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Developer Advocate – where soft skills become hard skills

8 Aug 2017
5 Dec 2022
5 minutes

I’ve had a couple of discussions recently about technical evangelists, or if you prefer, developer advocates role. Those terms are better known than they used to be, but the definition of the job changes from one person to another, sometimes, even inside the same company. I can’t blame people about it: many are hiring their first one and based their vision of the job on their needs. As a matter of fact, even with more than five years of experience as a technical evangelist (developer advocate) in small and very big companies, my very own perception of the role is based on what I think this gig should be. Still, there is one thing I consider a common misconception: soft vs. hard skills.

If I vulgarize, soft skills are personal traits that help someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with others. Those skills can be social, communication specifics or people related: basically anything that can help you work wells with others and be successful by complementing your hard skills. As far as I know, this is what mostly all employers are looking for, no matter if you have a customer facing type of job or you’ll work alone and talk to no one. Even if it’s not written in the job description, employer will often prefer someone with good soft skills when the technical experience is on par. On the other side, hard skills are usually related to your expertise and experience. They are quantifiable. As an example, for a software developer, it could be about being able to write code with a specific technology to create web applications or the ability to apply those to learn concepts to new programming languages quickly. If you are in the technology industry, you know that many developers lack when it comes to social and communications skills, still, many are terrific coders, way better than me. It’s true, and I’m not saying that to be negative, it’s a stereotype that holds up, but please, bear with me, there’s a point to that…

Where the line becomes blurry is with jobs like developer advocates or, even outside of the tech industry, retail vendors: jobs where usual soft skills are in fact, hard skills or should be treated like hard ones. You can’t have a developer advocate not being social, having issues to communicate clearly, or not being driven by people: people, as a focus, is 90% of the job, if not more. Either that person won’t be happy in the role, they won’t achieve their goals or they won’t help your company being successful: you can fake it for a while, but like anything in life, it’s not sustainable. What if, as a developer advocates, my articles wouldn’t resonate with anybody? What if, at conferences, I wouldn’t mingle and create connections with the attendees? What if, once on stage, I wouldn’t be able to explain my points clearly? What if, I wouldn’t be able to build trusted relationships with my co-workers, my target audience or influencers in my domain of expertise? I bet you wouldn’t hire me or would kick me out of the building even before I had the time to show my cats’ picture to all my co-workers! On the other side, at a certain extend, you can perfectly have, as my example below, a software engineer who doesn’t have any people skills, who isn’t social and who isn’t the best at communicating with other living humans. You probably want someone who has those soft skills, but if you have a manager who can handle this type of person, as much as I hate that term, you may have a rock star within your team.

In situations where people diminish the value and importance of those skills, I personally find it reducing and let’s say it, quite insulting. Not just for me, but for all my friends being in roles, in the tech industry or not, where what is usually considered soft skills, are basically hard ones: without those, you couldn’t be successful, at all. Hard skills are usually easier to learn and get better at than soft one, even if doable. Still, most of the time, it’s highly tied to one’s personality, which comes naturally. For each job I had, I didn’t know the technology or the core of the business, but I was successful. Why? Because I had, and still have a developer and developer relations mindset and personalty; I always learned the technologies and will continue to do so. I think most developers are good learner since if we stop educating ourselves, we will be out of our league in no time. So, if I had to hire a developer advocate today, I would bet on someone with the skills that are harder to acquire, read here, the “soft skills”, than looking for a person who has plenty of experience with your specific technology and will “learn” the “soft skills”…

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