Leadership

Are IT skills less important than interpersonal skills?

Are your dev guys good at communicating the needs of the organization? Do your engineers make sure that any changes they implement don't negatively effect other teams? If you answered yes to both of these questions, then you should consider your business fortunate, because a recent survey says interpersonal and teamworking skills are more important than IT skills.

Are your dev guys good at communicating the needs of the organization? Do your engineers make sure that any changes they implement don't negatively affect other teams? If you answered yes to both of these questions, then you should consider your business fortunate, because a recent survey says interpersonal and teamworking skills are even more important than IT skills.

An excerpt from the article on ZDNet:

In the survey of approximately 500 board-level executives, 61 percent said interpersonal and teamworking skills were more important than IT skills.

Most of the executives questioned felt interpersonal skills would continue to be more important than IT skills in the future. But many felt IT skills would become more important, with 24 percent saying IT would become the most important skill in the workplace within the next 10 years.

Personally, I work with a few different teams on TechRepublic, I'd like to think that I'm a good communicator, and I do some programming for the site. My IT skills are the least polished, but I believe it's important to stay on the learning curve -- even for the sole reason of being able to intelligibly talk about IT.

Do you agree with the survey results? Do you think interpersonal and teamworking skills are more important than IT skills?

About

Sonja Thompson has worked for TechRepublic since October of 1999. She is currently a Senior Editor and the host of the Smartphones and Tablets blogs.

44 comments
leary.mary
leary.mary

In this world of best practices and continuous improvement, the IT skills I would say would have to be on the same level as the interpersonal skills level. If an IT person does not have interpersonal skills but do possess the adequate IT skills he/she is still less than being customer oriented. You can not in my opinion have one without the other.

Rajeev.Sajja
Rajeev.Sajja

You need expertise in both areas for an IT Organization to succeed. The IT leader will need more interpersonal skills than say a developer as they are more public facing and interact with other business units.

James Speed
James Speed

It must be balanced - Good IT Skills and Good Communications. Each have their own respective place in the scheme of things. A lopsided curve with either of them makes for an ineffective, misunderstood and struggling IT Dept.

mikifin
mikifin

All things considered most people can do their jobs, usually. Bottom line however is that people are the heart of all things. Let's face it, everything people do is for, about or concerning people on some level so people skills are at the root of all human activity, with few if any exceptions.

dsnethen
dsnethen

Depends. My entire IT career has been focused on customer service with often being put in charge of creating or revamping a help desk/service desk to bringing some better customer service skills to other teams like server support, desktop support, telecom, etc. For IT help desks, I tend to look for people with good interpersonal skills with the ability to learn IT. For the other positions, I would give a higher nod to those IT professionals (server, network, telecom admin types) with interpersonal skills for you never know when they will have to interact with a customer or be a part of a team.

kemmit
kemmit

I strongly dissagree though industry seems to be migrating toward that trend. Teamwork and interpersonal skills are important to a point I agree; however when they all call ME to ask me how to fix their code, that is not communicating. I would call that using.

doug
doug

I think they missed the point. Someone who's good at technical stuff is not going to understand "networking". In other words, a guy who spends his time in front of the computer is not going to be spending his time sucking up to bosses and co-workers in meeting and at lunches. A big problem in the corporate environment is that you have executives who honestly enjoy chatting up people and being socialable, and the tech guys who'd rather be doing their technical thing. The problem is that they really can't understand each other, so in between them you get IT managers who are basically incompetent at both the technical side and the executive side. Sorry, the word "networking" set me off. As far as I can tell, it's a pretty meaningless concept. But then, I'm on the IT side. :)

gdell
gdell

Typically there are members of a team, each with thier own strengths. Those with communication skills and technical are typically the ones that take on the communcations responsibilities and coordinating the efforts of those that sit and code. However, they are the liaison between management and coders. However, you cannot beat the individuals that sit and crank out code and solve the problems. I typically want them sitting and not communicating and utilizing thier strengths.

Tminton
Tminton

I don't really think that you can say that one is more important than the other, but it is safer to say that they work in a synergistic way together. While both are important to have neither really work alone. Being proficient in IT skills alone can only get you so far, just as being a friendly person can only get you so far. It's when these two properties are combined that the real skill is found.

gabriel2tg
gabriel2tg

They should be a balance between IT skills and communication.Everything depends on the environment one falls in,and the position occupied.I don't think value communication skills than IT skills should be the best option

KaryDavis
KaryDavis

... I don't think so. Equally important and critical to a successful IT Career? Most definitely!! IT has been crucial in the business world for a long long time, and IT has held an honored and revered position due to the mystery of technology in the past. However, as technoloy becomes more mainstream in peoples' personal lives, - and more and more people are becoming comfortable with many aspects of IT - management and users alike are losing their "awe" of the all-knowing" IT demi-gods and are less likely to put up with non-communicative IT personel. I think IT managers and executives do not have to sacrifice good communication skills when opting for high technology skills. I think management should be looking for (and accepting) nothing less than IT people who possess both.

sboverie
sboverie

It does depend on your position, scope of work and the people you interact with the most. Most of my work history has been customer service and being able to communicate is more important than knowing how to fix problems. Most of the time, it is the customer who needs to be fixed as in don't hit OK everytime the computer comes up with a message you don't understand. Years ago, I had a field service manager (back in the DP days) tell me that if he had a choice between a person who was technically excellent but a bad communicator or a person who was an excellent communicator but with poor technical skills; he would choose the excellent communicator. He said that it is easier to improve the technical skills of a good communicator than to improve the communication skills of bad communicator. Bad communicators tend to lose customers and the company loses business. The ironic thing is that I have taken communication classes and still was dinged on communication skills. I would ask why but the managers could never explain, they were bad communicators and they had to find something to keep from giving credit for the work I accomplished. I find that I have to adapt my communications based on circumstances and the audience. Communication is a two way street, if one side is a bad communicator it almost doesn't matter how good the other side is at communicating. Communication is still difficult even when both sides are good communicators; but when both are bad communicators then it is hell for all.

psychoreggae
psychoreggae

First up: I don't mean to state that interpersonal skills aren't an important attribute for an IT person to have. Everybody needs to be able to get along with everybody else, after all. Having some interpersonal skills makes everyone's life easier. But to say that they interpersonal skills are *more* important than IT skills - for an IT position - is just nonsense. Let's say your company was in the business of creating air traffic control software. I think most people, even the authors of the above mentioned study, would much prefer that the person who coded that software spent her time knowing it backwards and forwards rather rather than working on the perfect handshake and appropriate eye contact. And though I chose a life-or-death example, this applies to any business. *My* business is life or death to *my* business and such I want my people to be the best at what it is they were hired to do. Conversely, I don't want my sales guys spending their time learning Java. They need to know how to interact with people so that my Java staff has something to do. My Java guys need to know how to write really good code so my sales guys have something good to sell. It is not the job of IT to understand sales, it is not the job of sales to understand IT, it is the job of management to facilitate communication between the two so that both entities can focus on their own work. And as for team building within the IT unit, yes, interpersonal skills help but it should not be a primary focus. I still contend it is management's primary responsibility to worry about communication within the organization.

burntfinger1
burntfinger1

Which is more important, the chicken or the egg? Without technical skills one can't solve problems and without communication skills one can't understand the problem or explain the solution.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Unfortunately due to various considerations that are completely out of my purview, I'm incapable of completing this task at this time. Sorry No really Sorry Is the irony obvious ? More important, no, as important, in the main yes. Of course communication isn't the rocket science, some would have us believe.

linux003
linux003

Really this kind of discussion emerges new ideas.Nice to hear this survey result.But at the same time,We should have to agree that team work plays a major role in any circumstances with any field not only with IT.Success is always based on team work.Some times the team work acts indirectly to reach the goal. The team work depends upon individual interpersonal skills.

Tanya Mikhno
Tanya Mikhno

I am sure that value of the skill depends on the position of a dev person. I know IT gurus that are brilliant in software architecture design but their communication skills are worse that poor. But anyway their employers value them because their IT skills are critical for the company. Also I know a guy whose both IT and communication skills are poor, but the employer values him because he is the only person who knows their CRM system well :)

JamesRL
JamesRL

If the person asking you comes across as arrogant, doesn't know how to decribe the problem or treats you like crap, can you still fix their code the way you should? Cause all those things are interpersonal skills. I have this issue all the time with my team. James

No User
No User

The article implies that all IT folks will need to be great communicators. Undoubtedly they will be standing around the water fountain chatting to the masses all day instead of doing what they are both needed and have been hired for which is to apply their special skills in the course of their work. No offense but that is what happens when you ask questions to folks (board level execs) who are so far removed from the common folks and cross it with trash journalism. Yet another pointless article. Once again they asked yes and no questions to 500 board level execs did some math and got some percentages then produced the article that stuff happens perpetually. I'm just astounded anyone would buy into it.

alaniane
alaniane

I maybe inclined to agree with your argument; however, don't confuse moderate skills with high skills. You may find a lot of vb programmers out there and quite a few who can make simple web pages with an html editor. However, if you need an Assembly programmer or you need a C programmer who can write extremely tight and efficient code for a process, it will be a lot more difficult to find someone with these skills. High technology skills would be the equivalent of the latter two examples and moderate skills would be the equivalent of the former two examples. Most people could guess at what the following code does return 0; but how many know that this is the equivalent mov ax, 4C00h int 21h What if they had to return an error code of 1? If you only need moderate technical skills then you have a greater choice; however, if you really need high technical expertise then you're going to have a limited choice. BTW the example I gave was an extremely easy example of Assembly code.

burntfinger1
burntfinger1

is either some new technology which only we understand or some new jargon to make the obvious completely unintelligable to endusers. Anyone have Dogbert's number?

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

If you are waiting for them to do something other than blame you for not communicating, holding your breath is contra-indicated.

RealGem
RealGem

I agree that it depends on the position. Generally, as you mature and take on larger responsibilities, communication becomes more important than it used to be. When it comes to training and personal development, though, I focus on the people who need it the most. Most of the junior people that I have been hiring are already excellent communicators. Thinking back 20 years to when I started as a programmer, we were definitely geekier and tended to be much more introverted. The ones with communications problems tend to be my veterans.

JamesRL
JamesRL

If you go down to the help desk, you will hopefully find some good communicators. They often are the face of IT to many users, and they not only have to solve problems but communicate things to users - including some difficult tasks like communicating IT policies and processes. Business analysts not only have to understand how software works, but how the business works. Communication is probably more important there than any other skill, since they have IT experts to work with. Project Managers need good communications skills. If your teams have to work as teams, sharing the workload and collaborating then sometimes communications is more important than technical skills. But if they work as lone wolfs, not so much. Depends on the organization and its needs. James

g.b.burton
g.b.burton

I think you just summed it up! Good job.

ben@channells
ben@channells

I have hear many times by IT managers, mainly to stop infighting squabbles etc. The worst being the IT git who thinks he's an IT god with "they don't know what they are doing" or running down work done by the IT teams. You may be a great IT guy but if you cannot explain the problem and how to fix it and win the approval of the change board. The faults will not be fixed and you are left fire fighting. Where as other departments hire on skill and abiltiy IT must be able to do the job and talk. as Our actions affect every other section of the business. Every department has there own jargon but we also have jargon and TLA's and ETLA's You could have a valid technical reason to do A and the words (management speak) to support A even documentation and proposals to cover it or the compliance regulations to require it and still lose due to cost or risk issues At the end of the day the finance dept pay for our new servers when we desparatly need they, they only wish faster access or PC's and get them the problem or IT in skills and communication is we are a slave to the business and not a core part of the business no IT director and often IT is dumped with 3rd parties to run to save money forget the Quality

jneilson
jneilson

A lot of people have good people skills, but you want them doing recovery work after your RAID takes a nosedive during a backup?

modell
modell

I have read through most of the posts on this topic and I can tell that most don't agree with this article. I myself thought it had some pertinent information. Granted the survey may be flawed due to the audience they polled but it does make a valid point. Ten years ago this might not have been true but as society has grown to be more reliant on technology the general user has become more tech savvy and are slowly demystifying the magic box which sits on their desk. So today's IT Professional needs to be able to do two things well: be able to communicate and understand technology in such a way they can explain it to the user as well as fix the problem. The days of "Nick the IT Guy" is over. Case in point: once during my career I worked with one of the most knowledgable techs I have ever worked with, to this day I have not found anyone better. Yet, he came off as a jerk because he could not communicate effectively. The guy eventually pissed off the wrong person due to his inability to communicate well and got fired. We lost a valuable asset due to "personality" conflicts. So next time you think you are in the driver's seat due to your overwhelming technical knowledge, think again. Users and Department Managers are wisening up so you might want to keep this in mind as you move forward.

No User
No User

So it is fundamentally flawed from the beginning. Lets take it from the top are you inferring that every IT person is (or is expected to be) directly and persistently communicating with everyone else in the company? I would find that hard to believe and see absolutely no point in doing so. I would say that strategic planning and a hierarchy would not only better meet communication needs but would be the expected way of handling that. No offense to you but it is what I have come to expect from ZDnet and the Gartner group. Yet another pointless article. Hey everyone needs to eat and to a journalist words equal money so that explains the article to me. How about asking IT managers that sit at the table with the other managers in planning sessions and meetings in general and ask them how much of a value they place on their high level IT folks having communications skills specifically to directly communicate with folks outside the IT department whom I would expect they would have little or no communicating with at all. Lets not get carried away and say something silly like so you are telling me the help desk should not have communication skills. The brass has planning sessions and each takes care of their own creed. At least the is how the successful companies work. Gee old Joe in programming should have told Sally in sales that he added 10 new remarks to the code he is currently working on. WOW now I can really see the value in that. Did I mention that I thought it was yet another pointless article?

Your Mom 2.0
Your Mom 2.0

The more one in IT has to deal with non-IT, the more important communication skills become. That is probably just as true for Helpdesk as it is for CIO's. IT dealing with others in IT need just enough communication skills to not alienate their other IT counterparts. Let the specialists "specialize" in their chosen areas of expertise.

eseminoff
eseminoff

It really depends on your role and the type of company that you for. I work for an IT firm that supports small to mediums businesses (under 250 workstations) and our technicians and engineers (I'm one of the techs) not only solve the technical problems but we have to be the face of out company while onsite. While we have a very capable service desk group, onsite, we must have both the technical and people skills to solve the problem correctly and keep the client coming back to us for continued service. Again, it depends on the situation and job as to how much personal vs technical skills are needed.

psychoreggae
psychoreggae

Agreed. I didn't mean to make a blanket generalization but just to make a general point about the wisdom of letting specialists specialize. However, as you correctly pointed, there are positions in which straddling both ends of the technical/personal continuum is the most advantageous strategy for the person and the organization. It really does depend on the role.

Rosa1Mundi
Rosa1Mundi

Some of the most brilliant and innovative developers I've worked with are highly introverted people who need to consider an issue, then come out with a wise response, rather than extraverts (like me) who think on their feet. As a manager, I would rather have someone who could brilliantly solve my coding problems and mitigate any communication difficulties by helping the developer with interactions with the business and the rest of the team.

alaniane
alaniane

If you're talking about a management position or a position where the person has to communicate with end-users then yes interpersonal skills are as important as tech skills. However, if you're talking about a position where the person has little to no contact with end-users, then tech skills would be more important than interpersonal skills. Also, tech skills cannot be taught to everyone, especially debugging and trouble-shooting skills. Also, not everyone is going to learn how to program. You can kid yourself, but I've examined enough code by other people to know that not everyone gets it. As for personalities, they can be changed and in fact articles like this implicitly if not explicitly imply this. It's telling people you need to learn interpersonal skills (in effect, you need to make changes to your personality) if you want to have a job.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

[i]The days of "Nick the IT Guy" is over. [/i] Man, I hate when that happens! Edit: because

g.b.burton
g.b.burton

Actually, as a system administrator, I have to deal with "non tech" types quite often. I feel it is important to not only be tech savvy, but to be able to communicate well. There are other system admins here at my place of work who are extremely technologically bright, but "clueless" when it comes to communicating with their users. So, I hate to say this, but I do think that communication skills are important to those in the tech world. I have to say that this was a good article. I even forwarded it onto my supervisor.

admin17
admin17

So kids, here's a riddle: If words = money to journalists, then do ridiculous arguments = fodder for good conversation?

Mabrick
Mabrick

Your reply made ever point. You easily compenstated. Good job!

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

No, you can't teach personality. I, too, would rather try to teach tech to a personable individual with a good aptitude than try to teach a "Nick the IT guy" to be personable. What I see most in that persona is not so much an inability to get along with people as a lack of respect for others. Edit: grammar

modell
modell

Some took the first line to say that I think anyone reguardless of their background can be taught tech skills that is not what I meant at all. That was my fault for not being more specific when I write. See even I have communication problems, :). What I was trying to say is you can teach tech skills to people in the indstrusty but it is almost impossible to teach them how to have a personality. So for my buck I would much rather have a junior level person with a great personality that can be trained than a senior level person that acts like "Nick the IT Guy". I also think that other managers outside of IT are seeing this as well and are starting to invest in training these people with good personalities.

alaniane
alaniane

I was replying to the comment above and disagreeing with both points made: 1) That tech skills could be taught to anyone. 2) That personality traits could not be taught. As I stated, maybe you can get away with less technical skills in a management position if the manager recognizes his/her deficiency in that area. However, if the person is a programmer, DBA, and etc. then technical skills are more important than interpersonal skills. If you can get both then great, but I would want my DBA to know his stuff more than have to communicate with end-users.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

that if you can learn a language , you can program. Put data into columns, you are a DBA. Click on the shiny icon, you are an admin. A constant confusion between tool and skill. The constant attempts to dumb down the disciplines so any fool can do them, has simply left us with a lot of fools doing them...

frerichsmarkm
frerichsmarkm

I recognize that some positions of the IT world does need more communication skills over IT skills, but in the past 25 years I've been doing this type of work ranging from the hardware, firmware, middleware and software spectrum, you cannot make this kind of a blanket statement and expect it to be any kind of a barometer for the future of the IT world. There is a reason why only a few make it very far in the IT world. It is even difficult to graduate many of the certification classes without a predominant logical and mathematical mind combined with an aptitude to grasp new concepts quickly. Without these, you're working with a handicap.

No User
No User

I will cut and paste the main body of the ZDnet article and step through it. In the survey of approximately 500 board-level executives,

Editor's Picks