The future of work centres around the topic of automation, as AI and machine learning becomes increasingly integrated into the workforce and removes the need for humans to manage mundane tasks.
However, as 40% of Canadian jobs will be impacted by automation, and with AI a long way from mastering human emotions, we’re seeing an increased demand for technical candidates who possess “soft skills”—interpersonal skills, creativity, emotional intelligence, and leadership.
As automation continues to permeate the workplace, these soft skills will only become more vital.
Soft skills have always been in-demand among tech candidates. The myth that introverts make better developers can be traced back to the sixties, when psychologists William M. Cannon and Dallas K. Perry were commissioned by software company SDC to create a vocational interest scale, a personality test with the goal of predicting which attributes lead to better programmers.
After surveying a pool of candidates which skewed heavily toward mathematically-inclined men, Cannon and Perry concluded that the ideal candidate has an aptitude for puzzles and equations, but tends to not like interacting with other people. Unfortunately, the perception that good developers lack people skills still exists today.
That said, soft skills like interpersonal skills, business-savvy, and emotional intelligence have always been important in developing software for a diverse audience. Developers who are able to understand and communicate the business and personal value of their technology, as well as adapt to the ever-changing needs of a quickly evolving market, are more likely to be successful in their roles. In addition, the ability to clearly communicate and collaborate with your team members is crucial to success when working with any team size.
Companies have an obligation to provide employees with opportunities for growth, and soft skills should be a part of development and training programs. However, soft skills can be difficult to impart, as they don’t have a clear end point.
While an employee can definitively say they know how to code, there is no end point in learning how to emotionally engage with other employees, or how to lead a team. In imparting soft skills to employees, the goal is to make the skills more tangible, so that they feel accessible to people who may find them foreign.
In order for employees to practice using soft skills, they must understand more about themselves and their colleagues. This means clearly defining their core values, to figure out who they are and what’s important to them in order to be able to properly communicate their needs, as well as understand the needs of others.
At Galvanize, I encourage my teams to identify their core values by presenting them with a list of words, and asking them to circle the ones that are important to them – whether it’s trust, honesty, finances, availability, etc. Once defined, core values are shared with the wider team, so that your colleagues have a better understanding of what is important to you. This allows for more intentional communication.
In addition, our technical teams host a “Demo Day” every three weeks, where team members present the work they have been doing to their colleagues, giving them opportunities to speak in front of a crowd and practice collaborating within a team. Our mentorship program, which matches mentors with mentees, also encourages collaboration and leadership skills.
Finally, we have a bi-weekly Toastmasters Club at Galvanize, with a different chairman and agenda every meeting. This is a company-wide initiative that encourages employees to practice engagement and communication skills.
Perhaps most importantly, we practice authenticity.
Managers can sometimes feel the need to be seen as perfect, but this is impossible to achieve. It’s more important to be open, honest, and genuine, to show people you are a human being and encourage an environment in which people support each other. This develops well-rounded employees that encompass the hard and soft skills needed to flourish in their roles.