This is shaping up to be a transitional year for many tech pros. Our Dice Salary Survey shows income levels didn’t rise. Technical skills clearly aren’t resulting in massive salary upticks; as a result, learning soft skills should probably be a focus for many of us who want a promotion or salary bump.
‘Soft skills’ can be hard to nail down. The dictionary definition is essentially ‘be pleasant to be around,’ and that’s always applicable no matter where you work. But for tech pros, it’s a bit more than just being nice to coworkers. There’s a natural push-pull dynamic in tech between individual triumphs and team success, and navigating it is a key to survival in a fast-paced workplace.
Here are a few things to remember so you can be the best teammate possible:
Don’t just write code and assume everyone knows what it does. Being overly verbose in the codebase is a good thing; the more you communicate, the more people understand what’s going on. This transparency is useful not only to longtime teammates, but also new co-workers who weren’t at that meeting where everyone discussed how to craft said code.
More importantly, don’t be a jerk in the comments section (this is applicable everywhere). Instead of
//John wanted this, so here it is. Whatever. before writing your buggy code, explain in detail what it does, what it relates to, and why it’s there. Other engineers can ski over the green bits and dig into the code if they like.
And speaking of bugs…
Did you write a bunch of wonky code? We all do it. We all have to fix it, too.
Code needs constant care, and perfectly working code written at 10 A.M. may be broken by noon if someone else’s contributions affect yours. Instead of taking the stance that you did ‘your part’ for the project, take responsibility for your code and find a way to make it work, even with the new contributions.
Extend ownership of your actions beyond the code. Were you supposed to send an important email, but couldn’t because you were pulled into four different meetings? It happens; just explain yourself and send the email as soon as possible. Did you find an error someone made? Instead of bringing it up in a meeting, pull them aside and make a point to tell them your thoughts (nicely).
One of the Greatest Soft Skills: Thinking About Time
Does your co-worker have headphones on, and they’re nodding their head to the music while powering through some tasks? Now is not the right time to ask if they want you to bring them back sushi while you’re at lunch.
Respect for others’ time is important. You may feel what you have to say or offer up is timely, but you should consider their time ahead of yours. Maybe your co-worker is starving, but an email or Slack message as you walk out the door is a lot less invasive than a tap on the shoulder.
Managing your time is also critical. Don’t be late to meetings, or work. Finish tasks on time, and if you can’t – take responsibility and send a message to your team lead explaining why it’s not done, and your resulting course of action.
Everyone Gets Their Shine
Maybe you had the idea, and maybe you were the one in charge of implementing it… but you didn’t do it alone. You had help, and this is where developing the skill of saying “we” instead of “me” comes into play.
You had help, even if you don’t realize it. If your boss allowed you to dedicate time and energy to a side project, it means everyone around you picked up the slack. In a roundabout way, your solo project was still a team effort.
Just remember to include your team when you’re praised or acknowledged for your own ‘wins.’ As much as your teammates may want to see you succeed, making sure to recognize their efforts is critical.
Be the Leader You Want
It doesn’t matter what your role is: Senior engineer, junior developer, project manager… everyone should act like the boss they want.
This doesn’t mean parading around your office asking people what they’re doing and micromanaging in an effort to get recognized so you’re in line for a promotion. It means you should be the best version of yourself you can be. And in those times you have to manage what someone else is doing or work alongside them, leave them with a sense you’re one of the best people on the team to collaborate with.
Be positive, understanding, and engaging. People will seek you out for projects, and you’ll get a good grasp on how to deal with those dour developers plaguing every office. Moreover, you’ll understand what motivates them, and that’ll set you up for success whether you’re a manager or looking for a promotion.
It’s 2019: Soft Skills Matter
So-called “hard” skills such as learning a new technology or framework can get you paid more, but soft skills can keep you employed. Culture is important, and nobody is willing to suffer the toxic genius anymore. Companies still want smart, resourceful tech pros; they just don’t want a juvenile jerk.
And now is a good time to take a look at yourself and consider whether your soft skills need polishing. The days of getting by on snark and sass are gone.