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The IT field has created many positions that enable people to achieve high quality technical skill sets without ever learning the social skills necessary to be successful in non technical fields. While some skills are needed there is a sub culture in IT that works and even thrives on a more logical and cold mindset that often does not mix well with other business groups.

Since many if not most IT professionals prefer to stay in active technical roles rather than transitioning into management type positions, what benefit is there in developing these skills while in a position that does not really need them? How can an IT professional address evaluating their social skills needs?

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    comments removed Please remember the rule on the Workplace is to be nice, and to use comments to help improve a post or seek clarification. For discussions, please feel free to use The Workplace Chat. – jmort253 May 8 '13 at 0:40
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    This is an important question and needs to be answered. There are already several good answers so closing it an unaswerable makes no sense at all. We are getting way too quick to close questions in my opinion. – HLGEM May 8 '13 at 13:52
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Most of the question creates a situation where it answers itself: Do I need more social skills than the ones I already have for my current position when I'm never going to take another position that requires more? I guess not.

How can/should an IT professional address evaluating their social skills needs?

This is the real question and the answer is more than you think. If we assume many tech workers have poor social skills, they probably underestimate the importance even in their current position. Here are some typical requirements in many job posting:

  • gather requirements from clients
  • provide support
  • communication skills: within a team, other managers, etc. both written and verbal.
  • it's usually one of the areas in an employee evaluation.

People who are shy in person, may be exceptional in written communication. I think this is going to be more and more important; however, lacking in social skill and/or tollerating those less technically inclined, can come across in written communcation as well as spoken. It could also be worse since people often take email the wrong way. The faux pas is now documented in writing and can be forwarded to supervisors.

Here are some steps to take to evaluate the social skill requirements for your current position:

  1. Understand your supervisor. You may not be lucky enough to have a boss that explains everything in black and white. The burden will be on you. You may have to ask questions and/or get clarification of vague goals and objectives. Understand the politics of the situation. You don't have to like them or get involved, but you can't keep butting heads with your boss just because you don't understand why the company doesn't have a special dress code just for the programmers. Remember, you will probably need this person as a reference.
  2. Team Influence - It's foolish to think just because you're not the boss that there aren't any benefits to having influence with your team. Using the tools and technologies on particular products are not always choosen on technical and/or objective merit. People will not vote for your preferences if they find you irritating. You may not care because you're not a "people person", but suffering with poor technology choices will drive you crazy. Speak up persuasively, or suffer the consequences.
  3. Clients - IMHO more and more tech positions will require some interaction with clients. If you're rude to a customer, management will show no mercy. At best, the company may grow to the point where they hire other support staff.
  4. Job survival - Want a better raise? You better be prepared to ask for one or just take what they give you. Great work is not enough. You're leaving money on the table if you cannot articulate your value to the company.
  5. Evaluate Feedback - Are you getting responses indicating you're rude? If people are reluctant to communicate with you, sorry, that's not a good thing. Yes, they'll go bother the other programmer who isn't a jerk and sing their praises whenver they get the chance. And you thought everyone would recognize how much cleaner your code is?

Scoring: Failing at items 1 & 3 could cost you your job. The rest will just make you more misserable. Few jobs allow anyone to work in a vaccum.

  • I think this is a good answer but something is still missing I think. And I think that it would be the key question of how does having them benefit and IT Professional that may not see the benefits from their prospective. – IDrinkandIKnowThings May 6 '13 at 20:17
  • @Chad I think there is an abundance of posts on this forum that demonstrate that it's tremendously difficult to get an IT professional to learn something that she doesn't work hersekf around to seeing the value of on her own. So perhaps maybe the question is "how to encourage active learning on the part of people who are not so inclined." – Amy Blankenship May 7 '13 at 15:59
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For IT professionals who work on a team with other individuals, the benefits of developing social skills beyond the absolute minimum to get by are that they will probably get along better with their team-mates. This will likely improve communication within the team, which will probably improve team efficiency. Improved efficiency can make it easier to complete projects on time, and meeting deadlines is usually good for morale. The benefit might not be just to the individual, but to the entire group. Especially in cases where the much of the team is composed of people who are not primarily IT professionals and who do have highly developed social skills.

Other less direct benefits would include improved networking abilities. With strong social skills in a professional setting, a stronger professional network can be built. Having a strong network can be very important when looking for a new job.

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...what benefit is there in developing these skills while in a position that does not really need them?

I think this question is fundamentally flawed. All IT positions require people skills. You will not find an IT position where you and those around you will not benefit from the improvement of your people skills.

How can an IT professional address evaluating their social skills needs?

Are you ever working toward unclear goals? Are you unsure about your boss's or customers' expectations? Are decisions being made that you do not understand or agree with? Do you feel that your input is not being taken seriously? If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, you have a need for social skills. Good communication and social skills are the key to solving all of these problems. Bad communication could make them worse.

EDIT DUE TO DOWNVOTES - It seems this answer is getting downvotes due to the generalization "All IT positions require people skills." Fair enough, but do me a favor and describe an IT position that does not require any people skills.

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    "All IT positions require people skills" -- all generalizations are wrong – gnat May 7 '13 at 21:29
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    @gnat that's true. Generalization or not, though, I really feel that I've given good advice here. Describe an IT position that does not require any people skills. – Jefferson May 8 '13 at 13:34
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    @Chad OP ends the post with two questions, each of which I have quoted and answered directly. – Jefferson May 8 '13 at 17:19
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Many of us in the IT world have ideas we would like to see implemented, things like agile processes, code review, new technologies, refactoring, even, in some places, source control.

Many of use would like to have more influence in the way the products are designed and created rather than just being given a set of requirements and told to build them. We want a chance to exercise our creativity. We hate being stuck with a bad idea because that is what the client already agreed to before we were ever asked if it was a good idea.

Many of us in IT would like to get rewarded for the work we do. Even if we don't want a promotion (because we are at the highest technical role avaiable), we still want good performance reviews, pay raises, and bonuses.

We hate it when the product is delivered and the client hates it and immdiately wants changes because we made assumptions that weren't the same as their assumptions. Perhaps you have had a conversation along the lines of:

"Why doesn't it do XYZ? I thought is would do that."

"No one ever mentioned XYZ to us."

"Well it didn't need to be mentioned, it is obvious it would be needed. Anyone with any brains at all would have known that."

Many of us hate to see the people who we view as less than competent getting the promotions, the chance to shine that no one gives us, and the place at a the table that we don't have. We wonder, "How come they listen to him of all people?"

Social skills are what get you the things you want and help you avoid the things you don't want in the workplace. People above you don't automatically know that you are smart and capable. They don't automatically know that your ideas are better than the ones they are currently implementing. You have to to show them how you are contributing and what more you could contribute. You have to show them why your ideas are better. You have to talk to them in their terms.

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The benefit of doing their job better.

This is akin to asking why IT workers would ever benefit from knowing the bare minimum of technical skills to do their job. Knowing more than the bare minimum will help you work with unusual scenarios. It will help you learn new things as needs be. It will help you be resistant when your job invariably changes to demand more than the bare minimum.

And frankly, modern IT jobs almost always work in teams. Having better people skills let you work more efficiently with your team and boss. They help you sell your ideas to your peers, boss and consumers. They make you a better employee.

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    @chad - Pssh. Communication skills are pretty universal. Sure, IT folks will (tend to) prefer different styles, and communicate about different things but being able to structure conversation, empathize with peers, and generally work together isn't some novel thing. I'll work differently with Artists than Businessmen, that doesn't mean that the skills are completely independent. – Telastyn May 6 '13 at 20:24

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