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Soft skills may become even more important in the age of AI


It is now widely known that empathy and communication are essential as a programmer. More and more employers are favouring candidates who still need to improve their technical knowledge but are strong in soft skills. But what soft skills should a programmer have and how much can these skills be developed? To what extent can the rise of ChatGPT and similar systems transform these expectations? We asked Annabella Ádám, psychologist at Green Fox Academy.

Briefly, what do we mean by soft skills?

The personal skills that facilitate smooth cooperation with others and thus contribute to successful work. For the latter reason, soft skills are also highly valued in the selection process for IT positions. From time to time, we see that our best students from a technical point of view find it harder to get through HR interviews if they are less strong in soft skills. The reason is that it is usually more challenging to teach someone to collaborate with others than to deepen the technical skills of a candidate who already has some coding knowledge.

Which skills are among the soft skills essential for programmers?

Self-awareness is very important: we must be aware of our own abilities, limits, strengths and weaknesses. It is good if we know about ourselves what makes us tense and frustrated, because if we recognize these signs in time, we can prevent them from ruling us.

Good communication skills are also essential in work, also in the field of programming. For example, when we have to cooperate with people with different personalities or mindsets than ours, minor or major conflicts may occur. Assertive communication is needed to handle such situations properly. The appropriate feedback technique is also important in order to be able to give feedback which helps the other party improve. We need to be able to solve a problem together with others in an unemotional way, and here I use unemotional in the positive sense of the word.

Empathy is important, which is the ability to put oneself in the other person's perspective. Empathy is strongly linked to communication skills. If we feel empathy and openness in a situation, we are more likely to express our opinions and share our ideas. This is particularly important in a workplace brainstorming session, which is all about coming up with new ideas. Also, in the case of developer jobs, we may need to consult with someone whose technical skills are at a lower level than ours. In such cases, it is essential to remain patient, to understand the need and to come up with a suitable solution.

Don't forget presentation skills, which are also useful in job interviews. As part of the selection process, we need to present ourselves, but we may also need to present a solution to a coding problem during a technical interview. As a programmer, you will also need to present (demo) frequently in your day-to-day work, even on a weekly basis.

In addition, IT positions are particularly characterized by flexible working hours, so you manage your own working time and allocate your resources independently. This freedom needs to be managed well, so time management is important.

Adaptability is also a useful skill as a programmer, since change is constant in this field, and there are always situations at company level that require a flexible approach.

These skills determine not only working with colleagues, but also cooperation with customers and partners. That's why we put a great emphasis on their development in our programming courses, and this is already reflected in our selection process.

How do you assess soft skills in the Green Fox selection process?

Unfortunately, it takes a lot of time and energy to assess these skills, and we also strive to make our selection process as compact as possible. Thus, our applicants fill out a short, playful test at the beginning of the process, and at the interview we try to get a more complete picture of the candidate's personality by asking questions about their skills. As a final step, a simulation exercise requires candidates to solve a task in pairs, with the help of a mentor. Here, we mainly observe how open the candidates are to the other's thinking, how they communicate with each other, whether they support each other if, for example, their initial technical knowledge is not the same.

How much can soft skills be developed, and how does this happen during the course?

They can be developed, but depending on the type and depth of the deficiency, it takes shorter or longer time. For example, if someone is a perfectionist, it may have deep roots, so it may take more time to change. It is true for all soft skills that they can be developed most effectively through experience and exercises, which is why at Green Fox, this is done in small group trainings. In the presentation skills training, we give tips on what makes a good presentation, then the students give presentations and receive feedback. We already see progress during the trainings, and the students seem to incorporate what they have learned. We also hold productivity training, focusing on time management and energy allocation. We also provide training on self-awareness, where we deal with different personalities, what stressors they are sensitive to, and how they can deal with them. Once the students know each other better, a feedback technique training session comes, where they give each other feedback on what it's like to work with whom.

Which of the above causes the greatest difficulty in your experience?

Clearly presentation, although it is an essential skill. During the course, as is often the case in the world of work, our students have to give presentations in English, which is stressful for many, even if they are fluent in English. Many of those interested in programming are introverted, task-oriented individuals who are not comfortable selling themselves or being pushy in an interview situation. We try to train them to see it as an opportunity to develop their skills. We also provide coaching opportunities for our students, so if a deeper problem or personal blockage comes up in the group training sessions that they want to resolve, we can help with my psychology colleagues.

AI could completely redefine the skills needed in the jobs of the future, especially as a programmer. What about soft skills, will they remain important?

Many experts already argue that ChatGPT could replace the "hard part" of programming in the near future, but in the case of soft skills, this is currently impossible. Companies are looking for programmers who are not only technically skilled, but also collaborative, open, fluent, empathetic and take responsibility for themselves even in difficult communication situations, which AI cannot replace. In fact, empathy is needed to be able to ask ChatGPT the right question, so that it can really help us. Even if we assume that we can rely on AI in the future, the skillset required of programmers may shift even more towards soft skills.

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