologies. It is important that this same curiosity is extended to constantly sharpening their soft skills as well.
The good news is that all of these skills can be learned and are actually more enjoyable to learn than the technical training you and your team are all too familiar with.