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Important non-tech qualities for tech people for career success

Blog 2019 / 08 / 21

Important non-tech qualities for tech people for career success



Introduction

I have been working with lots of technical people due to the nature of my career path. I have seen many of them living under some kind of the wrong impression that flourishing only the technical qualities is enough for the success of their career. If someone has sound technical skills, this will help him/her succeed but that is not the only factor. By cultivating some important non-technical qualities, the chances of success can be increased up to a great deal. 

Is this article for you

Main target audiences of this article are the software engineers (developers, testers, designers, architects, etc). But any person who makes his/her living out of technical skills can be benefited from it. 

Does suggested path guarantee success

Of course not. There is nothing that can guarantee success or failure. There are so many external factors associated with one’s career that it can never be guaranteed. If you are lucky, then you can achieve great success with less quality, if your luck is bad enough, then you may not be able to achieve enough success despite having all the qualities. 

Forget what you have read in motivational books. Successor failure is not your doing solely (or mostly, dependent on the cases). If you are experienced enough, then you should know there are many external factors of which we have no control but those factors influence our success or failure up to a great deal. If you still do not know it, then wait for such experience, you will have it eventually. 

Napoleon, despite all his geniuses and glories, could never become Napoleon if the French revolution did not happen. Spanish armada would never be defeated against Elizabeth if the weather was on their side. Your life may not be as exciting as Napoleon or Elizabeth but should have enough experience to understand the influence of external factors. 

External factors may influence your career from 20% to 80% based on different cases. The common scenario is that the higher you go, the more influence of the external factors. 

So, now the question is, if we can not determine the success or failure of ours, then why should we plan for career success? This is because what human beings can do at best is to play with probability. We may not decisively determine our success or failure but we can increase the chances by certain actions. So, what we are going to discuss in this article is how a technical person can increase his/her chances by cultivating certain non-technical skills. 

Crucial Non-technical skills for technical persons

Be punctual on meetings

be punctual on meetings

Whenever I get a chance, I always mention this. I have seen many highly technically skilled engineers who are not enough serious to attend the meetings in due time. They just make a delay because they “forget”. Man, what do you think yourself? Steve Jobs without whom the meeting can not be started or you do not need to attend the meetings on due time like other “regular” people because you are some sort of “special developer”? If this thought comes to your mind, then remove it immediately.

Even Steve Jobs would not be excused with the meetings with the influential persons. And lucky for Steve Jobs, the number of persons that could make an influence on his career was very limited. But for you, whatever you think about yourself, the reality is that you are nothing special, for a large number of people can influence your career, your project manager, your line manager, your client, your team members, etc everybody can influence the success of your career. 

Most people can not understand how great a developer you are, even if they do understand, they would not care. Attending late to a meeting demonstrates your lack of seriousness and professionalism. You may have worked the whole previous night but still, you can never be late in a meeting without prior notice. 

An impression is everything, by attending late to the meetings with the people who have influence over your gradings, you are definitely creating a bad impression of yours. At the end of the year, you may complain about office politics and many other things for not getting a good grade despite being a good engineer (in your opinion) but if you look into enough deep with a neutral attitude, then you may find that you have destroyed your impression by regularly being late on the meetings without prior notice. 

Change or follow the processes

Change-or-follow-the-processes
Change or follow the processes

You may find the existing processes to be boring or useless or counterproductive. But the fact is, the processes are there as they are required. Of course, the processes may be counterproductive and redundant. I, myself, have seen many processes which are absolutely useless but we still had to follow those cumbersome processes. 

If you think any process to be unnecessary, then talk with the relevant personnel, convince them to modify the processes. Ability to convince people is one of the excellent abilities and vice-versa. But until the modification takes place, you better follow the processes (like submitting daily updates, update the JIRA board regularly, etc). Do not go for rebellion or not even reluctance. Because you are not solely you, if you show reluctance, then the impression towards not only you but also to the team you are working with will be damaged. 

The processes may have rooms of improvement, the processes may be mundane but still many people depend on it. So, either you make these processes perfect (by convincing relevant personnel) or you should obey. 

For example, I have seen many engineers unwilling to update JIRA board regularly but that JIRA board is a source of truth for many stakeholders to know the progress of the tasks and etc. So, if the JIRA board (or whatever tool you are using) is not updated, the stakeholders will become confused about the current progress status. 

So, the summary is, 

  • If you do not like the processes, then take the necessary steps to change the processes. 
  • If you can not do it, then follow the processes.
  • And if you still do not care to follow the process, then do not mind the consequences despite being a great engineer (in your opinion). 

Be proactive

Besides doing the tasks assigned to you, you should be taking different proactive steps. You should propose different effective suggestions proactively. Some of the possible examples of proactiveness

  • Share your opinions of how to make the current code architecture better
  • Share your opinions of how changing existing technology will benefit the whole solution
  • Ideating how to automate the present test cases to speed up the regression testing
  • Introduce new testing tool which will accelerate the testing 
  • Identifying the obstacles to make your application scalable

There can be many other ways to be proactive. At the end of the year, it may seem to you that you are unjustifiably getting bad grades though you have done all the assigned tasks but do remember that assigned tasks do not count much, that is merely expected from you and for which you are getting paid. It’s the extra tasks outside your assignment that count. 

Market yourself effectively

So, you are doing everything right but still no luck? This can happen. Your doings can not bring any value if that is not well known to the people, especially, decision-makers. You may think that your bosses should be knowing what you are doing but now this is the high time you should be living in the real world rather than in some motivational book. 

You have to assume the worst which is you are doing everything right but nobody knows about it or even your bosses or other stakeholders know about your hard work, they still do not know enough. So, you have to carry your lantern by yourself. 

How you can market yourself- that is a discussion for some other time. But you have to do it effectively but subtly. Bragging will only destroy your image and silence may make your contributions ineffective. You have to maintain a balance between the two. There are many ways of personal branding and marketing. You need to know those and choose the one that suits you.

Know your office politics 

Office politics is like the sin that we all know about it, this is everywhere but we do not want to talk about it. Every office has some politics, more or less. Your office has politics too. There is nothing to be ashamed of or this does not need to be bad. Whenever a gathering has more than two persons, there will be some amount of politics. This is simply how we human beings have evolved. 

Today’s article is not about office politics and so we are not going into details. Today’s article is about increasing your chances of a successful career. You may not have an interest in office politics which is absolutely okay, you do not need to even participate in it but you need to know the political dynamics of your company. Unless you know the dynamics, then you can not save yourself or your team when things go south. 

So, you should have awareness regarding office politics. Correct awareness and understanding of the dynamics of the politics of your office will save you from many unexpected events. 

Communication communication and communication

Communication is one of the keys to success regardless whichever role you are in. There are mainly two types of communication: written and verbal. You have to master both of them. 

Communication is a skill that is misjudged by people the most. Everybody thinks they are expert in communication (like management or sales) but most of them are frustrating at communication (like management or sales). Being able to communicate effectively through writing and verbal means factoring in the level of the audience is a great skill, this skill is rarer and greater than you may possibly think. If you want to succeed, you need to be an expert communicator. There are many excellent materials on how to be a good communicator, you should have started studying those from yesterday. 

Communication also includes an articulation of a technical problem in non-technical terms. The higher you go, you need to interact with more non-technical people. You need to master the art of explaining a technical issue in non-technical terms so that non-technical people can understand that too- this is a very handy skill believe me. 

Public speaking  

public-speaking  
Public speaking

Public speaking is a great virtue, if you can kill the stage, you can kill many things. Being a notable public speaker will give you great edge. You should practice it as much as possible. Use the stage to explain a new technology you have recently used whenever you get a chance. You can do many things on stage, be on stage and crack the jackpot – this is as simple as it is.

 

Learning English (for Bangladeshis)

If you serve at the tech industry of Bangladesh, then I do not need to tell you the importance of being an expert in English. You need to master the skills of writing, speaking and listening- all three branches. If you have some practical experience, then you have already seen that some engineers are advancing much more than others due to their proficiency in English. 

In almost all the big (even the small ones) projects or companies in Bangladesh, we need to do a lot of communication, collaboration and synchronization in English due to the nature of our industry. The need may not be the same for the tech industries of all the other countries. But for BD industry, not being skilled in English is one of the major failings and vice-versa.

So, you need to learn it, practice it until you attain the proficiency of somewhat close to your proficiency in Bangla and then you need to continue the practice. 

More

There are many other basic things that we need to master

  • Not replying unnecessarily or inappropriately late to the emails, slacks or other communications (if there is too much communication which is counterproductive, then the scrum-mater should chime in)
  • Body language
  • Etiquettes especially corporate etiquettes
  • Controlling the temper
  • Learn to say no in a respectful manner, learn to disagree in a respectful manner
  • Having rapport with coworkers 
  • Convincing people
  • etc etc etc

There are, of course, many other such things which have not been mentioned in this article. If you think that I have missed some important point(s), then please let me know, I will update the article accordingly. 

Conclusion 

Just being good on technical aspects is not enough in most cases. We need to cultivate other qualities too along with being technically skilled. Achieving these non-tech skills might seem easy to you but believe me they are not. It would take years of practice to achieve such skills, so, do not make any more delay, start right now  :). 

About the Author

Arafat Sultan, Project Manager, Monstar Lab Bangladesh. If you have any thoughts about this article, please let me know at arafat@monstar-lab.com.bd

 

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