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  • Writer's pictureDewayne Greenwood

Big picture skills development for software development teams

Most of us are aware that in order to progress in our careers and make a more meaningful impact with the work we do, developing our skills is a crucial piece of achieving these outcomes. Regardless of your profession, skills development is how you provide value in the workplace and continue to build confidence in your abilities. Given the importance of skills development to our work, we need to be intentional about how we manage our learning journey. This intention requires an understanding of what you know and an awareness of what you need to know. In this article, we’re going to explore together how to be intentional about skills development.

Good to Great

I have a personal passion for skills development and I have been fortunate to work in the tech industry which highly values the learning and mastery of new skills. I have taken a lot of inspiration from the technical teams I have worked with over the years and their dedication to learning and becoming the very best they can be. The practical lessons in this article will work for any profession, but I will approach this from my own perspective working in the tech industry. So to get started, let me take you back to the middle-ages.

There was a time in human history when a blacksmith was the most important person in any village or town. These highly skilled craftspeople were revered for their knowledge of metalworking and if you go back even further in time to ancient Mesopotamia, blacksmithing was even linked with supernatural superstitions. During the middle ages, blacksmiths were revered for their technical understanding of steel and were highly valued for their ability to craft everyday items needed for living and weapons for security. Blacksmiths would join trade guilds that provided skills development for apprentices up to experienced craftspeople because members knew that skills development was what separated good blacksmiths from great ones. Members of software development teams in our modern world are craftspeople in the same sense. Skills development is just as crucial to building the tools the world needs today and tomorrow and has the same effect of separating good craftspeople from great craftspeople. Why? This dedication to personal and professional development is foundational to solving problems with confidence and continuing to be a valuable contributor. So, how have you been approaching your own skills development? Have you been approaching your own development from a holistic perspective or with a more narrow focus? Let me suggest a strategy for planning your skills development from a big-picture perspective.

A strategy for skills development

The place to start is to understand that skills development can be broken down into two categories. First, there are hard skills we need to master to be effective at our work. A heart surgeon needs a deep understanding of the heart and the techniques and approaches needed to successfully operate and correct heart issues. It’s the same with members of software development teams. Hard skills can be summed up as the technical know-how and methodologies you use each day to solve problems and create solutions. Hard skills can be the most obvious skills we identify when we need to learn new things. The second category of skills development can be defined as soft skills. These skills are more elusive and sometimes not as obvious to us, but they are no less important. Where hard skills are technical know-how and methodologies, soft skills are more about people and how they interact and work together. Think of soft skills as things like interpersonal skills, self-awareness, how we communicate, and how we approach collaboration. Soft skills help us adapt more easily to different situations and increase our emotional intelligence to recognize others’ wants and needs. As important as hard skills are to a successful project, soft skills can sometimes have a greater impact on the outcomes.

Most people I have been around on my own journey in the tech industry have a good idea of how to continue to build their hard skills. The development community is the best at providing resources and know-how regarding hard skills development. It’s one of the things that I admire about this community, but we can’t neglect the development of our interpersonal skills because projects are just people trying to work together for a common goal. Building your skills around effective communication and how to get to the real answers regarding wants and needs are crucially important. So, how do you put together learning goals when it comes to developing both your hard and soft skills?

Making a plan

The best place to start is to take inventory of your current skills. Use a simple spreadsheet or whatever tool you feel comfortable with and start listing your current hard skills. Assess these skills using questions like:

  • What technologies and practices do I know and currently use on a daily basis?

  • Are there any gaps in my knowledge or skills with these technologies or practices?

  • What do I think I will need to learn in the future?

Take a similar approach to assess your current soft skills. Use questions like:

  • If my job depended on my ability to influence business decisions, how confident do I feel?

  • How well do I understand what the business leaders around me value?

  • How well do I feel heard and respected for my ideas?

  • How confident am I in building high-trust relationships with business leaders and my team members?

Next, identify where you feel you have the most significant gaps in your skills and knowledge. You may notice that identifying gaps in your hard skills may be easier than your soft skills. Use the questions above and be honest with yourself about what you currently know. Opening our eyes to what we need to learn is a discovery process. Just being aware that there are soft skills you need to learn and practice is what starts that path of discovery. Here are some ideas to help your discovery process:

  • Seek out others that you feel are good at practicing the soft skills you want to learn or just seem to be good at skills like communication and collaboration.

  • Look for quality training that can help you identify specific soft skills and give you a practical way of learning them.

  • Engage with your community and ask for help.

  • Expand your current knowledge sources outside of your normal blogs, podcasts, and books.

  • Research if your employer offers resources to define and learn the soft skills they value.

Once you have a good understanding of what you need to learn, you want to try and set your learning goals with measurable outcomes. Again, setting goals and measuring results is a little more straightforward with hard skills, but can get fuzzy when it comes to measuring success with soft skills. So, combining your skills development from both categories should enable you to set goals that work together and can be measured together. As an example, let’s say you have a goal to learn how to better leverage a current technology you are using and to be better able to communicate the value of this technology with the decision-makers on your team. You may already know what resources you need to expand your knowledge with the current technology you are using, but what about building your soft skills for this particular goal? The result of measuring both your hard skills and soft skills working together can be an overall better outcome. Was better leveraging the technology the right choice and were you able to help the decision-maker on your project understand your approach? Did this produce a better outcome for the project and your relationship with your team? Perhaps the best outcome was that you felt like you were heard and respected because the decision-maker better understood your perspective. Hard skills can be measured by specific results and soft skills can be measured by how you feel and the strength of the relationships you have with others.

Stay curious

For the truly curious, skills development is a lifelong pursuit. The benefits help your career by increasing your adaptability and the confidence you have in your work. Don’t just focus on the hard skills you need to continue to learn and hone, but also the soft skills that help you better communicate and get your best ideas used.

Originally posted on LinkedIn:



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