From Hard Coding to Soft Skills

by Amie Croteau

A career in information technology requires interpersonal skills as well as technical skills.

At first glance, a job in the field of information technology may see like an easy way to avoid human interaction. When working on a computer, the interaction appears to be clearly between user and machine. For introverts, a relationship with computers seems like an enticing future.  Introverts aspiring to a career in IT may picture a blissful ideal: being able to simply do the task at hand, collect a paycheck, and go home. Many years ago, this job description may have been applicable, with computer developers in the basement typing away at their keyboards, fulfilling all the computer needs of the company while rarely interacting with the employees above ground.  Yet, in 2017, the field of information technology requires much more human interaction and personal touch than ever before.

As a closet introvert, I’ve always been drawn to the IT industry in part due to this vision of solitude. I always loved designing and creating via the computer screen. I could work alone for hours and be perfectly content. But, as we all know, you go with what your strengths are, and at the time mine seemed to lie in management and sales. Still, after 15 years of working in that field, I didn’t feel fulfilled and I relished an opportunity to change direction.

Going back to my original love of design and computers, I decided to pursue my degree in Web Development and Design. The introvert inside me was rejoicing as I assumed I wouldn’t be interacting endlessly with clients, co-workers, managers, or other breathing humans. In my future, I could see my hands in a whirlwind of activity across the keyboard, breathing life into a black space utilizing lines of code. Following requests sent to me via email, instead of by an actual person. I am now into my third semester here at RACC and I am realizing that how I envisioned my future career couldn’t be further from the truth.

The IT industry has become integral to our society in 2017. Apple, Google, and many other pacesetters have thrust technology into the forefront of our everyday lives. Most software and web development is now centered on how to make the user-interface experience more friendly and accessible to everyone. User-centered design requires a personal connection from developers — it requires a reach beyond the code, and into the mind of the user. Developers can look at a complicated website and find what they need, but the grandma trying to navigate the site will have a harder time and become frustrated with the results. Closing the gap between power users and the tech illiterate has been the goal of the industry.

Developing with the user in mind, the IT industry has prioritized human interactions at every stage. The isolated hacker in the basement is not going to succeed in the modern-day development company. Hackers must come into the world and share their skills with others. Google, Apple, and Facebook have designed their campuses to facilitate human interaction. Whether you’re working for a cutting edge giant like Facebook or for a local company, you’ll likely be working on a development team. On these teams, a lot of interaction occurs through a 10-minute hoorah meeting called a scrum. This scrum allows time to talk about the tasks each team member faces. Everyone can present their problems and surmise possible solutions. Once this meeting is through, the developer’s day often includes more interactions with other co-workers and supervisors. That same developer may be pulled into a meeting with a client to troubleshoot at any stage of the job. These interactions require much from the developer in the terms of being able to communicate, relate, and solve problems with others.

Aaron Rimby, a Web Development major here at RACC who works in the IT industry, explains how important building relationships is in IT: “Communication and interpersonal skills are just as important as technical skills in IT,” Rimby said.

“Being a great communicator helps when trying to troubleshoot with users [who] have a subpar technical knowledge or [when] trying to explain to the CFO how the new, expensive server will actually help productivity and employee morale.”

Taking classes here at RACC, I have realized no basement coding creatures lie here. Instead, we are learning how to speak up in meetings, present our ideas, and overcome our challenges. In my web classes, I am learning that I will be an integral part of a team, and possibly need to lead a team to achieve a client’s goal. The art we create utilizing a computer’s capabilities is more than just numbers and letters, it is a gateway to opportunity for that client. Whether working for a mom and pop shop, or a multi-million dollar industry, our creativity and skills will be their stepping stone for success. Translating their needs and wants and being able to light up their website is a skill that requires more than coding, it requires communicating and understanding what the client, who may have zero computer capability, is really looking for. The AAS degrees are designed to equip you with not only the technical knowledge, but with the ability to really communicate and succeed in the business world.

Looking at what I know now, versus three semesters ago, I realize how incredibly exciting it is to be learning these skills at a time when the world is most reliant upon technology. Within this reliance requires even more human interaction, not less, to ensure successful utility and ultimately pushing progress forward. This kind of progress doesn’t happen in a basement, it happens in teams, face-to-face meetings, and virtual calls. For me, this industry is a perfect place for all those who are introverts, as it pushes us outside of our comfort zone to create not only websites, but functional and beautiful gateways to the world.