In my over 2 decades of IT experience where I managed some complex , large digital transformation programs , for the seed team , in most cases I have put a premium to the software developer who is good in core engineering skills but bit average in communication.
Admittedly communication plays a key role as you move up the ladder . Strong communication skills are must for roles like Exec leadership, Sales , Delivery Management, Product Management, Account Management , Client front ending, BA , Architect, Pre-sales, Domain specialist etc .
Lets consider a possible choice to make for an engineering position between two engineering personas at similar experience levels
- Engineer A – Is team player . Has deep coding and technical skills , shows demonstrated ability for learning new tech . Communication lacks finesse and is average . But this does not impact his / her day to day work and the person is able to complete and excel in tasks assigned .
- Engineer B – Is team player. Has communication finesse .Uses right business vocabulary. Average / above average technical skills .Limited aptitude to learn new tech.
My preference would be to go with Engineer A over Engineer B especially for complex digital engagements.
Unfortunately , I have seen a trend in recent times , more so in Indian IT services that skills of Engineer A often get discounted and sometimes the person gets sidelined in promotions . Engineer B gets promoted over Engineer A as Engineer B better articulates whatever he / she has done and generally good in reporting.
Whenever any critical issue comes , or there is any production issue or something which needs core R&D , it’s invariably the Engineer A who is sought after and is on the speed dial .Engineer A is the go-to person who actually douses the fire and is chased by one and all in times of need.
I have seen that this generates resentment with Engineer A down the line. Message is given to him/her that core engineering skills, ability to ramp up to new tech stack does not matter much and it’s how you present , communicate with finesse is the one and only parameter for promotion at junior / mid levels.
Not for a moment I want to dilute here the importance of communication . But I want to clearly differentiate between solid communication finesse , mastery over words and working , effective day to day communication required at core engineering levels.
If the person does not even have basic effective skillsets in day to day communication , then it’s obviously a deal breaker for promotion to next level.
Obviously I do not want to generalize the above for Indian IT services scenario and do not claim that my observation is universal.
But do feel that appraisal systems also use the right metrices linked to promotion , ensure that these mid course corrections take place and system also put a premium for core engineering and design skills .
All other things being equal, a person with strong engineering skills but average communication skills should not feel punished . I have seen people feeling left out and nursing resentments as they got sidelined during promotions.Often times value of Engineer A gets immediately realised when the person puts in papers ! After putting in papers, retention happens only in few cases.So the body of knowledge Engineer A has is lost and no amount of KT can recover that.
After all for complex digital programs say involving cloud migration, core security , new age interfaces , involving scale etc , we need to have a strong backbone with team having more composition of Engineer A types !
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