Experimental Lex

Playing with words.

Soft skills vs. Hard skills

This is a topic I have been hoping to crack for a long time. It’s an elusive area for me, since I come from the technology world, where hard skills are valued most. It is important for a software engineer to have real skillz and not the fake kind. In fact, you get grilled during interviews to prove you have the right hard skills.

However, my feeling (which has been repeated by others I know and respect) is that software engineers are the next generation of factory workers. Technology and programming are a commodity and these are being offshored to the lowest bidder in the global economy. Not much different from any kind of manual labor.

That’s a bit harsh and I apologize to anyone offended. I can argue the other side as well, since I still believe in creative technology as a profession, technology as an art, and the programmer as an artist. My point, really, is to point out the 4th quadrant in the career of a technology professional.  If you want to elevate to another level within your company and your industry in general, you have to learn some of the basic things that make companies tick. Things that programmers disdain and have spent a lifetime disavowing. Office politics, meetings, protocol, email etiquette, management, etcetera.

The soft skills. These are the inexplicable things that defy comprehension for people who lived a lifetime focusing on the hard skills… the things that really *matter*.  Soft skills. It sounds like the prostitute’s domain. Well… this is the part where you decide whether you are with me or against me. Read on if you wish.

This is not limited to programmers and technology people.  Other areas like project management and content production are also constrained to the world of hard skills and hard proof. If the work was completed within a specified time period, according to specified requirements, then it is mostly focused on “hard skills”.

In the soft skills universe, there are people who continue to defy gravity and excel, even though it seems inconceivable. However, you may need to look closer and find a way to believe the inconceivable. In my particular world, I watch how some folk have a knack for getting what they want without making enemies. Is that possible in the world of hard skills?  If you visit a message board or other online discussion where one group is trying to proclaim their rightness, you may determine that it is not. For the hard-nosed tech people, it’s black-and-white, night-and-day, us-or-them.

My favorite example of this is an event I witnessed the other day.  A certain hard-nosed technical project manager had a dubious recommendation about an art-related decision. The Creative Director, simply said “Nice try, [insert name here]”. It was a wondrous moment to behold, and I learned so much from that moment.

The lesson is to make your point from the high ground without getting involved in a battle. If they don’t get it, they don’t get it. In this particular case, the project manager was taken aback and could not formulate an answer.

That’s not the only great example of soft skills I have witnessed. I’ll tell you more another time.

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