Transferable & Soft Skills: The Unjustly Unsung Heroes of Software Development
“If you don’t figure out what you want to do for a career, you will fall behind in life.” I can remember hearing this loaded statement as early as 8th grade. Which, looking back on it, is about the equivalent of attempting to teach a dog new tricks as a squirrel scampers about in its periphery.
In 8th grade, the farthest thing in the future I worried about was what video game I would play the next weekend. As a 13-year-old, how the heck was I supposed to know what I wanted to do for the rest of my life at such a young age? If you’re like me, you might have some idea of what you want to do for a living, but your career is going to shift and morph from its origins and guess what – that’s okay! (…someone’s got to start saying it).
Pressure to find the answer to this question often comes from points of authority. Luckily, the two most important points of authority in my life did the opposite.
Rather than weigh me down with the gravity of such an impactful life choice, my parents did not care what I chose to do so long as I applied myself. They taught me to always push forward. And when I fell short — which I did and still do a lot — they instilled a level of determination and curiosity that has led me to continuously learn from my mistakes.
I’d argue that because they fostered this adaptive and persistent mentality that I now carry into all my work, I’ve been able to curate a shifting career path that has allowed me to remain as curious as ever. On top of that, since joining SEP, this value has only been amplified and further encouraged.
These Transferrable Skills Gave Me a Leg-Up In Software Development Spaces
The Optimistic Outlook
Outside of my own career shift into software, I regularly hear of colleagues and connections jumping from one discipline to the next. Whether it is a musician joining a coding boot camp to become a full-stack engineer, a free-lance artist self-taught to become a full-time motion graphics designer, or an elementary school teacher pivoting to become a top-performing account executive for a tech firm, not much seems off limits.
Even if you tell yourself your current career has no similarities to a career in software, I’d probably be able to identify a few shared skill sets. And with the right attitude and drive, I’d argue you could make the career shift you want.
I am not saying, “Anything is possible if you just believe…”. It takes a whole lot more than some belief. People can tell you day in and day out that anything is possible, but what many fail to acknowledge is that the onus is on you to make that change. A career isn’t going to fall into your lap because you have an official piece of paper or because you’re naturally gifted. A career will present itself once you’ve put forth the effort and proven you’ve got what it takes.
I’m also definitely NOT saying you need to go home and work at your craft every night for 8 hours (Don’t lose sight of the work/life balance you desire, but that is a topic for another blog). Bottom line, you can’t expect something to change if you aren’t doing anything about it. In sum…
A body remains at rest, or in motion at a constant speed in a straight line, unless acted upon by a force.
– Isaac Newton
When Assessing Your Transferrable Skills for a Fit in Software
Let’s say you are looking to become a software engineer or a product designer, what would be the first steps? Before I make yet another list that you’ve probably already searched around for, it is important to identify the overlap of fundamental skills you most likely already have to some extent.
Yes, learning the languages, tools, and various technology is vital, but the internet tends to gloss over the foundation of a successful software professional. Before any of those other skills come into play, one must start with a strong foundation of emotional intelligence and effective communication. Software development is a highly collaborative industry and without these two interwoven skills, the other skills that stack on top will be lackluster at best.
The collaboration mentioned above comes in all shapes and styles. In software development, like many other industries, you regularly find yourself in daily collaboration with teammates and clients. This collaboration happens via email, in-person, phone, and video. These interactions can range from a 30-second check-in to a full 8-hour day of problem-solving and workshopping with others.
If You Think Soft Skills Aren’t Valuable in a Software Career, Ask Yourself the Following:
- Even if you are a brilliant full-stack engineer building an application with every bell and whistle all on your own, what’s the value if you are unable to clearly communicate to others what it is you’re building?
- How are others supposed to help you iterate and grow the product if you can’t bring them along?
- How do you even know if what it is you are building is driving the outcomes the client is looking for?
Technical skills cannot thrive without interpersonal skills.
Yes, I agree effective communication is a no-brainer, but as of late, it seems to get less emphasis and care than it deserves. Instead, if you’re like me, when you look up what you need to know to become a [insert desired role here] you are met with an endlessly growing list of tools and technology that intimidates the hell out of you.
In today’s online world, the ways in which we communicate are more important than ever as we constantly see miscommunication happen through the various forms in which it takes place – lookin’ at you text messages and Twitter. A few misinterpreted or mistyped words and emotions go flying.
There is no silver bullet to solve this, but it’s more so about always being aware of the way you come across, how you interpret others, and most importantly giving one another grace when needing to clarify. This leads me into the broader skill of emotional intelligence.
I find emotional intelligence difficult to pinpoint but Harvard Business School defines it as, “the ability to understand and manage your own emotions, as well as recognize and influence the emotions of those around you.” As humans, we are very emotional beings by nature.
Whether we are willing to admit it or not, emotions impact almost every facet of life. In an article with Forbes, Dr. Marc Brackett does an excellent job highlighting 5 reasons why understanding emotions is important. They are as follows:
- Emotions affect our ability to pay attention.
- Emotions affect our decision-making.
- Emotions affect our relationships.
- Emotions impact our physical and mental health.
- Emotions affect our performance and creativity.
All five of these correlate to most, if not all, lines of work. I recommend diving into this article as a resource when trying to better understand how you can improve your own emotional intelligence. In fact, there are a wealth of other articles and books out there that can help you come into awareness of your own emotional intelligence. That said, when you are going to see the most progression when you put what you read into practice. Staying aware of emotions in moments where it matters the most. As you grow in your emotional intelligence and your effectiveness in communicating, that career shift you desire will only become more and more likely.
When It Comes to Honing Your Soft Skills, Keep On Keeping On
There is one caveat with emotional intelligence and effective communication. There is no “completion” or certification that justifies you are an ‘expert’ at it. It is something we will all have to continue sharpening as we progress in our careers. If you are able to recognize the importance of both and continue to work at them, making the career shift into software development in particular will be much more attainable.
Be sure you are looking into the other necessary technical skills as well – those are still necessary! Career shifts are not easy, but there are skills you can lean into and hone that others don’t always recognize to give yourself an edge.
Yes, interviewing comes with technical assessments, but much like those listicles focus on the technical skills, people let the technical assessment overshadow what is also being assessed – their ability to communicate and understand emotions at play in a given conversation. Both aspects need attention and practice. As with just about anything in life, it is a balance.
Food For Thought
To keep my emotional intelligence top of mind and focused, I have found reading is a great way to keep myself in check. The pace at which I read is very sporadic. Sometimes I will fly through a book in a week, while others, I slowly chip away at. Read at whatever pace works for you. For me, they serve as a reminder in-between moments where emotions and communication matter the most. That goes for both work and life!
Below are three books that have recently helped me wrap my head around emotional intelligence and how I might be able to improve my own awareness:
Where to Find These Books
These are by no means a substitute or all it takes to improve one’s communication or emotional intelligence. Rather, just like you can find a multitude of resources and tutorials to get started with the latest tools and technology, I felt these books could serve as an entry point for anyone interested in sharpening their transferrable skills as they pursue a career shift!
With this information and resources in mind, I hope this blog has offered some insight or value in your pursuit of a career shift. Best of luck!
- Brown Brené. Dare to Lead: Brave Work, Tough Conversations, Whole Hearts. Random House Large Print Publishing, 2019.
- Greever, Tom. Articulating Design Decisions: Communicate with Stakeholders, Keep Your Sanity, and Deliver the Best User Experience. O’Reilly, 2020.
- Learning, Future Talent. “What Are the Top 5 Characteristics of Emotional Intelligence in Good Leadership?” Future Talent Learning, 13 Apr. 2021, https://www.futuretalentlearning.com/en/future-talent-learning-blog/what-are-the-top-5-characteristics-of-emotional-intelligence-in-good-leadership.
- Lebow, Hilary I. “Emotional Intelligence (EQ).” Psych Central, Psych Central, 7 June 2021, https://psychcentral.com/lib/what-is-emotional-intelligence-eq.
- Lencioni, Patrick. Getting Naked: A Business Fable about Shedding the Three Fears That Sabotage Client Loyalty. Jossey-Bass, 2010.
- Rim, Christopher. “Brené Brown and Marc Brackett on Emotional Intelligence during a Pandemic.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 24 Apr. 2020, https://www.forbes.com/sites/christopherrim/2020/04/24/bren-brown-and-marc-brackett-on-emotional-intelligence-during-a-pandemic/.
- Dare to Lead: Brave Work, Tough Conversations, Whole Hearts
- Articulating Design Decisions: Communicate with Stakeholders, Keep Your Sanity, and Deliver the Best User Experience
- Getting Naked: A Business Fable about Shedding the Three Fears That Sabotage Client Loyalty