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Three Key Soft Skills for Engineers

This series takes a deeper look at how our engineers build digital financial services. Learn more about how they address large-scale technical challenges at Tala.

By: Shon Shampain, Senior Manager, Android

In the engineering field, many prioritize the development of hard skills over soft skills. However, it’s crucial to recognize that soft skills are just as valuable. Here are three guiding principles I recommend to all engineers wanting to grow their skills and build a more effective career.

Connections, Connections, Connections

A piece of advice I give to all engineers coming into the Android group here at Tala is the quality of their career trajectory will almost certainly be highly correlated with the quality of the relationships they cultivate. They say real estate is all about location, location, location; career development is all about connections. Nowhere is this more important for my team than with quality assurance (QA). In all respects, engineering and QA are the closest of cousins, both focusing on the quality of the code produced. The big difference in many cases is that engineering often focuses on a narrow aspect of a product feature while QA ensures integrity of the whole product.

Developing strong relationships is so important that I want to explain it a bit further. I find that the best foundation of a good work relationship is based on respect and empathy for my colleague’s job. In other words, as an engineer, I want to reach out to the tester I’m going to be working with and understand what their requirements are, how busy they are, how they go about the testing, and last but not least, how I can make their lives easier. Being conscientious about relationships with QA is vital because when push comes to shove and you have an issue, it’s QA — nine times out of ten times — who’s going to bail you out.

No One Has Time But We All Make Time

This skill is essential in the corporate world: time management. I believe it’s inaccurate to say, “Sorry, I didn’t have time.” Not only that, it’s a nonsensical concept since no one has time; we only make time for that which is important to us. If you don’t do something and are asked about it, the answer really is, “I chose not to make time for this.”

To support the effective usage of our precious time then, the first important question to your manager should be, “What’s most important for me to work on?” At Tala, we use a stack ranking to determine priority; and this has a very beneficial side effect — when the order changes and something gets inserted, something else has to drop.

Given a clear sense of what’s important, the next step is to make time for it. I suggest physically blocking out segments of your day on your calendar for the areas which are important. During these times, keep distractions to a minimum and focus only on the task at hand. In most cases, Slack can wait. Then repeat this exercise for your week. If you have more tasks than time slots, go to your manager and mention that this is what your work week supports and that the items not listed won’t be addressed unless priorities shift. This is a great chance for you to take control of your work/life balance and ensure agreement on priorities.

You Are the Captain of Your Destiny

The final soft skill I recommend: take control of your destiny and have frank discussions with your manager about your career trajectory. From experience, I can unequivocally state that if you don’t, you’re likely to get just that — a random, nebulous career trajectory that looks nothing like what you hope for.

The key for a quality career trajectory is alignment. Alignment means something very special. If you want to develop the skills to become an architect, and you talk to your manager, and there turns out to be an opportunity to pursue these skills in your group, you have alignment. The special something is that now you can be selfish in pursuing your goals because when you improve, the company likewise improves. When your problem is my problem, we move together in harmony.

If there are no opportunities for you to pursue your interests, then you probably have the wrong job. And if your manager is uninterested in helping you pursue your interests, then again, you probably have the wrong job.

At Tala, we value our people more than any other resource and go to great lengths to ensure they are happy, healthy, and find a compelling career trajectory. If this resonates with you, then check out our open postings. We’re hiring and you might just be a good fit.

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