by Meridith Levinson

Geek Pride: Soft Skills Are for Weenies

Feb 24, 2010

Much has been made of the need for IT pros to demonstrate soft skills, but a backlash against their importance is brewing.

Much has been made of the need for IT professionals to demonstrate soft skills—the ability to communicate, negotiate, and win friends and influence people.

CIOs and IT hiring managers have been beating the soft skills drum for years. They realize a friendly, customer-focused IT staff promotes collaboration with business units, delivers projects and services more effectively, and helps to bury the propeller-head image that persists in IT. More positions in IT departments—from help desk technician to business analyst to outsourcing relationship manager—require refined soft skills.

Today, there’s even more pressure on IT professionals to be personable and persuasive, and to exhibit keen emotional intelligence. In an April 2009 column for Computerworld, Robert Half Technology Executive Director Dave Willmer wrote that IT professionals who possess solid technical and soft skills have a distinct edge in the job market over those who are strong only on the technical side.

Hardcore techies resent that thinking, and I sense a growing backlash among them toward this emphasis on soft skills.

For instance, when I interviewed Catherine Kaputa for my blog on IT professionals’ personal branding hangups, she said that when she speaks at tech companies about the importance of personal branding and soft skills in career management, she gets resistance from some technical employees, who tell her that they went into IT so that they could work independently.

A reader left a comment on my blog that reinforces Kaputa’s observation. The reader, who goes by QuestingElf, notes that many IT professionals view soft skills as “a guise for ‘technical incompetence.'” QuestingElf continues:

If you have to reach for the soft skills of cajoling and persuasion, maybe you don’t have what it takes to hack it in IT.
Let us remember that some folks in technical fields like IT pride themselves on NOT having social skills. This has been clarified and verified by Reeves and Nass over at Stanford who say they can always count on someone in their seminars proclaiming, “I got into engineering precisely because I do not want to be evaluated on my social skills.”

I have to admit that the misanthrope in me admires the anti-social attitude that QuestingElf expresses and its inherent intellectual machismo. The IT professionals QuestingElf is talking about apparently measure their masculinity by their technical prowess. (I am not judging that.)

To them, the need for soft skills is a sign of technical impotence.

I wonder, are IT professionals now reclaiming their inner geek? Is this geek pride they’re professing in Stanford seminars and in discussion forums on the Web evidence of a growing revolt against the importance of soft skills in their field? Inquiring minds want to know, so leave your comments below.