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Developers: leverage soft skill development to level up your career

Taylor Veino

Feb 1, 2019 4:30:00 PM

Are you utilizing your soft skills as an engineer to take your career to the next level? Many engineers are so focused on the hard skills of their position that they forget to utilize the soft skills in the workplace - which include finding a balance and setting boundaries.

There is always room for improvement, and Rusty Wilson is here to guide us: he has been on both sides of the coaching relationship through his extensive tech career in the following roles:

  • Serving as a CIO, CTO, and VP of Technology

  • A former intelligence analyst in the U.S Army

  • Certified ethical hacker

  • Hacking forensic investigator

As a coach for IT and engineering professionals, he knows what engineers need in coaching to fill the gaps that tend to be missed. Through his own experience as an engineer, he started Cyber Career Coaching, his coaching provides multiple resources to engineers for help with utilizing their soft skills through a podcast, blog, and helpful book recommendations.

What Are Soft Skills?

In the workplace, there are two different types of skills: hard skills and soft skills.

The difference? Hard skills are what allow you to work well, and soft skills allow you to work well with others. For example, some soft skills include:

  • Communication

  • Teamwork

  • Problem Solving

  • Positive Attitude

  • Flexibility/ Adaptability

Rusty gives a non-example of soft skills in the workplace, from an older SNL skit titled “Nick Burns, Your Company’s Computer Guy”.

Instead of the computer guy walking a co-worker through the process of an IT issue, he just yells “move” and does it for them. Rusty explains that while this is funny, it’s rooted in truth.

Rusty: "When it comes to IT and engineering professionals, you've got to figure out how to be who you are, be yourself, and also be open to others. And I think a lot of folks who do what we do kind of struggle in that area mostly because we are so good at using communications technologies like our phones and the computers and things like that."

Finding A Balance

We’ve heard this so many times before: work-life balance, work-life balance, work-life balance.

Rusty wants engineers to look at the buzzword differently, saying, ”A lot of folks are just unhappy. They'll get a job. They're unhappy in their job and they think, I need to find a new job. And so, they start searching for ways to improve themselves or get more certifications or things like that. Often, it's not the job. It's their approach to life.”

With engineers especially, work-life balance is not at the top of the list, with new and exciting projects to be apart of and long hours perfecting something. Work-life balance is far beyond just taking a step back from work to vacation every now and then. It requires making time for family, recreational, financial, and spiritual priorities in a way that is consistently balanced with the time you spend at work. Is this something you struggle with?

Rusty: "You can do the work that you love and still hate the job unless you can get everything into the right perspective."

Establishing Boundaries

Establishing boundaries around your work is vital, especially if you work remotely. When there is no separation from where you work and where you live, the lines can get blurry and you can lose track of maintaining that boundary.

Rusty: "I had to put boundaries around when I work and where I work within the house too, essentially, keep the peace and to make sure that I was not neglecting my wife and my family but also to ensure that I was taking breaks because we end up sitting for hours."

Flex Jobs gives some quick tips on how to maintain boundaries when working from home:

  • Have a designated workspace

  • Set regular work hours for yourself

  • Don’t work in your Pj’s

  • Give yourself breaks


Organization & Communication

As a remote worker, impeccable personal organization is perhaps the most important soft skill to develop.

Rusty: "Trello is a great tool, especially for developers. You have the ability to do collaboration there. If you're working with a company and they're using a tool like Trello or Slack or Asana ( is a great project management tool), that allows you to create and track milestones. For designers and other creatives, Milanote is a great option."

These applications also go into the same vein as communication, when working remotely communicating progress reports, blockers and suggestions for other team members via those apps maintain the importance of soft skills.

Before thinking about new certifications to complete or finding a new job because the one you’re currently in isn’t doing it for you, perhaps reevaluate the following:

  • How well you have been implementing your soft skills into your workflow?

  • Is my prioritization of work-life balance where it needs to be?

  • When working remotely are you setting the necessary boundaries?

If you answered “No” to any of those questions perhaps you should refer to the podcast episode for some more in-depth info, and take notes!

Written By:

Taylor Veino

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