Ok so on my way into work this morning, a tweet from Ramit Sethi got me thinking about engineers and marketing.
Programming skills are useful, but in my own experience, spending time developing sales and marketing skills will give you a better return on investment.
As someone who spends her weekends learning new programming languages, for the past few months I’ve spent increasing amount of time learning about sales, marketing and developing my ‘soft skills’. Of all the things I’ve learned after graduating, knowing how to market myself effectively, confidently talk about my work and improve how I interact with my coworkers has brought about the most surprising positive changes in my career.
What Are Soft Skills?
Programmers and engineers are stereotypically quiet and creative individuals, and occasionally socially awkward. I’ve spent time in agencies where the developers have their headphones on, only taking them off for the odd short coffee break.
Having ‘soft skills’ are skills with things like communication, management, leadership, and teamwork. These might seem more like personality traits than skills, but if they don’t come as part of your personality they are all learnable.
Ok, maybe people don’t like to admit that they need help with the social / communication aspect of their personality, but I genuinely believe that anyone can benefit from knowing how to sell yourself more.
Think Soft Skills Aren’t For You?
I used to wonder why some people get promoted, while others stay in the same position for years. Even back when I was working part-time through college, I’d see new full-time employees advance onto management quicker than others who had a longer history with the company.
Soft skills will not only help you enjoy your job, they will also identify you as a leader in your field. Over the course of your career you’re probably going to need them, so here’s a list of soft skills that are important in the technical industry.
1. Interpersonal – Getting Along with Co-workers
Places always advertise for people with ‘good interpersonal skills’ because everyone hates workplace drama. A few years ago I had an overbearing and demanding boss. At the time, I lacked the confidence to stand up for myself. Every Sunday night, I dreaded the week ahead. I hated my job, and questioned whether Website Design was even the right career for me. But since then, I’ve dedicated hours to reading how to resolve conflict in a non-confrontational way, and how to improve co-worker relationships with better communication.
2. Presentation – In An Interview or Client Meeting
I’m not saying we all need to be Don Draper, but knowing how to present designs or research in a way non-technical people can understand is important. Using programming jargon makes sense to technology experts, but can be intimidating and confusing to clients or executives from a different field.
3. Communication – Getting Your Point Across
One of the most challenging aspects of being a designer is having to communicate your ideas. We’ve all made fun of the nightmare client who wants Comic Sans as a fun font choice, but effectively communicating and convincing the client that your designs are based on proven principles will help persuade them to trust your expertise.
4. Leadership – Taking Responsibility
I’ve known genius programmers who get into a job after college, and never go anywhere, and I’ve known average programmers climb the ladder and exceed everyone’s expectations. Being able to motivate a team, delegate tasks and solve problems is important for successful leaders.
5. Teamwork – Staying Positive
Working as part of a team is inevitable, especially in an environment where mythologies such as Lean or Agile development techniques are being implemented. Ask if any of the junior members of the team are stuck in order to cultivate an open environment.
I used to scoff at sales and marketing, thinking that I didn’t need to know about them to do well in a technical career. Programming skills are absolutely important, but taking a few weeks to work on soft skills will yield dividends for years. Technology moves quickly and it’s difficult to keep up with the latest scripts and frameworks, but leadership, communication and good interpersonal skills will always be in demand.