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The 21st Century Definition of "Well-Rounded"

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My recent story on the surprise skills gap — writing, public speaking, communication and most decidedly NOT tech skills — has me wondering what it means to be the ideal employee. The term “well-rounded” is tossed around a lot, but what does that actually mean when it comes to testers and developers?

I went to a liberal arts college and, all right, I’ll admit I was an ENGLISH major. And not just any old English major — my degree was in 19th C. British Lit. Yes, my father was certain I would never get a job with a degree like that. He was a CPA and his view was that college was supposed to give you a marketable skill or, even better, skills. I obviously didn’t get “skills” but I did get an education.

That was a million years ago, and the world has changed a lot. Just this week I had a reader mention that he literally keeps his developers “locked in a back room” because they are completely unable to communicate — orally, or by email — with his customers in any way that resembles “standard” English. I did not get the sense that his developers were non-native English speakers; instead, it seems they just don’t have good communication skills, which of course brings me back to that skills gap.

So, to be an ideal developer or tester today you need: tech skills, of course, but you need to be able to write, speak and interact comfortably with customers and business people, and then you may need that “extra” something that involves, say, industry experience. That’s what Matt Sigelman, CEO of research firm Burning Glass, refers to as “hybrid skills.”

In other words, I think the bar is getting set at a higher and higher level as time goes on. There are straightforward solutions if you have an employee with insufficient tech skills; but Dale Carnegie and The Toastmasters aren’t exactly household names any more (click on the links if you actually don’t know who/what they are!) and as far as hybrid skills go, a hybrid developer creates him/herself by choice. The employer doesn’t have much to say about that.

So how do we solve that skills gap? Does your company have a strategy that’s worked? Or do you think the problem is overblown? I’d like to hear what you think.