The IT field is filled with technical skills to master. But from my experience, technical skills are just a few of many factors used when coworkers and clients evaluate your skills as an IT professional. In many ways I think non-technicals skills are the most essential skills when it comes to creating a good first impression and building trust.
In this article, I will discuss what skills I think might be even more valuable than technical skills when working as an IT professional.
How things are said is important
The ability to clearly and precisely communicate verbally is a skill few focus on mastering. And from those who try, even fewer succeed. I remember being upset with classmates who could talk their way around problems with teachers and bullies as a kid. It felt like they possessed some unfair advantage that I could not access. I used to justify their skills by telling myself they were just good at kissing ass and sweet talking.
Later in life, I realized that these kids were not kissing ass and sweet talking. They were simply good at communicating and had learned some skills I did not yet have. I was completely ignorant of the fact that being able to talk and communicate well is a skill you can get trained in and master.
I find it fascinating to watch skilled communicators interact with others. Verbal communication is an actual skill that can have a much higher impact than purely technical skills. It will never matter if the technical solution you suggest will save the day if you are not able to communicate it to decision-makers in a way they understand.
There are a lot of books written on the topic, but I think the classic "How to win friends and influence people" by Dale Carnegie is a must-read for anyone who wants to upskill their verbal communication skills and become generally more likable. In addition, the books on social engineering by Chris Hadnagy are fantastic. I especially enjoyed his play on Carnegie's book "Human Hacking".
Human Hacking: Win Friends, Influence People, and Leave Them Better Off for Having Met You
Christopher Hadnagy - 288 sider
A book that analyzes methods used by social engineers to help the reader become more confident in social settings, and help them gain social skills and insight into social interaction that hopefully makes them appear just as nice and likeable as they want to be perceived.
"...a fantastic book that gave me tools to better express myself as the person I want to be perceived as"
This book is a fun spin on the famous book by Dale Carnegie, "How to win friends and influence people". This is a fantastic book that gave me tools to better express myself as the person I want to be perceived as. While every other book I have read on social engineering has given me tools to identify and stop attempts on using social engineering against myself and others, this book takes the evil tactics of social engineering and flips the concepts on its head to help you achieve your goals while you prevent that people around you from feeling terrible.
I especially loved the chapter on manipulations, and how easy it is to fall for the temptation to use it to control physically and mentally weaker people. It was thought-provoking how easy it is to use this tactic without even noticing it when raising children. I had never thought about many of the examples presented as manipulation. This made me spend quite a bit of time reflecting on how I talk to my children when I want them to change their behavior.
By focusing on how the tactics and methodology used by social engineering could be used for good, I gained a deeper understanding of how social engineering is so effective for criminals. As a cyber security student, this book felt like a true treasure chest.
30. July 2021
Another thing about spoken language skills that might be controversial is the fact that every company has a working language. International companies in Norway might have English as their working language. If you are working in such a company you must have good verbal English skills. If the working language is Norwegian, it will be of uttermost importance that you master and speak Norwegian fluently.
If a team cannot discuss technical topics and make decisions based on verbal communication it will slow them down. No manager wants a slow team.
I think that a language proficiency of at least a B2 level is required for effective communication.
People do care about your typos. (I'm sorry!)
Being a professional will force you to communicate ideas and thoughts in written format. Most written communication is in the form of emails, or chats on Discord, Slack, or other services. But depending on your role, you might write business offers, reports, and notes used by decision-makers.
Many people underestimate how they are perceived by the readers of the text they write. You can be perceived as incredibly skilled, or unskilled purely by the way you write.
I used to think that minor spelling errors in chat messages and emails were of no importance. But trust me, how things are communicated can in many cases be more important than what is being communicated.
Every day when my kids complain about memorizing their glossaries I remind them about my regret for not taking that part of school seriously, and that I still struggle with bad habits created by not being focused on correct spelling.
This fact is one of the reasons why I write on this blog. It provides an opportunity to refine and increase my written skills in a natural way. I guess it's never too late to start learning to write better, but breaking an old habit can be really hard.
Touch typing IS a valuable skill
Who would you rather hire? A person who writes an email, a block of code, or a line in chat fast, or a person who writes it slowly? Who do you think will be more productive in their job?
When I started working as a web developer I thought I wrote pretty fast. I even thought I was impressively fast with my four-finger keyboard pecking. The first day at my new job I got a brutal reality check on how wrong I was. Everybody else's keyboard sounded like a landslide compared to mine which sounded more like a woodchuck working on a tree. When I got home that day, I started my journey toward learning touch typing.
Touch typing with speed and precision will make you a much better and more efficient communicator. Not only will you write faster, but because you can effortlessly type out your ideas you can focus on what you want to write instead of how to physically write it. This mental offloading will help you keep a focus on what you want to do. When your typing skills become better, the process of typing will simply happen.
I like to compare this to walking or talking. You just walk or talk instead of using your mental capacity to move or instruct individual muscles. When you are able to walk and talk you can focus your mental capacity on where to walk, and what to say.
Based on my experience, everyone who works in IT should have a typing speed of at least 40 WPM. Most people I work with type in the range of 60-80 WPM. Some a lot faster, and some slower. Nobody types slower than 40 WPM.
If you don't know touch typing yet, I recommend resources like typingstudy.com and typingclub.com. It's hard to learn touch typing in the beginning, but just like when kids are learning to walk, the muscle memory will come slowly in the beginning, and then steadily increase. Remember that progress is not linear. Trust the process and stay disciplined. It took me about a half year with daily training to reach a steady 30-35WPM without too many typos. Now, 3 years later I write in the range of 50-70WPM. Focus on precision, not speed. Speed will come naturally after a while.