Developers are hired for their IT skills and fired for their (lack of) social skills

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With IT underlying all digital transformations, software developers are increasingly becoming strategic assets. And yet, in most companies and IT departments, there’s something fundamentally wrong in the way developers are being hired and integrated into teams.

The problem comes from the belief that only IT professionals can assess other IT professionals. I’ve seen for myself how IT professionals & IT managers with LOW SOCIAL SKILLS go about recruiting new developers solely based on their assessment of the candidate’s IT knowledge, analytical skills, past developments and “nerdiness”. And they completely forget – or are simply not able to – correctly assess the social skills of these candidates.

There’s a fundamental problem when IT managers with low social skills lead the assessment and hiring of new developers.

This way of hiring IT professionals leads to very nasty surprises over the long term. Indeed, I’ve seen many bright developers (from a technical perspective) with important social “blind spots” being hired and ending up costing the organization dearly in the long run. Here are some typical problems that happen when developers lack fundamental social skills:

  • Transparent, open and ongoing communication doesn’t happen. Communication must be managed painstakingly and via a constant effort that ends up wearing down the other team members.
  • Casual conversations or debates easily escalate into emotional arguments that leave long term scars on the relationship between team members.
  • Precious development time and effort is wasted when a suborn developer insists on a solution that ends up being sub-optimal. It gets worse if some misplaced pride leads him and the team into a “creeping commitment” dead end.
  • A toxic subculture of “we the IT knowledgeable” vs “they the useless business guys” can grow and spread throughout the organization.

So how can we avoid hiring developers with superb technical but low social skills? Here’s a simple idea:

  • Identify IT professionals in you company – not necessarily managers or team leaders – that have HIGH social skills.
  • Integrate them in the recruitement process to meet and exchange with new candidates.
  • Take into consideration their assessment of the candidate’s socials skills when deciding on which candidate to hire.

Building IT teams with developers that have higher than usual social skills will lead to much better team performance, stability and quality of the IT development over the long term. New IT skills can always be learned on the job. IT developers do this all the time to master new tools, frameworks, libraries etc. Social skills however are much more difficult to learn and depend on a person’s own motivation and willingness to reflect, learn and modify his behavior. That’s why it’s time to start paying attention to the social skills (or lack thereof) of developers before hiring them!

The level of social skills available within an IT team is the main predictor of it’s performance over the long run.


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