February 1, 2022 by Kenneth Fisher
Well, it’s a new year and a new start, even if I am a bit behind the start of the year. Did you know that if you ask a senior IT person the following questions you’ll almost always get some variation of the same answer?
- What is the most important skill you can have in IT?
- What is the hardest skill for someone in IT to learn?
- What is the least taught skill in IT?
The answer? Soft skills. I.E. dealing with people.
Why is this skill so important? Everything we do, and I do mean everything, is done in the service of someone else. That means communicating with (scary thought) other people. For a simple example, let’s look at performance tuning.
- What query should we be tuning?
- How fast is fast enough?
- How should we do the tuning? Can we change the query itself? Add indexes to the table?
Now some of that we can get from metrics, but not always, and not all of it. That query you decided to tune because it’s running for 8 hours? Turns out, if you’d asked, the one that’s averaging a 30 second runtime is the one that’s causing all of the problems for the business. No need to get it sub second though, they will be ok if you can just get it down to around 20 seconds or less. Unfortunately, you can’t change the code. Turns out it’s vendor code.
Ever had a customer (co-worker) furious because they have been trying to solve a problem for days or weeks and feel like they are getting the run around? Now they’ve come to you, and it’s your job to make them feel better, even if you aren’t the one who can solve their problem.
As much as we deal with computers day in and day out, there are people behind them. Learn how to work with those people and you can make your job so much easier.
So for at least the next month I want you to work on your interpersonal skills.
- Read a book on the subject.
- Read a blog (or five).
- Talk to someone who seems good at this and get their opinion on what you could work on.
Now, this isn’t a quick skill to master. I’ve been working on this off and on for most of my career and I still have a lot of work to do. As a personal example I recently spoke with my manager and he suggested that I improve my communication when I’m in the middle of a project, or even (particularly) once it’s completed. I’ve developed a bad habit of finishing off a project, closing out the ticket(s) and letting it go. So I’m going to work doing better at this.
I should probably point out that I used to be pretty good at this type of communication. But like any skill, if you stop doing it, you’ll get worse over time or even lose the skill all together. You can’t just rest on your laurels.
So start this month, and maybe get into the habit of working on your communication/soft skills on a regular basis.