Skip to main content
Soft skills for hard business – the kernel of success

Soft skills for hard business – the kernel of success

What skills do employers value most? The ones that fill a hot current skills gap, like blockchain or cybersecurity? Sure, you can snap up a job right now in one of those areas if you’re skilled up, and probably a well-paid one too. But if you start out now on the learning path hoping for a slice of the action, maybe by the time you’ve acquired the skills – which could take years – the market might be flooded with prospectors who’ve had the same idea and the opportunity could have flown the roost.

There is another set of skills which transcend narrow disciplines and technical skillsets. These are the abilities that will take you furthest in any career. And though they might not say so, employers – and anyone else you deal with in professional life – value them very highly. Any professional should spend at least some time developing them, because they open doors and get things done.

What are they? Soft skills.

Linus Torvalds in a case in point. Software genius and creator of the Linux kernel, he is not somebody who is likely to find himself out of a job or struggle in the employment market, but things would have gone an awful lot smoother for him if he hadn’t been such a jerk all his life. His fits of rage at other developers whose code he didn’t like, his ad hominem insults, and his generally combative attitude are all well-documented.

Despite his great success with Linux, his personal behaviour has done a lot of damage. Developers have moved away from Linux to avoid Torvalds’s scathing outbursts and attacks on their work. “I’m not a nice person, and I don’t care about you,” he said at a conference in 2015. “I care about the technology and the kernel – that’s what’s important to me.”

Maybe he is somewhere on the autism spectrum and is just saying what he genuinely feels. But even Torvalds has recently realised how damaging his corrosive behaviour has been. In a letter posted to a Linux forum in September 2018, he wrote: “I want to apologize to the people that my personal behavior hurt and possibly drove away from kernel development entirely ... I am going to take time off and get some assistance on how to understand people’s emotions and respond appropriately.”

He doesn’t specify what form the help he is seeking takes, but maybe he enrolled on Developing Interpersonal Commmunication Skills For Work, a course delivered on which has a module on Conflict Resolution. Or perhaps Leading With Emotional Intelligence on, which teaches empathy and assessing your own emotional triggers before you throw your toys out of the pram.

Torvalds in a famous and extreme example, but any professional will benefit from putting their hard skills aside for a few moments a day and focussing on how they can best manage the raw materials they actually have to work with: people.