Hard skills are crucial, there’s no denying it, but today’s tech employers are in desperate need of soft skills, too. Here are 10 softer skills that’ll help you succeed in the industry.
“The existing university curriculum in Computer Science is falling short of expectations and not meeting the needs of employers seeking tech talent. There is a noticeable gap between the skills taught and the resulting employability of the graduates in Computer Science. […] In addition, softer skills and leadership skills are not being taught as part of the curriculum.”
That’s from an official note to the Digital Economy Council within the UK Government’s Tech Competitiveness Study.
The tech industry undoubtedly hinges on a lot of so-called ‘hard’ skills, like coding, engineering, and cybersecurity. However, this single-minded focus on teaching hard skills may be holding new graduates and career changers back in terms of employability.
Employers are desperately looking for tech-savvy individuals who also bring soft skills to the table; skills like leadership, problem solving, and attention to detail. Let’s start from the top:
What Are Soft Skills?
Soft skills are supportive abilities that prop up the ways you work rather than simply what you do. They are essential skills for employment and cover a gamut of different types of ability, including interpersonal skills, critical thinking, communication, and time management.
Soft skills are unique in that they can be useful in any role, regardless of industry. For example, good leadership and communication skills are just as important in IT as they are in law, retail, marketing – the list goes on. Though these may sound more like character traits, they are all skills that can be learnt and built upon with the right attitude and opportunities.
In contrast, ‘hard’ skills are the specific skills you need for your profession, like knowledge of coding languages or cybersecurity data analysis, for example.
So, let’s explore 10 softer skills that we feel are particularly essential for a career in tech.
The ability to solve problems is a crucial skill in tech. Proper problem solving is the appropriate (and oftentimes creative) application of existing knowledge to find ways around a roadblock of some kind, rather than simply resorting to mere trial and error.
We’re not just talking about solving techy problems here; a sound business head will help, too. As technology and business become ever more intertwined, technical teams will need to identify problems that straddle both business and technical goals – and solve them in a way that is sympathetic to both.
Which brings us on to the most fundamental part of problem solving as a soft skill: the ability to spot and foresee issues before they become larger, more wide-reaching problems. Countless IT snags (especially ones relating to coding) tend to fall under a “stitch in time saves nine” logic, expounding over time until they’re solved at their root.
Communication & Teamwork
Tech requires a whole plethora of interpersonal skills, including explaining technical concepts to non-technical people; providing calming tech support to frazzled individuals; liaising with management and stakeholders; furthering the tech cause throughout your organisation; building relationships with tech suppliers; and even speaking with end users – be they internal colleagues or external clients.
Roles in tech aren’t as solitary as some people may believe either, with teams of coders, engineers, or security personnel working on projects together as a cohesive, coordinated whole. Clear, two-way communication is therefore absolutely necessary.
Tech doesn’t just revolve around rigid “if this, then that” thinking. A distinctive creative flair is needed to foresee new feature opportunities on the horizon, identify potential snags, adapt to fast-moving tech trends, and understand where tech solutions (and problems) impact wider business aims.
Coding and engineering jobs especially require an ability to brainstorm effective solutions to problems, the wisdom to know what possible fixes to implement, and the perseverance to keep hammering away at the problem until it’s solved.
Think of the likes of tech giants like Apple, Meta, and Google. Imagine the creativity and inventive drive that went into building those empires and the products that prop them up. That creativity doesn’t just need to come from the top – everyone involved needs a bit of creative magic in their veins.
And after all, tech is all about creating digital solutions that solve business problems. And you can’t create without creativity!
Resilience & Perseverance
Anyone who’s ever turned their hand to coding or tried to solve a confounding tech problem knows how infuriating these things can be. So, when solving these conundrums becomes your job, you need to be able to sit with a problem, come up with solutions, and keep going even when you might want to throw in the towel.
However, this determination shouldn’t just be reserved for combatting tech problems. You may well be called on to solve issues or handle setbacks that arise through a strategic business need, or require interpersonal understanding.
After all, the ability to keep a cool head, roll with the punches, and plough on in times of hardship and confusion is a valuable skill for life and work!
Flexibility & Adaptability
Tech is always moving. It’s certainly not an area where you can get set in your ways! Any tech worker will need to learn new things – often at speed and on the fly. They’ll need to adapt to industry-wide changes and the ever-trundling, ownard advance of technology. As new updates and ways of working emerge, you may even be called on to totally re-engineer solutions in response.
Tech careers require you to think elastically around problems; account for other skills and strengths on your team (or the lack thereof!); navigate unexpected changes of plan; and account for all the weird and wonderful ways that your end user may use – and misuse – the solution you’re working on!
Savvy tech workers will also need to respond well to unexpected or negative feedback, and be able to change tack when something doesn’t go down well with clients or other teams.
According to a 2019 McKinsey survey, only 20% of respondents say their organisations excel at decision making. Further, a majority say that “much of the time” dedicated to decision making is being used ineffectively.
Yet without decisions, nothing gets done. The ability to make effective decisions for the greater good is necessary to business success – even if those decisions are uncomfortable.
Just making a decision isn’t enough – you need the grit to follow it through. Whether that’s committing a small sliver of code that may impact another area of functionality, making difficult choices that are the “lesser of two evils”, or making a decision that affects a whole team or project.
Good decision making comes from being skilled at what you do – and having confidence in those skills. It’s something that arises from experience, too: the more decisions you make (be they ultimately good or bad), the more you learn about your own technical abilities and your decision making prowess. It’s a virtuous cycle!
Returning to the quote at the top of the article for a sec, you’ll note that leadership is one of the skills mentioned that’s in short supply. Being able to communicate with a team, organise them, and generally “rally the troops” when needed is a real strength.
Leaders need to be good communicators and have the integrity to be accountable to those up the chain and across the organisation: not just revelling in the good decisions and times of plenty but leading teams through tough, uncertain times, too.
Leaders should also be able to identify strengths and weaknesses within their team and nurture each individual in line with their natural abilities and inclinations – bringing in external talent where needed rather than forcing square pegs into round holes.
The tech industry is suffering a rather stark scarcity of talent to fill mid- to high-level roles, so the ability to lead a team well is going to be massively beneficial for those looking to climb the career ladder and the companies they work for.
Time is a finite resource, and one that many of us don’t use effectively enough! We don’t all “have the same 24 hours each day”, and we don’t have the same energy at our disposal. Time management requires deep self-knowledge to know when you work at your best and reserve your most intense work for those times.
Tech is one of those fields where you need to work with time rather than against it. Tight development cycles and deadlines are no joke – when you’re working on a project with a looming deadline, you need to be able to apply your use of time, energy, and resources in the best way possible.
However, sometimes you simply don’t have the luxury to put tasks off in a way that suits your energy levels, especially in coding, engineering, and support roles. When you have a whole department – or even a whole region – unable to use your software or resources, you’re likely to have a few angry users breathing down your neck.
In these situations, you need to be able to roll your sleeves up, take a deep breath, and put those communication skills to good use!
Project Management & Organisation
IT professionals often have to juggle deadlines, different projects, and different priorities, all while keeping higher-ups happy and in the loop. So being able to keep everything balanced and bubbling over nicely is a hugely beneficial skill in tech.
Therefore, good project management skills aren’t just crucial for managers – they’re crucial for all workers. Regardless of their role or their place in the pecking order, team members need to be able to independently prioritise tasks, create their own SMART goals if needed, assess their own progress, and correct course when needed.
Project management is a unique skill that managers generally look for when promoting, so if you’re looking to climb the ranks, consider building your project management and priority-juggling abilities.
Attention to Detail
In tech – and especially in highly technical roles like designing, coding, or engineering – you’ll be expected to dot the “i”s and cross the “t”s as a force of habit. Even so-called “non-technical” tech roles like data analysis and compliance need a hefty helping of detail-oriented thinking.
Whatever it is you’re called upon to do, you need to be able to accurately grasp your goal and know how best to get there in an error-free and straightforward way.
However, attention to detail goes far further than being able to precisely apply hard skills like coding or engineering. You also need to be a precise listener, an astute communicator, know the right questions to ask, and be able to read and listen between the lines.
Precision is important, yes, but technical precision only accounts for part of the story.
How to Master Soft Skills
Soft skills aren’t always hard to master – however it’s hard to know when you’ve mastered them. There’s no set finish line to mastering these skills like there is in mastering a coding language. And even the most astute communicator or project manager isn’t beyond a spot of imposter syndrome telling them their soft skills aren’t up to snuff.
Soft skills take practice and perseverance. Things that seem more like character traits (like creativity and communication) are all things that can be developed with practice and a good attitude.
Start by identifying what soft skills you are good at and what skills you need to work on. Read up on how to build your weaker skills and get in the habit of applying that knowledge in your daily life.
Building soft skills like forming a good habit. It’s sometimes difficult, it’s not always straightforward, but it’s absolutely possible…