AdventureTech was recently involved in a job fair hosted by KCITP and offered professional development as a value-add to job seekers that attended. For us, it was a perfect fit because one of our target audiences is, of course, developers.
We’re not shy about our opinions and we love sharing them with exactly this type of audience. We like helping developers out however we can, but we often end up talking to them about the one thing they aren't always ready to hear. Yes, it’s the 500 lb. gorilla in the room – interpersonal and general communication skills.
Many developers think they can get around the need for effective communication skills by simply having excellent programming skills. And we suppose some can. In fact, we spoke with a technical recruiter for a major local company at the KCITP event and they were quite happy to have certain “developer types” who would just sit quietly in cubes and program all day long.
We have to wonder if they are supporting the stereotype, lowering expectations, and accommodating weak interpersonal skills or if they simply don’t want developers and end-users working together.
From our perspective, this is a dysfunctional situation and ultimately a dead-end for the careers of developers. One of our core beliefs is that developers should be communicators because they are ambassadors of change who touch every aspect of a company’s reach.
One developer asked us what he should focus on in his career if he wanted to eventually make it in to management. He asked if he should get his Masters in Computer Science or perhaps more certifications or perhaps even an MBA. Another asked how to improve his communication skills – was there a class he could take, a course?
Our answer to these (and any other developers) is the same: Focus on your communication skills. Practice them. Seek out feedback. Get out of your comfort zone. Take a communication class or two or three or four. Engage with other developers (and people outside of our field) that have strong communication skills. Commit to it, practice it, and we are confident that your career will be the better for it.
If you think about it, it’s the same lesson on the technical side of your skill set. You can take a course and get certified in a particular specialty, but then you have to practice what you’ve learned in order for it to be applicable. Same goes for your communication skills. In fact, did you know that there are Communication Studies degrees in college? One of our social media partners, Mic Johnson, graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies from The University of Kansas. His wife has a bachelors degree AND a Master's Degree in Communication Studies. Excellent communication skills can be learned.
Now a course, class or degree program is no guarantee that you will be a good developer or anything else for that matter. You can load your cubicle walls with all sorts of merit badges and certificates but the acid test is simple day-to-day communication. You can improve these skills with friends, with coworkers, with clients, with your spouse, or through other avenues. At AdventureTech, we encourage developers to speak publicly, write regularly (blogs, articles, comments, emails with good business etiquette, etc.) and, most importantly, proactively embrace face-to-face interaction.
If face-to-face communication is outside of your comfort zone, it's important to know that you aren't alone and that you can get better. Additionally, it's critical to understand that you are potentially creating your own professional ceiling by ignoring the critical role that communication skills play in the world of the modern day developer.
If you are inclined to practice and improve your communication skills, we would offer one final piece of advice: Practice with non-developers because they are often the decision makers in business and the people you will work with on project after project over the liftetime of your career.
What do you think? Where do you rank communication skills in your overall skillset? What have you done to improve your communication skills? What advice do you have for others?