Why technical competency isn’t (and was never) enough

October 2, 2017 | Activate Learning, Reskill Your Workforce | 3 min read


“Listen to the menu options, before making a selection.”

“Push 1 if you’d like to know our business hours.”

“Push 2 if you have a problem with one of products starting with the letter A.”

“Push 3 if you have a problem with billing on your account.”

“Push 4 if you would rather walk barefoot through flames than listen to another automated message.”

Does this sound familiar?

Well, maybe not walking barefoot through flames, but you have to admit, it’s pretty common nowadays--and pretty annoying as well.

But, if it’s so annoying why do so many companies insist on automated telephone systems instead of real human operators?


Think about it, it makes more sense to have an automated computer system handle your customer’s problems right?

Why have someone answer the phone when you can get a computer to do it for less than half the cost?

The problem is efficiency and competency aren’t necessarily enough.

Like many things in life, it seems like a good solution, but any time we try and deal with humans, but leave out the human element of things, we run into problems--big problems.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned after mentoring and coaching thousands of IT professionals over the last 10 years, it’s that not only is the human element necessary, it’s absolutely critical and vital to the success of any organization or project.

Yet, I’ve found that so many well-meaning CEOs, CTO, directors of technology and managers, completely ignore it.

Just like replacing call centers with automated phone systems, they are focused on efficiency and competency, but they forget--sometimes--that the human element exists at all.

They spend hundreds of thousands of dollars training their staff on the latest operating systems, programming languages, and whatever JavaScript framework is the flavor of the week, but they neglect the most important skills that no computer can ever learn--at least not yet--and what really make the business world go round: people skills, or soft skills as I call them.

It’s all these important life-skills and lessons that really make IT professionals--and anyone really--effective at their job.

It does no good to have a team member who can code up a web application like no one's business if he lacks the ability to manage his time efficiently or can’t communicate his ideas to the rest of the team, before your project is finished.

Give me one mediocre coder who can get the job done and who is reliable, dependable, plays nicely with others, is always improving himself and teaches the rest of the team what he learns, and I’ll trade you two rocket scientist, Einstein-level IQ coders who don’t understand personal hygiene and are completely unreliable.

It’s a mistake I’ve made both personally and in hiring people to work for me.

When I first started out with my career, I spent the first 10-12 years focused on doing nothing but acquiring technical skills.

While those technical skills were important and helped me to establish myself, I was held back by my temper, lack of work ethic, and general inability to communicate effectively with team members, bosses and project stakeholders.

It was only towards the end of my career doing software development that I started focusing on the soft skills that really made the biggest impact on my career and my effectiveness.

The change was so important and so critical to my success that I dedicated the entire focus of my company to teaching soft skills to IT professionals.

So, the next time you call a company and you get to talk to a machine instead of a person, you might want to think about how you might be inadvertently making your own employees into robots.

Just a thought...

John Sonmez is the founder of Simple Programmer and author of “Soft Skills: The Software Developer’s Life Manuel.”