Last month I participated in a panel discussion at Reviving London's Tech Scene event from London Tech Network. A lot of professionals from Meta, The Economist, Osedea, Beamery were present at this event.
Our discussion focused on bridging the gap between technical and non-technical teams. Here are my key takeaways from this discussion.
Why is there a gap between technical and non-technical teams?
To a certain extent, this gap is caused by a relatively low priority that soft skills are given among tech employees. I find this problematic because in my view soft skills are equally important to technical skills when you are building a digital product.
According to my research, there are at least 13 categories of soft skills: adaptability, communication, compromise, creative thinking, dependability, leadership, listening, work ethic, teamwork, positivity, critical thinking, conflict resolution, and negotiation. As you can see, each category is related to interacting with different people (managers, stakeholders, teammates, junior developers, product owners, etc.) on different levels.
In any case, if you want to positively impact your organisation and build high-quality products, you definitely should not underestimate the importance of soft skills. This is even more important if you are a Senior Software Engineer and want to grow your career and move to the next level.
How to bridge this gap and improve soft skills
So, you made the decision to improve your soft skills. It might sound daunting, and a lot of introverted software engineers I know struggle with this. However, there are proven techniques that you can employ to improve your communication skills. They can be broadly divided into those that you can do during working hours and outside working hours.
Leverage your company resources
My advice is to have regular 1:1 conversions with your line manager and look for ways of improving your soft skills together. I can share some personal examples from my current employer, Beamery. These are four activities that I find helpful for improving my soft skills.
Beamery has an internal Mentorship program that employees can participate in as mentors and mentees, and uses our internal product called Beamery Grow. Since I joined this program, I have been mentoring a Senior QA Engineer whose goal it is to become a Full Stack Engineer, in the format of weekly sessions. Being a mentor has been an enriching experience and helped me improve my communication, listening and mentoring skills.
We host a lot of internal events at Beamery, in various formats and for various audiences. I particularly enjoy “Launch and Learn” sessions where engineers give presentations about some cool piece of technology or an interesting architecture proposal they have made at work. I think taking part in internal events like this can be a great way to improve your public speaking skills in a supportive environment.
If you have something to share with the tech community, you can write an article for your company blog. It might be on a technical or a non-technical topic. While writing, you will begin to pay more attention to word choice, sentence structure and tone. As with everything, the more you write, the more your writing skills will improve.
I find the Donut app for Slack to be a great way to meet new people in Slack: this app regularly matches you with a random colleague and encourages you to make a connection and organise a chat. It helps break the ice by suggesting some initial topics for conversation. I usually have a few meetings organised by Donut each month, during which I’m matched to a non-technical person within the Customer Success department or product department. This is a great way to meet people you probably wouldn’t meet otherwise, learn about other parts of the business and improve your communication skills. And you don’t have to speak only about work!
Outside of working hours
There are plenty of opportunities to improve your soft skills outside the working hours as well. You can start speaking at meetups and conferences. You can also start volunteering, which I find very enjoyable. There are lots of communities where you can be a teacher or a coding mentor, which can be a huge boost to your soft skills: you will communicate with different people with different skills, from different cultures, etc. On top of that, your contribution will actually help people to start an engineering career! I currently mentor and teach people at Codebar, Meet a Mentor, and Code Your Future, which are all great organisations I can vouch for.
I hope you found this article interesting and motivating, and I hope it gave you some ideas for starting working on the soft skills.
What is the most effective method for improving soft skills in your experience?