Why we hire coders who can't code

Bobby Idogho, co-founder & CEO of Radically Digital, says the real talent is soft skills. The rest can be taught
BizAge Interview Team
Bobby Idogho

Communication, creativity, complex problem-solving, emotional intelligence, focus, cultural awareness. These are all soft skills employers are increasingly looking for when hiring today. Especially in tech.

Why? Because businesses perform better when the talent within can put both soft and hard skills to use. Put bluntly, whizzy coders who can’t empathise with clients keep up in your fast-moving start-up. Software engineers devoid of creative ideas won’t deliver enough value either.

For me, the big underlying win of soft skill-aligned recruitment and career development, is the wider pool of people you begin to have access to. Here at Radically Digital we are radically diverse. Our culture is built on inclusion and celebrating differences. When we hire based on personal traits and abilities, not just paper qualifications, we can broaden our workforce to include people who might not have been considered for tech roles a few years ago. And we’re thriving because of this.

As a digital consultancy, we’ve built a reputation for getting things done for clients with speed, charm and reliability. That’s down to the amazing people on the team. They tend to major on soft skills, and if they lack hard qualifications, we can teach them what’s needed. Many of our software engineers don’t come from a software engineering background. But they are brilliant communicators and problem solvers. Putting this in context, a massive 90% of our coders are client-facing, which is almost unheard of in tech consulting.

Why soft skills matter

A recent report from the Stanford Research Institute International and the Carnegie Mellon Foundation found that 75% of long-term job success depends on soft skills mastery, while only 25% on technical skills. These statistics confirm the importance of soft skills hiring and training, if you want to run a successful business.

Hard skills are typically easier to define and tend to be based on technical know-how and academic qualifications. An example of hard skills could be a computer programmer developing some code for an application, qualified to use a specific piece of software. Or a web designer fluent in HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

Soft Skills represent a more inherent, people-focused skillset. High-performers have high emotional intelligence, which includes empathy, self-awareness, and cooperativeness. Having a high EQ allows you to be better at understanding other people and therefore more likely to make better decisions.

I believe cultural awareness as a soft skill can be particularly powerful. Becoming more aware of other cultures is an important part of increasing diversity and inclusion in the workplace. This will become ever more important as digital technology continues to remove our remaining degrees of separation.

Critical thinking is much in demand in tech businesses too. This is the ability to devise new solutions to help solve problems more effectively. As the world of work becomes more and more digitised, this is going to be a major selling point.

Soft skill-inclusive recruitment

At Radically Digital, we hire both technical (i.e. software engineers, DevOps, designers, product managers) and non-technical talent based on their soft skills. I know from first-hand experience that you can usually train in the hard, technical qualification. We’ve had career changers who have gone from minimal previous coding experience to quickly becoming adept, this was largely down to their strong EQ and willingness to learn something new.

There are ways to hire with skills-based diversity in mind. You can audit the employee journey to make sure D&I are bedded in, right from the job design stage. You can invest in HR department diversity training, and checking job descriptions. Examining the recruiting process, detecting potential weak spots in hiring stages, and repairing methods that aren't adding to the process, are essential to this. It’s also about looking at legacy or overlooked institutional issues. For example, diversity training for those involved in recruitment should focus on creating awareness of existing biases in recruiting. Often a hiring process can be specifically designed to promote and sustain diversity. Job descriptions should be transparent, clearly highlight and celebrate skills inclusivity and, importantly, the culture advertised should meet expectations. Soft skills aren’t a replacement for hard skills, but they are hugely valuable in business today. By embedding an element of skills-focused D&I from the initial recruitment stage, through onboarding, and across corporate culture, companies can create a welcoming environment in which employees feel comfortable and can learn and thrive. Shoring up the organisation’s soft and hard skills should be every entrepreneur’s goal. The more you know about your people, the better you can help them perform.

Written by
BizAge Interview Team
March 30, 2023