The Top 5 Non-Tech Skills Every Tech Employee Needs to Know

June 23, 2016

Most tech skills are fleeting. You learn a new program or a new language and, within a year or two, it either changes drastically or has been replaced altogether.

But there are some necessary skills to excel in any tech role that don’t change – the soft skills to do the job. And often those soft skills are as important or more important than any one piece of technical expertise.

So what are the specific soft skills any tech employee needs to be able to excel at their job? Well, there are many, but here are the top five:

1. The ability to communicate technical information to non-tech people.

If you are an IT person, and you can’t communicate technical information to non-tech people effectively, you are going to triple your amount of work and increase your chances of a security breach. Conversely, if you can clearly explain certain pitfalls and how to avoid them, you’ll exponentially reduce your tickets.

For programmers and data scientists, it is even more important. Yes, you might have the ability to create all types of products and run reports that could change the fortunes of your organization. And yet, if you can’t clearly explain why those products or reports matter or how it relates to the business, those ideas will be lost in translation.

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2. The ability to ask the right questions at the onset of any project.

Success in any project means understanding the needs of the organization and then doing your part to make that happen. And, that means for any tech project, clearly understanding the goal for the initiative upfront, so all decisions and actions thereafter can be made with that in mind.

The hope is those goals are clearly defined by the project manager, but in practice, that’s not always the case. Therefore, it’s essential you – as a tech employee – to ask the right questions of exactly what’s the business reason for the project and what success looks like, which shall greatly increase your chances of accomplishing the project’s goal.

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3. Negotiation skills

Tech, perhaps more than any other vertical, requires working with a lot of programs and vendors. For that reason, negotiation is an essential skill for building a lasting tech career.

And it isn’t just the ability to negotiate with vendors on price, although that certainly matters. Equally important is the ability to negotiate adequate service agreements and to understand the full capability of the vendor or product, so when you do make a purchase, it’s money well spent.

This is something that becomes increasingly more important the higher you go in tech, so it helps to learn it early.

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4. Time management and prioritization.

Time management is critical in any job, but particularly important in tech.

For IT workers, the ability to triage – i.e. to understand what needs to be fixed immediately and what can be pushed off until tomorrow – is critical for success.

For developers and data scientists, there’s no shortage of new features you could add to a product or reports you could run. The real challenge is prioritizing the what’s going to meet the business’s needs, as opposed to what would be “cool to have” or be “cool to know.”

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5. Most of all, the ability to learn new skills.

This one is part skill and part mindset.

The skill part is the actual ability to learn new skills. While that’s partially innate, you can improve your learning ability by – you guessed it – learning new skills often. Like lifting weights, the more you learn, the stronger you’ll be at learning.

The mindset part is equally important. The temptation is to become complacent with your current set of skills, particularly after some success. But, in tech particularly, that mindset is a good way of become obsolete.

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*Image by HBO