Early enough preparation and development of human skills among developers?

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0see%20more%20stories%20and%20ideas%20come%20in%20from%20folks%20in%20the%20community%20as%20well!%3C%2FLINGO-BODY%3E%3CLINGO-SUB%20id%3D%22lingo-sub-1617589%22%20slang%3D%22en-US%22%3ERe%3A%20Early%20enough%20preparation%20and%20development%20of%20human%20skills%20among%20developers%3F%3C%2FLINGO-SUB%3E%3CLINGO-BODY%20id%3D%22lingo-body-1617589%22%20slang%3D%22en-US%22%3EFirst%20of%20all%20-%20I'm%20not%20sure%20this%20is%20so%20much%20mental%20health%20as%20it%20is%20how%20awful%20the%20industry%20is%20in%20regards%20to%20promotion%20and%20seniority.%20It's%20something%20I%20loathe.%20Just%20because%20you're%20older%20doesn't%20necessarily%20mean%20you're%20going%20to%20be%20better.%3CBR%20%2F%3E%3CBR%20%2F%3EIn%20regards%20to%20that%2C%20just%20because%20you've%20been%20doing%20a%20job%20for%20a%20long%20time%20doesn't%20automatically%20mean%20you're%20going%20to%20be%20amazing%20at%20MANAGING%20people%20who%20are%20doing%20that%20job.%20Management%20skills%20are%20*hard*.%20You%20aren't%20just%20intrinsically%20born%20with%20them.%20You%20have%20to%20learn%20how%20to%20be%20a%20manager%20and%20you%20have%20to%20work%20really%20really%20hard%20to%20be%20a%20good%20manager.%3CBR%20%2F%3E%3CBR%20%2F%3EI%20think%20where%20we%20let%20people%20down%20is%20by%20putting%20them%20into%20those%20positions%20without%20adequate%20management%20training.%20Being%20a%20leader%20is%20something%20some%20people%20are%20good%20at%20inately.%20But%20being%20a%20manager%20is%20something%20that%20requires%20active%20skills%2C%20that%20requires%20learning%2C%20that%20requires%20preparation.%20And%20we%20just%20don't%20do%20that.%3CBR%20%2F%3E%3CBR%20%2F%3EI%20agree%20that%20we%20should%20be%20teaching%20some%20of%20those%20'core'%20skills%20earlier%20(I%20prefer%20the%20term%20'core'%20to%20the%20term%20'soft'%20because%20they%20are%20*not*%20soft).%20We%20need%20to%20be%20teaching%20these%20from%20the%20very%20beginning%20-%20and%20that%20starts%20in%20high%20school%2C%20in%20my%20personal%20opinion.%20We%20seem%20to%20focus%20a%20lot%20on%20all%20of%20the%20technical%20side%20of%20the%20work%20we%20do%2C%20without%20focus%20on%20the%20people%20side%20-%20and%20the%20people%20are%20the%20most%20important%20part!%3C%2FLINGO-BODY%3E
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I have seen so many developers building a successful career and moving up the ranks until one day unexpectedly because of the seniority you find the landscape has completely changed and your responsibilities shifted from technical to management. Most of the time, as technologists, we choose to invest predominantly in developing our technical abilities and ignore the rest.

The journey might look as follows;

  • The first few years – You study to become an engineer, then enter the market as a junior and for the first few years, you will rely on your hard skills to get the job done. You learn from your leaders. You sense a degree of responsibility, but you can make mistakes in a safe environment and learn from it. You are praised for good work and experience clear and direct feedback. You strive towards continuous improvement.

  • From Intermediate to Technical Team Lead – In the software industry it is common for the strongest software engineer to promoted to Technical Lead. It is unlikely that you receive formal training on how to lead others and you face new challenges like Time Management, Multitasking, Quality Control. You start to feel accountable for the mistakes made by the team.

  • From Technical Team Lead to Engineering Architect (in this case Software Solutions Architect) - When you reach the pinnacle of your engineering omnipotence you will be called upon to provide input in operational- and tactical planning meetings and you will likely be asked to play a supportive role in other departments like Sales and Marketing. The years of perfecting your craft are paying off, you are a technical influencer. You are the go-to guy and you feel important.

  • From Engineering Architect to Manager - Your influence in different areas of the business paid off and senior management trusts your judgment thereby promoting you to take on more responsibility and more control in the form of a managerial position. As you settle into your new role you may find the adjustment to be harder than with previous promotions. This is because unlike your previous positions, for the first time you will be facing a wide range of non-technical duties that will challenge you in ways that your technical skills will not help you at all. With every promotion you are introduced to new challenges and you rely on your knowledge, skill, and experience to ‘level-up’ but this time you face new unfamiliar challenges. You shift from a strong technical focus to a management focus. You need to motivate staff, keep teams engaged, decide on recruitment, restructure teams, work assignments, and career development. These may seem like complex challenges as the dynamics of human behavior cannot be linked back to technical terms and you may need to adjust your problem solving thought patterns. Through your decisions and actions, your influence on individuals stretches beyond the workplace, and work hours. You have a direct effect on the lives and possibly the families of those under your care. You realize you carry a great responsibility and you have a longing to be a good leader and, in this need, you start to discover a whole new world of non-technical principles.

  • Manager to Director of Engineering and beyond - Your days are fragmented into a series of small activities, seldom lasting more than an hour each. You attend lots and lots of meetings. You manage stakeholder’s expectations and at times it feels like you are being pulled in different directions. Your role shifts from team-centric (doing what is best for the team) to organization-wide (doing what is best for the organization). For your team, you want to set clear goals and eliminate noise but at the same time, you want to be flexible and responsive towards organizational needs. Getting this balance right requires a lot of practice and even seasoned leaders still struggle with it. You rely on the technical skills of others too so that you can make quick, accurate, and wise decisions and you carry the consequences and impact of those decisions. You are now becoming a business-minded individual, an entrepreneur, a strategic planner. It is usually at this point in your career that your lack of soft skills is holding you back and your technical skills no longer propel you forward at the velocity it used to.

Isn’t it fascinating that from start to success the landscape changes completely?

You set out to become an engineer, and later you may find yourself co-leading an organization or divisions within an organization, not directly relying on the hard skills which took so many years to acquire and refine.

Your technical experience and skills still serve as the basis for good decision making and innovation but to truly be impactful you now need a new set of skills.

 
Why don't we develop human skills early on in our technical careers? Why do we see so little (or none) human skills related talks at tech conferences? Why do we allow ourselves to become brilliant as technologists but allow ourselves to be held back or completely ruin our probability of attaining the pinnacle of success because of a lack of interest, development, coaching, practicing the much needed non-technical human skills that we cannot do without?
 

If you are constantly distracted and if your mind is endlessly preoccupied with psychological and emotional distress, and if you spend more time trying to understand human behavior than perfecting your profession you will not become the best version of yourself.

Every ounce of energy and every thought directed towards understanding a workplace situation is done at the cost of perfecting your craft. The more you spend on trying to cope in the workplace, the further away you move from reaching the pinnacle of performance.

 

I hope to see more of these conversations and many more human-skills oriented talks in the future.
 
Looking forward to hearing your thoughts.
 
Regards,
Johan Olivier
@SharePointRoots   
 
 
2 Replies
Hi Johan, great post! I couldn't agree more :) I think human skills are always essential, but become EVEN MORE critical as people rise through the ranks in their organization because they not only become responsible for themselves, but the wellbeing and development of others under their charge too. Unlike hard/technical skills, "human skills" are not something that can be easily learnt via an online course nor can it be achieved through a systematic approach like taking tests etc; instead it is something that has to be lived and practiced every day of our lives, and through our interactions with other humans like ourselves. Thanks for highlighting that we need MORE of these human-centered conversations and discussions in tech - I can't wait to see more stories and ideas come in from folks in the community as well!
First of all - I'm not sure this is so much mental health as it is how awful the industry is in regards to promotion and seniority. It's something I loathe. Just because you're older doesn't necessarily mean you're going to be better.

In regards to that, just because you've been doing a job for a long time doesn't automatically mean you're going to be amazing at MANAGING people who are doing that job. Management skills are *hard*. You aren't just intrinsically born with them. You have to learn how to be a manager and you have to work really really hard to be a good manager.

I think where we let people down is by putting them into those positions without adequate management training. Being a leader is something some people are good at inately. But being a manager is something that requires active skills, that requires learning, that requires preparation. And we just don't do that.

I agree that we should be teaching some of those 'core' skills earlier (I prefer the term 'core' to the term 'soft' because they are *not* soft). We need to be teaching these from the very beginning - and that starts in high school, in my personal opinion. We seem to focus a lot on all of the technical side of the work we do, without focus on the people side - and the people are the most important part!