Friday, July 24, 2015

An important aspect that helps our career - soft skills

We all want to advance in our career or at least stay relevant so that we keep our current job. Right after I graduated from college I wanted an office with this view:

But now I want an office with a view like this - I wanted to work from home:

Depending on what our career goal is, we do different things to sharpen out technical skill so that we can be marketable and build for us a career.

What are you doing to build your career? 

What is a job?
My idea of a job is that we are to solve problems.  This view may be overly simplistic but is very accurate.  Everyday whether you are working or not you are solving problems. The more difficult problem you can solve the better you got pay (well most of the time).  A doctor is to solve the problem of the patient by providing medical advice or to prescribe medication.  I cook for my kid and that is to solve their problem of being hungry.

In the technical world, we do different things to solve business problems so that your company can earn money.  I am a software developer and I write software to provide feature for networking equipment so that my company can sell the equipment to other business entities to solve their networking problem in the course of making money.

While the ability to solve problem is important, it also has to be relevant.  My boss is very nice and we have a good working relationship for many years. However, when I told my boss that I made VMware vExpert 2015, the response is "That is nice. Congrats".  Why do I get this cold response from my boss?  The reason is simple, by being a VMware vExpert is certainly a career achievement for me but the bottom line is that it will not solve my boss' problem at that time which is to lower the software bug report counts.  My skill that I have acquired or achieved for VMware or OpenStack does not help my boss solve his problem.

Skill for a job means the ability to solve problems (especially your boss' problems).

What are soft skills? has a good article explaining what soft skills are in the context of the IT industry.  Soft skill are the skill on how to communicate with others effectively.  This is also labelled as people skill or interpersonal skill.

Soft skills are something that most of us do not consciously wanting to improves as with our hard skills.  For the technical skill we will consciously take classes or to achieve industry recognized certifications such as CCIE, VCDX.

With soft skills, our ability to solve problems for our boss increases.  What happen when developer A wanted to implement a traditional link list to solve this problem while developer B on the same team wanted to use the Red-Black tree to solve the same problem.  Do we have the ability to resolve this conflict before the heated conversation goes to the boss' office?

Soft skills help us interact with our co-workers?  Beside the technical skill, employers also look at a person's ability to interact with the existing team on a job opening that they are hiring.

Soft skills are an important aspect for our career!

What am I doing with polishing my soft skill?
I do not have a customer facing job but in the pass few years I got different opportunities to polish and to sharpen my soft skills.

Writing skill
By writing I do not mean only to be grammatically correct but to develop a unique writing style that can help capture readers.  Can I make appropriate illustrations to help reader understand the content? Will the readers anticipate my next blog post to come?

Being an active blogger is a start.  With this blog I am learning how to communicate with the reader to explain different concepts or new trends in the IT industry.  I want to have the ability to write clearly and in a simple way to explain various security, network or cloud technologies.  To me writing skill is a soft skill to me because I am a software developer.  Now if I were a tech writer or a journalism then writing skill is a hard skill.

Smiling face
The second soft skill that I am developing is a genuine smiling face when interacting with others.

This may sound easy but for me I need lots of practice.

I practice this at local user group meetups and conferences.  One thing nice for me is that I like beer (craft beer) and in the technical world drinking is part of the culture and I am able to strike conversation with stranger on the topic of beer.  When meeting with others that I do not know very well, beside able to strike a conversation with some common topic to talk about, a smiling face can often make a big difference.  You can see people will smile back and they will feel a lot more comfortable talking to me.

Have you ever felt lost in a big conference where lots of people are around you and yet you felt you are alone?  A smiling face (genuine) is a good ice breaking tool.

Presentation skill
The third soft skill that I am sharpening is to give presentations.  It started here.  I still do not like public speaking but I enjoy sharing what I know with others. Presentation is NOT just tell others something.  We need to engage with the audience and to catch their attentions so that the presentation material can be effectively transferred to them.  Presentation is a 2 way street and the presenter needs to be sensitive to the audiences body language and to adjust the presentation accordingly.  If the presentation is 1:30 in the afternoon, we need to understand that most audiences will be very sleepy after lunch.  Able to tell some jokes will be useful to gather back the audience's attention. An effective presenter needs to listen (to the audience) also.

Different people told me that even I do not have a customer facing job, presentation skill is still important for me to develop.  There are times that we need to present to the CEO our company.

After my first presentation at the Los Angeles VMUG, I sign up for other speaking opportunities.  I sign up for Red Hat Summit, SCALEx13 (Southern California Linux Expo), Puppet Day, OpenStack summit and vBrownBag TechTalks.

In specific for the OpenStack Vancouver summit, I sign up because I wanted a free conference pass so I can attend the summit.  As I have mentioned in this post, my current company that I am working for does not endorse nor sponsor my quest for a day job that is cloud computing related.  I have to use my personal time and pay for all expenses myself.  What I have found is that writing talk proposals for conferences is a skill that I need to work on.  It is time for the OpenStack Tokyo summit and this time I submitted 2 talk proposals.  I am a nobody in the OpenStack community and the chance for me to be selected to speak at the OpenStack summit is very very low.  However, practice makes perfect and I am going to try and use this as my learning experiences. Just like asking for a girl for a date - if you do not ask she will not go out with you but if you ask, there is a chance.

A little self promotion:
Please consider voting for my 2 presentation proposals for the OpenStack Tokyo summit as this will push my presentation skill to a higher level and I believe these 2 talks are useful for the OpenStack community:


  1. I'm sure David's presentation will be inspiring for all the participants. Anthony has always the right attitude and motivation to make things happen listening to his experience will be very interesting.

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