Advice from Affirma’s expert development consultants Shay Hendrick and Brendan Murphy.
From the perspective of professional development in technical roles, it’s obvious there is a subset of “hard skills” that matter. (IE: Can they write code, can they configure a SharePoint farm, etc.) These hard skills can be measured in a variety of ways, but it is important to emphasize experience over “typical” qualifiers such as formal/informal education.
1. Develop Soft Skills
In practice, soft skills matter a TON in the technology space, particularly concerning attitude and communication. Well-spoken, articulate, easy-going team members consistently excel past more reserved peers, especially when considering roles with more responsibility. Because humility and cooperation are vital to the success of a project and a company, being able to let go of your ego is also important.
After your resume, the first thing recruiters will look at are your soft skills. It isn’t their job to know how skilled you are, it is their job to see if you will be a good fit for the company culture or not. If your soft skills aren’t well developed, you may never make it to a position where you get to demonstrate your technical ability.
If you work in a client-facing position, for instance, at a consulting company, this is particularly important. Not only do you need the soft skills to get hired and to be a good team member, but you will also be judged on your willingness to help and how you speak and act towards your peers and your clients daily.
If you are looking to develop better soft skills, here are some great resources:
Toastmasters is probably the most common suggestion given to people who are aiming to improve their communication, and for good reason. Toastmasters allows you to define your goals, and then assigns you to give a speech, run a game, or any other challenge that might help you think on your feet, speak more clearly, or convey charisma and confidence.
Take a public speaking class
Taking a class in public speaking at community college or taking a public speaking course online can give you the skills to speak clearly, without preparation- which can make a world of difference in how you relate to other people.
Emulate Someone you admire
This can be a coworker, manager, teacher, coworker, friend, family, etc.
- Ask to shadow them
- Ask them for advice
- Ask to work with them on a project
Talk to a stranger at a bar
I know it might seem strange, but it serves a dual purpose. Not only will it help you develop speaking skills, but it will develop your courage, and teach you to craft your conversation without knowing a lot about the person you are speaking to, which will be invaluable in spontaneous conversations and meetings.
2. Ask Questions
When it comes to finding new employees and teammates, our senior leadership finds that the best technical resources are also the most curious. Though it may seem counterintuitive, technical employees don’t need to be the expert in everything, all the time – and they certainly will never get close without asking more questions. Asking for help and clarifying questions is never a bad thing and is a sign of a strong technical resource.
Demonstrating a passion for learning new technologies is another piece that is looked at heavily, especially considering the tech sector is evolving rapidly every day. Not letting your hard skills “stagnate” over time is crucial for continued growth. Whether you are just trying to learn the ropes, or you are trying to learn more and continually grow your skill set, stay curious, and never miss an opportunity to ask a (good) question!
3. Develop Your Skills and Knowledge
Though you should be learning and growing throughout your career, learning as much as possible early in your career sets you up for success, gives you lots of options, and makes you a go-to resource for many different projects. In general, though, there are a few things our team recommends to developers early on in their career:
4. Learn as much as possible on current technologies
Fortunately, you will probably never be bored while working in a technical field. Technologies are always evolving, and this means that to be knowledgeable, you always need to be up to date on best practices on current technologies. If you are looking to develop your skillset, it is important to grow your skillset, but you must become knowledgeable about technologies you haven’t worked with before.
This can be done through self-learning with free resources or doing one-off classes/certification programs. (As long as those programs are conducted through generally respected institutions)
5. Build up a portfolio
While your college degree and certifications might get you an interview, the only reason why those accreditations matter is because it shows that you know about a specific task. Especially in mid-level positions, but also for professional entry-level positions, showing that you know HOW to be a good engineer is more important than knowing ABOUT being a good engineer.
If you’re a backend engineer, write an iPhone app. If you are in college or the field, find a way to work on as many projects as possible, do great work on them, and add that to your portfolio. Not only does this show a self-starter mentality, but it also proves that you have a practical understanding of your skillset.
The project itself doesn’t necessarily matter as much as your ability to discuss the projects you worked on and (most importantly) explain how you did it. In every interview, our Brendan and Shay ask, “what are you interested in learning”. The bad answer is not knowing – the good answer is “I have these 2 side projects I’m doing so that I can learn about x,y,z”
6. Contribute to an open-source project
Create a profile on GitHub and browse the tens of thousands of open-source projects. Find one that is interesting/relevant and start contributing.
This flexes multiple areas: it helps the learning piece, and if changes you make are accepted by the owner, this goes onto your GitHub profile which is relevant for technical interviews.
When asked about what is important when assessing a potential new team member, our Software Engineers said they look for curiosity and initiative. Both Shay and Brendan agreed that individuals who are passionate about learning and eager to do new things excel in their field. While formal education is valuable, they value practical experience more- especially if someone is actively creating real things that will set them aside from other candidates.
Getting a new technical position can be tough, but with these suggestions, you should be able to nail the interview and get the job of your dreams! Remember:
- Pay attention to your soft skills in the interview and once you are hired
- Always ask questions, stay humble, and keep learning
- Develop Your Skills and Build Your Portfolio