If work in DevOps and you want to become a DevOps manager, communicate tech needs effectively with executives in the C-Suite, or boost your salary, it’s time to invest in your soft skills.
"Soft skills should be a huge focus for anyone looking to further their career,” says PJ Metz, education evangelist at GitLab. “You may be brilliant at the technical aspects of a job, but if you don’t have good interpersonal relationships, you'll get left behind.”
Now, hold on! Just hear me out. I’m not talking about Kumbaya here. No holding hands and dancing under the full moon. Nope. I’m talking about non-technical, yet critical, skills that will enable you to engage with co-workers, especially executives, so their eyes don’t glaze over when you excitedly talk tech.
“You need more than to know the tech really well. You need good leadership and communication skills,” says Brendan O’Leary, a staff developer evangelist, and product and engineering leader at GitLab.
This is particularly true if you want to be promoted to management. “Managers need to understand people and how they work together and what really motivates - and demotivates - people,” O’Leary says.
Metz points to public speaking as another essential skill. “As virtual becomes a standard for meetings and conventions, being able to speak well means conveying your point well,” he says. “It also solidifies you as a leader who can help others understand complicated topics.”
If you’re going to help the business side of the company understand how DevOps will enable them to be more competitive and make more money, then you need soft skills. If you want that manager position, you need soft skills. If you even want to work better with your DevOps teammates, you need soft skills. Trust me. Knowing this stuff will help you get your tech and career goals accomplished.
The soft skills focus list
So what are we talking about when we say soft skills? Here are some examples:
Communication skills, including how to talk to colleagues on the business side without using technical jargon or acronyms
Business understanding – what does your company need?
Leadership, including people management
Cool under pressure – can you work calmly and effectively?
Collaboration: While DevOps is about collaborating to push out better software, you also need to be able to collaborate with people in other departments, like marketing, finance, sales and legal, to improve the business overall.
Where do you learn soft skills?
College courses, journal articles and conference sessions are always a good place to start to learn soft skills. Here are some additional options:
There are helpful podcasts out there. For instance, check out the “Humans of DevOps” podcast series from the DevOps Institute, which features episodes such as “Discussing Qualities of Great Leaders” and “Humans are Hard, Code is Easy.”
YouTube has a lot of instructional videos, including “How to Speak With Confidence”, “Business Communication Essentials”, “Collaborative Problem Solving”, and “How to Speak Like an Executive.”
Coursera also is worth a look. Founded by Stanford University computer science professors, Coursera works with universities and other organizations to offer online courses, certifications and degrees in a variety of subjects.
Don’t forget us right here at GitLab. For instance, GitLab Learn offers classes such as “Effective Communication” and “Mastering Self-Motivation and Self-Advocacy.”
LinkedIn also offers classes on business communication.
The payoff for improving soft skills
Yah, we get it. When you think about ways to up your salary or focus on continuous education, you think about so-called hard skills, like mastering new programming languages and learning more about security and automation. You forget about, simply ignore or choose not to “waste” time on the soft skills. Then you wonder why you’re not moving up the career ladder, leading a team or making a presentation to the business execs.
The 2021 Enterprise DevOps Skills Report showed that people skills now are considered a “must have,” with 69 percent of survey respondents ranking human skills as the second-most valuable. Similarly, 68 percent indicated that a DevOps leader must be skilled in empowering and developing others.
The bottom line is if you invest in your soft skills, including learning to speak the language of business, then you’re more likely to achieve your career goals.