As software developers, we have our image of what it means to be a good developer, and we also have a mental model of the road we started walking when we first entered the field as interns or as junior developers. Most of the time, we research what technical books to read, what courses to watch, which field to go into, web development, mobile development, or something else. If we choose web development, then our mental energy gets spent on deciding whether we want to be a front-end developer or a back-end developer. If, for example, we chose to work in the front-end, then we start the process of choosing the correct tool. We spend many hours thinking about whether it is Angular, React, or Vue that will make our career the most successful.
That’s all well and good, but there is something very foundational that you might miss if you don’t pay enough attention and get lost in the technicality.
There is a set of skills known as “soft” skills. It’s a term created in U.S Army in the late 1960s and it refers to a skill set that’s not technical, or that doesn’t employ any use of machinery.
Soft skills encapsulate all the personal traits and skills that you need and are fundamental to succeed in basically any field that you work in. They include skills of communication, listening, leadership, empathy, creative thinking, teamwork, self-control, self-awareness, speaking, assertiveness, work ethics, time management, context awareness, patience, focus, and even a sense of humor.
When was the last time you read a book or article or watched a course that taught you how to develop self-awareness or leadership abilities? But I’m sure you’ve read many articles on which framework or library to use, React or Angular. You get the point.
Soft skills include skills that are much harder to develop than technical skills. It requires a certain character to even realize that you can work on those. But, from my experience, you can certainly develop many of those to a degree that you don’t think are even possible for you yet.
For me to communicate how you can get better soft skills or why they are necessary, I have to talk about EQ (Emotional Intelligence).
Before we do that, let’s talk about IQ.
I’m sure you’ve heard about IQ many times. You might even consider yourself to have a high IQ and you think that it measures your intelligence somehow. And you also might have someone in your mind, like Albert Einstein, and attribute his success and genius to his high IQ. Alright, but I want to help you shift your perspective a bit.
Basically, what IQ does is it measures your logical reasoning to some degree. It tries to more or less accurately evaluate the functioning of your brain’s left side and is useful for certain things.
But the cultural blunder is that every one of us has heard of IQ but most of us haven’t heard of EQ even once. And I can’t even articulate the significance of EQ over IQ.
Your life is governed by your emotions, not by your reason. You are a much more emotional creature than you are logical. In actuality, emotions will override most of your logic. And if you look and observe parts of your life, you’ll see that it does. Just think of the last time you procrastinated even though you logically know that you shouldn’t. As developers, we fancy ourselves that we are logical and analytical, and actually, we are. But if we neglect the emotional side of ourselves, we get a version of us that is hard to communicate with, hard to work with, and hard to have fun with. And we become like a fish (us) in the water (emotions), who doesn’t even realize the importance of water and sometimes even neglects it. We are deeply wrapped up in our emotions, mostly unconsciously, and we need ways to deal with that.
Emotional Intelligence is a measure and an ability to become aware and correctly handle your emotions. It is also an ability that helps you harness your intuition more.
People with high EQ are in touch with emotions, and people with low EQ suppress and hide their emotions.
People with high EQ actually fully feel their own emotions, and also they notice and label emotions in other people as well. They have a much more accurate understanding of the origins of their different feelings and emotions. They go to the root to understand the reasoning behind their anger, fear, jealousy, envy, or even happiness and excitement. That’s why they know how to handle those because they have enough self-awareness to actually identify anger and fear as it’s happening and handle it correctly.
People with low EQ get lost in the content of their thoughts, which causes emotions. Unconscious thoughts cause unconscious emotions. Then they don’t have an option of responding and handling their emotions correctly. They lose responsibility (response-ability).
Software developers work in teams. We require to communicate with other human beings every day. We need to be aware of how our emotions and mind distort perceptions and we need to have tools for dealing with that. The tool is more consciousness and awareness of ourselves and the situations we find ourselves in. We need to be able to change perspectives, be open-minded to new and different ideas. We also need to be empathetic and consider other people’s opinions without defending our own. To understand other people, especially ones with different ideas than our own, we need to get out of our self-centered bubble and really consider alternative perspectives. That’s hard to do but it’s possible through being aware of your defense mechanisms.
We also need to manage ourselves. We need ways to motivate and inspire ourselves when necessary. You don’t have to wait for others to give you the motivation, you can get that yourself. You just have to know how.
There are tens of other traits that I can list here, but it will take a couple more dedicated articles to fully articulate the subtle distinctions that we need to make to understand the importance of EQ and soft skills better.
Lastly, I want to give you some ideas on what you can to do develop EQ and soft skills. First of all, you need more self-awareness.
You need to observe yourself and your mind more. You have to study the patterns and defense mechanisms of your ego and your mind. You have ideologies and ideas that don’t allow new ideas to penetrate. That’s what makes you super-serious and very defensive about everything. Just become aware of how that’s happening to you. It will help your career goals but especially your relationship endeavors. But as I’ve said, we relate to other humans during our software development careers. So, that skill is crucial.
Meditation will help you with developing more self-awareness over your thought patterns, triggers, and emotions. Also doing some yoga will take you from your over-logical mind to your body and emotions and you’ll feel once more what it’s like to just feel different things in your system and not analyze everything to death. You don’t have to approach yourself as logically as you approach your software projects. Remember that balance is the most important thing.
You can find meditation instructions on YouTube.
You can also start journaling. Just get pen and paper and begin writing your thoughts about things that bug you. Pour your emotions into it and don’t limit yourself. That way you can objectively observe thought patterns and that will make you more self-aware and ultimately develop your EQ even more.
You can read books on different soft skills that I mentioned. Information on how to develop each of those is out there. Just Google it.
In conclusion, I want you to look at your career as a combination of hard skills and soft skills. Obviously, you have to spend many hours writing your software projects, reading technical documentation, and educating yourself through books and courses. But my advice is to spend even more time developing self-awareness and all the other traits that I mentioned. You’ll learn much more about yourself, about others and life in general. And your software development career will also become more fun.