With perhaps the odd and memorable exception, most of the people who land at CTO Academy get the difference between hard skills and soft skills.

The career development challenge is that they have bags of the former, but can struggle with the latter.

Get them down the pub and they can discuss for hours the minutiae of data mining and network security. If you’re lucky they might even list in chronological order the programming languages they’ve loved and lost over the years.

But issues around communication, empathy, delegation and wider management skills are often more daunting and can become a barrier to achieving the career they want.

And the world is not short of advice about hard skills vs. soft skills. Google came up with 41m alternatives and page one is festooned with posts from recruitment sites giving you their esteemed input and insight about the issues, accompanied often by an iceberg.

We’ve taken advantage of (and duly credited) those fine people from Indeed in reproducing their overtly blue graphic.


But The Future Is Soft

The ambitious technologist should have nailed the hard skills long before they start knocking on the door of senior roles.

What will then create the difference, the impact and the turbo charged career will be if/when they can master the soft skills and the future of tech leadership is soft.

“The most important skill of the future isn’t coding or technical in nature. It’s the soft skills that will matter” – Jeff Weiner, CEO, LinkedIn

Ben Eubanks in a book called “Artificial Intelligence for HR: Use AI to Support and Develop a Successful Workforce” identifies five key skills that he believes will be critical differentiators in the “humans versus machines” future;

  1. Creativity – the ability to come up with novel ideas and innovations
  2. Curiosity – being able to ask questions and seek new information
  3. Collaboration – working closely with others to solve problems together
  4. Compassion – taking time to care about the person beyond the interaction
  5. Critical thinking – the ability to take ideas and apply them in practical contexts

He quotes from an article in CLO magazine “that the future of digital work is human in nature” which establishes a breakdown of the top skills targeted for frontline managers;


 andSource: CLO Media

The Hard Skill About Mastering Soft Skills

Stepping into senior management and leadership roles is about stepping out from behind the keyboard.  The transition from technical to managerial is challenging and it’s the soft skills that are the hardest to master.

Anders Wallgren, CTO at Electric Cloud said …. “It’s funny that we even talk about these skills as ‘soft,’ because they are very hard to master and are frequently the cause of more trouble than lack of ‘hard’ skills.”

Leaders with great soft skills can work with most people and in most situations, their personal brand value leaping ahead of those who struggle to transition.

So what to do about building up those softer skills, particularly if it’s not a natural part of your working armoury?

  1. Understand your own motivations, strengths and weaknesses. Find your purpose in life and channel your energy towards achieving those life goals. Without this it’s difficult to lead and manage other people. If your mind is muddy about what you want to achieve, it’s difficult to galvanise others on your behalf.

My recommended read on this topic is Flow, a book where author and psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi investigates the “optimal experience” and reveals that what makes an experience genuinely satisfying is a state of consciousness and flow

  1. It’s often not the smartest or most technical person in the room who becomes an effective tech leader, it’s often one with a high EQ (Emotional intelligence).

Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand, use and manage your own emotions in positive ways to relieve stress, communicate effectively, empathise with others and defuse conflict.

Building blocks for EQ are self-management, self-awareness, social awareness and relationship management and it’s important not just to learn them, but to apply them wholeheartedly.

Empathy and communication are the building blocks for EQ and effective leadership so if you do nothing else, you should be studying and working on the improvement of both.

  1. Read and study how others became effective leaders. How did they improve their communication and other key leadership skills? This article highlights a range of books that can help you build your soft skills.
  2. Soft skills are much harder to acquire than hard skills. They don’t come as naturally to IT professionals and they come with emotional consequences.

It’s why you need to consider the benefits of working with a coach or a mentor, someone who can provide you with objectivity and guidance about your strengths, weaknesses and areas for improvement in these areas.

Work with someone who not only adds value and insight but with whom you feel comfortable getting into the weeds of how and where you need to change. Conversations might need to go in directions that are personal and you need to be dealing with someone you respect and trust.


Where CTO Academy Can Help

The matching process is so important to get right and is a key value add when using an organisation like CTO Academy where our online approach and global reach enables us to specialise in helping mentees find exactly the right mentor fit.

Some Further Reading

This article provides another angle on the definition of soft skills and provides 50+ examples of how to put them to good use on your resume.