Why Tech Needs More People Skills

Technology jobs continue to be in high demand, but there’s still a perception that there is a high barrier to entering the field. Technical skills can be built over time while other non-technical skills are applicable and just as important to the industry.

Rose Fan, Delivery Leader, VMware Tanzu Labs

November 23, 2022

4 Min Read

Technology jobs continue to be in high demand, but there’s still a perception that there is a high barrier to entry due to the requirements for technical skills. Classic requirements for entry-level tech positions such as having a computer science degree or technical competencies are not all that the industry needs, and they can even deter potential talent from applying for a role.

At a time when there’s a shortage of labor, the tech industry needs to attract talent from non-traditional backgrounds, especially in entry-level roles where minimal years of experience are not likely to be relevant to success. Lowering this “perceived” barrier to entry will enable candidates with non-technical degrees or skills to apply.

Opening the Path into Tech

Technical requirements can narrow the field of candidates immensely, ultimately hurting the IT sector from reaping the benefits of candidates from different academic, professional, and life backgrounds. Diversity directly contributes to the tech industry’s advancement, where having diversity of thought and people from different backgrounds can help make better products that are more accessible and beneficial to end-users. Likewise, it can help reduce bias in the workplace and in the product development process. With software at the core of every business, having non-diverse employees building software can result in products and services that only cater to specific groups of people and under-serve others.

Making meaningful changes to candidate requirements and the hiring process are key to lowering the barrier to entry and ultimately diversifying teams. Technical skills can be built over time. For example, many individuals, like myself, have entered the tech field with a non-technical degree taking on a role that does not require a technical degree or a boot camp certificate.

Lowering the perceived barrier of entry into the tech field requires reframing job descriptions and hiring practices to an outcomes-based approach. Whereas a qualifications-based approach to hiring would look for candidates who meet specific requirements, an outcomes-based approach focuses on how people approach problem-solving. Tech companies can benefit from this hiring philosophy by gaining a holistic understanding of a candidate's abilities, achievements, and motivations.

Why Tech Should Embrace ‘Soft’ Skills

The value of “soft” skills has never been industry specific. Despite the fact that resumes and professional development goals often emphasize technical competencies, soft skills have become increasingly important as the world of work evolves. According to a 2021 McKinsey Global Institute survey, the proportion of companies addressing empathy and interpersonal skills doubled in 2020.

Tech recruitment often gets caught up in technical abilities and knowledge and focuses less on soft and transferable skills. The ability to motivate teams to work on a vision and maintain calm when things go awry now is arguably one of the most critical and much-needed skills in tech. It is these interpersonal and human qualities that will drive your company and your teams forward.

Companies can greatly benefit from tech candidates with curiosity, empathy, and communication skills, particularly in hybrid or remote environments where communication can quickly break down. A successful project depends on effective communication. If teams can’t communicate and collaborate with each other effectively, projects will be slower, more challenging, and costly.

More importantly, communication is key for business leaders and engineering teams to work together and ensure that products and services are built in alignment to business and customer needs.

As more companies attempt to build strong workplace cultures that foster inclusion and diversity, soft skills can help enable teams to work more effectively and harmoniously to work together to solve problems. Skills centered around people and communication should be seen as core and essential to the success of the tech industry.

Calls to Action

Here are some ideas on how to refine or adjust your hiring process to attract candidates from non-traditional tech backgrounds:

  • Re-examine your job descriptions. Emphasize what success looks like in the role -- the meaningful types of outcomes that your organization wants out of the job; and the qualities in a person that would be successful for the role -- instead of only the hard skills or minimum number of years of programming experience.

  • Every job requires training and learning, no matter how proficient the candidate in a certain stack or technology. Consider the interview process and how it is designed to understand the candidate’s mindset and aptitude for learning. Are there opportunities where someone can showcase how they would solve a nebulous problem, or how they might showcase an important topic to an audience?

  • Every job requires working with others. How does your interview process highlight the candidate’s approach to working with others on a team, handling conflict, and building alignment?

Technology skills are a knife that constantly needs to be honed to stay sharp in a fast-changing landscape. Rather than excluding candidates who don’t meet a certain qualification at a point in time, companies could consider searching for the right qualities and aptitude for learning during the hiring process, investing in onboarding, training, and shadowing experiences to deepen their technical craft. This is an opportunity to widen the funnel into tech, create loyalty/stickiness, and expand the talent pool for hiring.

About the Author(s)

Rose Fan

Delivery Leader, VMware Tanzu Labs

Rose Fan is Delivery Leader at VMware Tanzu Labs. With 12 years of experience leading complex technology programs and teams across Fortune 500, startup, nonprofit, and public sector organizations, Rose is passionate about building software products that users love and organizations that people want to be a part of.

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