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Build Your Talent Stack
Google, one of the premier technology companies in the world, one day conducted a survey to check its hiring practices. They wanted to verify if expertise in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) translated into career success within their organization. What they found was surprising: technical expertise ranked last among the factors of top employees. Instead, soft skills dominated the list of qualities for highly effective employees:

• Being a good coach 
• Communicating and listening well 
• Possessing insights into others (including others different values and points of view) 
• Having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues 
• Being a good critical thinker and problem solver 
• Being able to make connections across complex ideas.

My experiences working in multiple companies over the course of my IT career align with these findings. It's my belief that English majors can be just as good programmers as STEM graduates, and in some cases even better. For example, object-oriented programming can be likened to diagramming sentences: properties are the nouns and adjectives, methods are the verbs, and events are conjunctions (as they can affect other classes).

Make no mistake, you still need the logical and analytical thinking that STEM provides. But that's just the starting point. In order to succeed in technology, you have to be able to bring in other skills and mindsets that come from different backgrounds (like theater, cooking, or art) to really produce something unique and irreplaceable.

Scott Adams, in his book How to Fail at Almost Anything and Still Win Big, lays out a concept he calls the talent stack. Basically having a talent stack means being moderately good at many different unrelated things, and then allowing those different talents to combine together to produce a particular talent no one else can duplicate. In his own words, "when it comes to skills, quantity often beats quality."
So other than coding, what skills are going to make you successful in your IT career?

Here's a small sampling:

• Accounting: If you spend any significant time in software, sooner or later you will end up working with accounting one way or another. Accounting and finance drives an overwhelming majority of business decisions, so having a working knowledge will give you the ability to speak with business leaders in terms they understand.

Public Speaking: A mistake many technical people make during presentations is attempting to use it as a way to convey facts and information. The real purpose of a public presentation is to persuade people to your side. At the end of the day, people respond to emotions; facts just validate what your listeners are feeling is real.

Written Communication: A common problem I see in the resumes of many technology candidates is that they read like a laundry list of hard skills. While you must meet the hard skill requirements, what is really going to get you invited to an interview is the story you weave in the presentation of the resume. If you can tantalize the hiring manager's imagination, he will want to get to know you more.

Networking: I'll be honest: I've never gotten a single job interview through networking. That's not why I'm recommending this, however. Networking takes you out among people in a professional or semi-professional setting and gives you the opportunity to practice socializing at that level. If you can socialize and make connections at a networking event, you will be good at connecting with top executives at a company event, or approaching that cute girl across the room. And sometimes, you might even get a lead on a new job opportunity.

Style and Grooming: Like it or not, people will judge you by the way they see you. The way you dress communicates an unspoken message to people that can immediate raise or lower your credibility in their eyes before you say a single word.

If you want to learn more how to add soft skills to your talent stack, there are two things you can do. You could search for this information yourself and spend a lot of time figuring out if and how this applies to your technology career. Or you could learn from someone who's already done the hard work of learning these skills and figuring out what's needed and what isn't.

Join my email list and let me share the soft skill lessons I've learned over the course of my own career progression.

About the Author: Jonathan Szeto

I have spent over a decade in the field of database development, particularly for business intelligence. By learning how to master data, I turned myself around from the brink of bankruptcy to earning over six figures in business intelligence. Sign up to my email list if you want to learn how to do this for yourself.
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