4 Important Communication Skills for Tech Career Success
Students who major in technology programs like computer science may think that as long as they're highly skilled with code, they'll have no problem getting a job and thriving in the workplace after graduation. But that's not necessarily the case in today's competitive workforce. Even IT students have to develop the softer skills -- skills they may be tempted to ignore because they're not STEM-related -- in order to find a job and find success at an organization.
"Historically, IT may have been a separate department that interacted only within its own realm. But now it's an integral part of nearly every business endeavor that an organization undertakes," says Jesse Wright, VP of Recruiting and Delivery at Adecco Engineering and Technology. "It's really important to remember that when people hire someone, your hard skills get you to the table, but it's your soft skills that get you the job -- and it's your soft skills that help you interact in a work environment."
Four Communication Skills Techies Should Develop
No matter where you work in the tech sector, having the following communication skills can help you to be successful in the workplace.
1) Interpersonal Communication
Interpersonal communication skills are the first thing a hiring manager will notice about you -- not just during the initial phone interview, but also during the in-person interviews that may follow. The ability to give a good handshake, make an appropriate amount of eye contact and smile are an important part of making a good first impression before you even open your mouth. And once you've landed that job, your ability to use these "soft" skills will be a big part of your transition process -- from getting orientated to the projects on which you'll be assigned, giving a presentation to team leaders or project stakeholders, to simply the day-to-day routine of working with other people in your team.
This skill is important because we all work with other people. Even if your job primarily involves technological tasks, you still have to get along with your peers, as well as people in other parts of an organization. Especially in startup environments, where teams are typically small and each individual wears a lot of different hats, employers tend to seek out people who are easy to work with. No amount of raw technical skills will make up for a bad attitude or difficulty with participating in collaborative projects.
Why it matters in tech
There are several ways people in tech careers use interpersonal communication skills. For example, computer programmers are required to train people on how to use computer software, coordinate activities related to a project with employees from other departments, assign work to subordinates and work effectively with people who need technology issues resolved. Similarly, computer support specialists must be able to connect with a company's customers, which entails listening to and understanding their problems, effectively communicating how these issues can be resolved, and asking the right questions to ensure that the problem gets solved.
2) Written Communication
From emails to user manuals/wikis, written communication is imperative in technology fields. Job seekers must keep the importance of this skill in mind as they craft their resume and cover letter, since an application riddled with typos will not get far in the hiring process. But maintaining good written communication does not end there -- once you do get a job, you must be able to effectively put your thoughts in writing. Whether you're writing a requirements document detailing all the assets needed from various technical teams for a project, submitting a ticket for QA assistance with a bug or making a pull request to submit a contribution to an open development project, the ability to communicate in writing in a clear and descriptive way is imperative.
"This is how business is done and your hiring manager is looking for future leaders, not just employees. They're trying to hire the future of their organization and those with written communication skills are more apt to be leaders, and they can do a better job," says Dana Manciagli, author of Cut the Crap, Get a Job.
Why it matters in tech
Specifically, the importance of writing skills can be seen in the job duties of network and computer systems administrators and web developers. Network and computer systems administrators must conduct research on computer products or processes and be able to communicate the findings to peers, document activities and tasks related to network and operational activities, and create information security policies and procedures. The job of web developers includes the ability to update content on websites and create guidelines for the development and maintenance of websites.
No piece of technology is created in a vacuum. It takes many people to develop and maintain a technology, and as a result, it's important for workers to be able to effectively work in a team environment. Tel Ganesan, CEO and President of global high-tech staffing firm Kyyba Inc., explains the importance of collaboration this way:
"Technology is really about solving a business problem. To solve a business problem, a tech worker may not know all the answers, but by working with team members internally, or with the customer, you're really able to solve a problem and add value to an organization. How do you do that? By being a team player and pulling upon the strengths of the entire team."
Why it matters in tech
Collaboration skills are required for database administrator jobs, which entail working as part of a team to determine the scope of a project and create and implement security measures for computer files. In addition, software developers use these skills to work with colleagues to develop specifications for new software products, address technical problems with existing products, and coordinate hardware and software installation.
Although collaboration can help solve a variety of business problems, it doesn't generally come without some conflict. Negotiation skills are important as the help colleagues sometimes need in order to come to an agreement when differences of opinion arise in a workplace team. This is especially important in software development, where projects are increasingly multidisciplinary, pulling assets from not just the engineering department, but creative, marketing and supply chain teams as well, to name a few. In order to try and get these various stakeholders on the same page, engineers have to know how to discuss their concerns in a diplomatic manner, listen and understand the concerns of others and compromise when necessary.
Why it matters in tech
Computer systems analysts must have negotiation skills, as their job entails working in a team environment to create design specifications. The ability to negotiate is also important for information security analysts, who are expected to develop security protocols and policies, resolve technical issues and coordinate projects with people in other departments.
Interview with Dana Manciagli, author. Interview conducted by Kenya McCullum July 24, 2015
Interview with Jesse Wright, VP of Recruiting and Delivery, Adecco Engineering and Technology. Interview conducted by Kenya McCullum, July 24, 2015
Interview with Tel Ganesan, CEO and President, Kyyba Inc. Interview conducted by Kenya McCullum, July 24, 2015
O*NET OnLine Occupational Information Network: "Computer Programmers," http://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/15-1131.00, "Computer User Support Specialists," http://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/15-1151.00, "Network and Computer Systems Administrators," http://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/15-1142.00, "Web Developers," http://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/15-1134.00, "Database Administrators," http://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/15-1141.00, "Software Developers, Systems Software," http://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/15-1133.00, "Software Developers, Applications," http://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/15-1132.00, "Computer Systems Analysts," http://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/15-1121.00, "Information Security Analysts," http://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/15-1122.00
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"4 "Gotta-Have" Social Skills For the Workplace," James Stanfield Company, Inc., http://www.stanfield.com/blog/2013/05/4-gotta-have-social-skills-for-the-workplace-today/
"Top 10 Valued Workplace Skills," Johnson & Wales University, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.jwu.edu/uploadedFiles/Documents/Alumni/JWUTopWorkSkills.pdf
"Interpersonal Skills in the Workplace: Examples and Importance," Study.com, http://study.com/academy/lesson/interpersonal-skills-in-the-workplace-examples-and-importance.html