Jeremy Abroad

Social Skills as a Software Engineer

October 01, 2018

I was grabbing lunch with a stockbroker friend of mine from the hostel the other day, and for fun we decided to shoot some street interviews with him being the interviewer and me filming. Despite English not being his native language, he spoke very well, had a very authoritative presence, and did an excellent job. When the first subject didn’t want to be filmed, he did a great job attempting to convince her by trying to make her think that this was in her best interest, taking the interaction way further than I would’ve. Ultimately she declined the interview, but I could tell that he would make a great salesman.

I was very impressed with how effortless it was from the first attempt. Then I remembered that his job as a stockbroker is basically to be on the phone all day selling investments to clients, often high net-worth individuals. Of course he’s a good salesman, that’s his freaking job and his paycheck depends on it.

All of this reminded me why I left software engineering and bought a camera in the first place - I felt like the skills I was developing as a software engineer were not bringing me closer to where I wanted to be in life. Don’t get me wrong, being talented at slinging code can make for a comfortable upper-middle class lifestyle, but that to me felt like a death sentence and I wanted more than that.

Importance of Social Skills

Social skills are paramount to networking and selling, which are fundamental to running a business and making money. I used to see socializing as something that should always come naturally and not require work or compromising “yourself” (whatever the “self” is) in any way, but over the past year my thoughts on this have completely changed.

Now I see immense value in being able to connect with people of all types beyond who you would just happen to connect with naturally. By developing the skills, experiences, and general desire to connect with more people, you open yourself to vastly more opportunities - whether that be a potential business partner, investment opportunity, mentor, friend, romantic interest, etc.

Personalities differ drastically, and it’s useful to be able to connect with as many of them as possible.

I don’t have many regrets in life, but I do regret some of the bridges I’ve burned (mostly from ex-roommates) by sticking to my principles in disagreements when in hindsight I should not have allowed a relatively minor inconvenience in the grand scheme of things sabotage the entire relationship. Had a valued being on good terms more, I would’ve just sacrificed my dignity a little bit for the sake of keeping the friendship/connection on good terms. This need not make you a pushover, it’s just pragamatic.

One of the biggest downsides of being a software engineer is that it’s not a job conducive to developing social skills.

This is because:

  1. You stare at a computer all day typing code into a code editor.
  2. Most software engineers are introverts. I can’t think of a single profession with as high of a rate of socially awkward nerds and geeks as computer science. This is because the type of people who enter and excel in this field are the type who are content staying home all day tinkering with their computers rather than going out and socializing.
  3. There is less value in relationships and “who you know” compared to most other industries (eg. business, investing)
  4. Male-dominated. In most of my computer science courses there were at most one or two women in each class. This certainly does not help foster better social skills.

Of course there are software engineers who are very social so I don’t mean to suggest that it’s impossible to be social if you’re a software engineer. But if social skills don’t come naturally to you - the case for many software engineers - it’ll take conscious effort to develop these skills. And of course social skills will benefit any software engineer in their career, even if not to the same extent as a stockbroker or salesman.

So how does one go about developing social skills?

That is a topic for its own post so I would not be able to do it justice right here.

However, I will say that the biggest thing has to do with mindset.

When you go to an event, party, the office kitchen, check-in to a hostel, etc and see a stranger, do you say “hi” or wait for them to say “hi” first?

Do you take the lead, or wait for other people to lead you?

Jeremy Bernier

Written by Jeremy Bernier who left the NYC rat race to travel the world, work remotely, and find the meaning of life.