Thursday, February 6, 2020

Why Should a Software Engineer Learn Soft Skills?

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Image by Comfreak from

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This article was first published on Feb. 6th, 2020 on LinkedIn.

“So many books, so little time.”
― Frank Zappa
Time. We all complain about it, right? Oftentimes we hear people talking about how they wished to have more time to study this or that thing, or even saying that things would be better if they could add another degree to their curriculum.

In face of this important and very limited commodity, an important question to be posed when it comes to choosing what kind of books and things we study is: am I spending time and energy studying the things that are really important to me? I will try to discuss this question here a little bit to show that most of us may be focusing on the wrong kind of content in our studies.

Oh, and if you are not studying anything, YOU MUST START NOW.

(Image by Nebraska Department of Education from Pixabay)

When I mentioned to a friend that I was reading a book every week and writing a review about it, his first reaction was to ask me how I was choosing the books. I happened to be carrying my book for this week with me, so I promptly showed him the book. When he read the cover, he fired promptly: "Why the heck is a programmer reading a book about marketing?"

I smiled, and paused for a second before giving my response. His question has actually led me to a lot of pondering and to some more reading, so I should thank him. So, why the heck am I reading books on so many different topics?

Let's back up a little bit. Why do we study? Well, we all need a job, right? So, we go to school, get ready for college, learn a trait in college, start working, and so on... The basic model, the usual template. Engineers study engineering, doctors study about diseases and drugs, each one within their box, within their field of expertise. And don't you dare changing it: Da Vinci is dead.

At some point, people started talking about emotional intelligence - and even though Goleman's famous book (1) was published in 1995, the term is present in an article from the 60s. Suddenly, after Goleman, everyone started talking about things like empathy, people skills, presentation skills, et cetera.

I came across an article (2) that talks about the skills some college students rated as essential to acquire in their college education. Guess what? In rank-order: oral communication, problem solving, written communication, motivating and managing others, personal time management, setting personal goal were listed as the most essential in their college education. Other skills rated as essential, but not as essential as the ones above are quantitative analyses skill, computer use and basic statistical techniques. The funny thing is that this article cites another one from the 80s (3), with similar results.

We all find these skills important, we all want them. Our employers want us to have them. Oh, our clients too, right? The only thing is...we just don't get them at school. So, we have to get them from some place.

So, how should we do it? This is the million-dollar question, right? Books might help. If you don't like to read, you should. There's also the question of which skills you want to acquire. I am trying to be more creative. Not that I don't consider other skills important, but I try to do one thing at a time. So, I have been trying to do different things, things that I don't like, things that I am not good at.

I have been gaining a lot from my adventure. Drawing classes are fun. Reading Kotler's book was not fun, but I've learned a lot from it. And why should a software engineer study soft skills?

Well, ask me again in ten years :)


1. Goleman, D. Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. (2005) Bateman.

2. Zekeri, A. A.; Baba, P. A. Evaluation of Skills Needed In College Education by Colleges of Agriculture Alumni from 1862 and 1890 Land Grant Universities in Alabama and Tennessee. College Student Journal, Vol. 48 (2), 322-324.

3. Litzenberg, K. and V. E. Schneider (1987). Agribusiness Management Aptitude and Skills Survey. Washington, D.C.: Agribusiness Education Project.

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About Ricardo Prins
Ricardo Prins is a Software Engineer who thinks that technology is not the answer to all our problems.

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