The Interpersonal Skills That You Need in Tech Careers

6 minutes

While the fantasy of coding in solitude for hours at a time is appealing to some, it doesn’t reflect the reality of working in development or related disciplines. We know that soft skills like problem solving and attention to detail are important for most technical roles. But your ability to work well with others, communicate effectively, and lead with emotional intelligence are what make you a great teammate and make the job more rewarding.  

Unlike learning to set up your local development environment or format a YAML file, interpersonal skills are harder to pick up, especially if you’re just getting started and don’t have experience working with a tech team. We recently launched a collection of free professional skills courses that teach you non-technical “business” or “people” skills, like communication, writing, collaboration, and lots more.  

Wondering where to start? We asked Jen Goertzen, who has led teams across Design and UX in tech, and is currently writing a book about onboarding in the tech industry, to share some examples of interpersonal skills that will serve you well in your tech career.

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4 interpersonal skills you should develop  

Being comfortable working with others and navigating the occasional conflict doesn’t just make your workdays easier, it’s critical for advancing in your career. “There’s a tendency to think that if I show up, and I’m good at writing code, then I’m a good developer,” Jen says. “But the people I’ve seen promoted are those who help to move the work forward. That comes from multiple people working in concert.”  

Become a successful collaborator 

When you’re just starting out or in a new role, you want to prove yourself and show that you’re capable of completing your work independently. Sometimes a sense of pride and fear of making mistakes can keep us from sharing something until we feel it’s polished and ready. Instead, get comfortable showing your work and bringing your teammates into your process while you’re working on something.  

“It’s like thinking out loud,” Jen says. “It’s much easier for teammates or your manager to course-correct you while you’re working than if you give them a finished product.” Not to mention, when your team understands your approach or how you came to a solution, they can give productive feedback that actually moves the project forward.  

The people within your discipline are the ones who will help you level up and support you as you grow, so fostering a collaborative culture is a good place to begin. If there aren’t natural opportunities to collaborate on your current projects, you could suggest pair programming with a more senior teammate. Discover more ways to enhance your collaboration skills in the free course Becoming a Successful Collaborator

Communicate to pre-empt conflict 

“It’s naturally easier to interface with your own team because you speak the same language,” Jen says. “You will have shared assumptions or history that help them understand your motivations or the constraints you’re working with.” On the other hand, working with other teams with varying levels of technical understanding can be a challenge. 

Conflicts between departments often arise due to a lack of context, Jen says. For instance, a Software Engineer might provide an update they believe is comprehensive, but a Designer might not fully understand it because they’re unaware of the trade-offs that had to be made. When partnering with team members from other domains (like Design or Product, for example), it’s helpful to over communicate and give more context than you might think necessary.  

Saying things explicitly (versus relying on assumed knowledge) is especially important while you’re starting out, Jen says. It gives you an opportunity to validate your understanding of a project and the company, while giving others a chance to ask questions. You can learn to take pressure off of these interactions and establish cross-departmental trust in our free course Effective Stakeholder Communications for Technology Professionals

Remember that you’re all on the same team 

Managing the conflicting needs of stakeholders across different departments can feel adversarial. Having a conversation, assuming positive intent, and focusing on creating a mutually beneficial solution is the best way to lead with emotional intelligence and team up on a compromise.  

A little empathy goes a long way when you’re negotiating project requirements and timelines with other teams. “The job isn’t a list of boxes to check. It isn’t the different steps that you take to push code. The job is to build a solution that works,” Jen says. “Sometimes we have to take a step back and ask, ‘Why are we actually here?’ And then, ‘how do we get there?’” Being able to zoom out and remind yourself that you’re all ultimately working towards the same goal can help you understand each other’s intent and keep open minds.  

Practice active listening  

Active listening is a skill that helps you interpret spoken and unspoken communication, even in tense or uncomfortable situations. Active listening involves tuning into people’s thoughts and feelings and helping them to express themselves through thoughtful reflection and questions.  

This technique helps you understand your teammates better and become someone people seek out for collaboration. Start mastering active listening with the free course Effective Team Communication. Then move on to Listening to Engage, Empower, and Influence, where you’ll learn key strategies for active listening and ways that you can demonstrate genuine interest as a listener.  

Put your new skills into practice the next time you have a meeting or video call. “You can practice active listening in a remote environment — if anything, it’s easier because with asynchronous communication you have time to read and digest what someone is saying before responding,” Jen says.  

How to improve your interpersonal skills 

Working on these interpersonal skills is something you want to take on proactively — not in response to a sticky situation. (The fact that you’re even reading this article is a great first step.) Pay attention to the skills you want to develop and notice when you’re falling into old habits. Here are some more ways to take ownership of your development. 

Connect with people from different departments 

When you start a new role, work on building up your network. “When I join an organization, I try to talk to at least one person from every single team, including Sales, Customer Success, and the Executive team,” Jen says. “That way when we’re in conversations, I already know where they’re coming from and what matters to them, making it easier to be flexible and find compromises for everyone in the room.”   

Work with your team leader on a development plan 

“Have an open conversation with your manager to say that this is an area where you want to grow,” Jen says. That way they can give you feedback and the support you need. If your team leader isn’t meeting you halfway, be proactive and state your needs. Mention that you’re taking our professional courses or offer to host a brown bag talk to share what you’ve learned with your teammates.  

Explore our free professional skills courses 

No matter where you are in your career, there are professional skills that you can master today so you can make a greater impact — and just generally enjoy your work more. Take a look at our new collection of professional skills courses and choose from over 70 free courses on topics like business strategy, career success, communication, leadership, productivity, and teamwork. All you need is a free Codecademy account to start learning! 

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