People Skills Are Crucial to Technical Careers

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This week’s episode on ATETV demonstrated that it takes more than just technical know-how to succeed in the Information Technology field – people skills are also crucial to success.

In fact, last week we talked about Convergence Technology, which brings together various platforms – video, audio, data – into single sophisticated networks. Well, it turns out that our super-connected technologies also depend on super-connected technicians – and for that, communication and interpersonal skills are key. As tech consultant Eric Berridge recently wrote in a ComputerWorld.com blog post, “In order to architect and manage the systems that connect employees across departments, management and customers, [IT staffers] are going to need an intimate knowledge of not just how an organization operates, but how people communicate.”

People who understand people possess several important qualities. Listening skills, for example, are key and a sign of an “active listener” is the ability to offer insightful follow-up questions. IT employees with good people skills also share a collaborative outlook and are able to work with other staffers to successfully solve problems. They can also guide “non-techies” in understanding complicated computer issues, presenting and explaining complex technological material using every-day conversational language.

Several lesson plans highlighted on ATECentral are designed to help students develop these important soft skills. The Interpersonal Effectiveness Curriculum, for example, was created with the field of Manufacturing Technology in mind, but can be applied to other technical fields as well. Developed at the University of Washington, the lesson plan aims to provide participants with an opportunity to hone their interpersonal skills through interactive exercises in a team setting, with the end goals of understanding teamwork (such as establishing ground rules or avoiding making assumptions) and building communication skills (including asking effective questions and giving effective directions.)

Another Lesson Plan, The Toothpick Factory Project consists of a simulation game that takes students through a series of interactive exercises in which they run a company, and rates their abilities in several soft-skill areas including listening, working in teams, leading, adapting and speaking. As The Toothpick Factory Project notes, soft skills benefit both employer and employee: While employers benefit from well-rounded, high-performance workers, employees are empowered and better positioned for promotions and other opportunities.

As ComputerWorld sums it up, “[Today’s IT employees] are going to have to make sure systems are in line and reporting to each other, and map the technology to business processes so that employees can….improve practices on a daily basis. They’ll need to do all this and more….within the context of human communication.”

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