Hard Skills are More Important Than Soft Skills*
*For Under-Served Students
I’ve thought about how to write the blog post about my following tweet.
So if “soft skills are more important than hard skills” is annoying and bad advice for a 22 year old Angel, what does helpful advice look like? As a recently minted 27 year old, I've put that in the form of a letter.
Dear 22yo Angel,
You are new to the tech industry but not new to working. Like many other poor immigrant family members; you have memories of your dad being a day laborer, recycling cans for cash, and traditional foods. Your background has prepared you to work through anything you set your mind to.
You have grown up between worlds, wearing one face at home and another at school. You don’t fit in quite perfectly in either. The math you’re studying teaches that this situation can be described as; your different selves being neither mutually exclusive, nor mutually exhaustive of your whole self.
Your background has also taught you communication skills. As a budding artist, you seriously played an instrument from ages 14-22. This taught you how to learn, teach, and navigate being an outsider. Being a child of trauma taught you to empathize with others, yet it didn’t do a great job of teaching you to be empathetic with yourself. Growing up with the Spectre of war in your home gave you a global perspective of human suffering from a very young age. Your life experience on soft skills like resilience and communication are incredible!
Having said all that, I give you permission to focus on hard skills.
Too often you hear phrases like,
Soft skills are what employers are looking for. People who can think critically.
Your bullshit alarms are correct to go off. In order to even have the chance to prove your soft skills to employers. The reality is that you will only get that chance after being vetted technically.
Learn the fundamentals like relational databases (created 1970ish) and their pros/cons. Learn the newer stuff like Pandas (created 2008ish) on Python as well. Get on a Linux OS (created 1991) as soon as possible and start using the command line as much as you can. Don’t worry about fancy skills/tools like GraphQL or deep learning because Vicki Boykis says IT runs on Java 8. Don’t worry about weird skills either, like VBA and DAX. Just because employers list it, that doesn’t mean they understand it or even need it.
Employers are happy to tout the importance of critical thinking but only list hard skills as requirements. Soft skills are listed as “requirements” like
Exceptional communication skills
But you know, and everybody knows, that recruiters do the preliminary filtering of candidates on bullet points that sound more like
2+ Years Experience with a scripting language like R/Python
You are hustling to get that paycheck. It may look like informational interviews, reading blog posts, or watching code tutorials on YouTube. Here are some questions to ask yourself or anybody involved while you’re hustling:
Which skills are fundamental to your craft? Skills that you can sell to any company; old or new, bank or startup, spreadsheets or code.
Which skills can you ignore for now and how much risk are you taking on by ignoring them?
How complex should a learning project be? Until you can rest on your gains and move on to another project?
The main gist is to be picky with your efforts and own your expertise quicker than you normally tend to take. As a rule of thumb, take half the time you think is necessary to consider yourself skilled in a concept or tool.
The reality is that hard skills and the ability to sell them comes first in your industry for anybody who may be considered a “diversity hire”. Keep writing, rest more, and be more picky about your developing your hard skills. They will allow you to glow in your expertise.