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Five essential soft skills for the computer scientist of the future

The classic stereotype of the nerdy, solo, and socially awkward computer scientist is officially a relic of the past. As the economy digitises, technologists are being integrated into the fabric of business. These days attending meetings, presenting at conferences, and sharing ideas with colleagues are as crucial a part of a developer’s work as writing code.

Written by Lauren Katalinich |

Group of students watching a YouTube tutorial
The BSc Computer Science provides an extensive toolkit that takes you well beyond the old stereotypical skills of a computer scientist.

In a challenging marketplace that demands well-rounded, adaptable people, it’s often these soft skills that are setting technologists apart in the recruitment and hiring process.

The University of London’s faculty knows that employers today are looking for more than just brilliant performances on tests. That’s why, in addition to technical skills, students on the BSc Computer Science can also expect to gain an extensive toolkit that takes you well beyond the old stereotypical skills of a computer scientist.

Resilience. Being able to adapt to different situations and technologies. These are important qualities in a computer scientist. We must learn to be flexible and unbiased as new technologies come up. That’s the way it is in the real world.

Whether you’re destined for a career in web development, game design, machine learning, or virtual reality, here are some of the key soft skills for today’s computer scientists:

Communication and presentation skills

You’re a natural problem solver but can you justify your decision and offer a strong case for why it should be adopted? Computer scientists are increasingly being asked to present to stakeholders on the reasoning behind their work.

Presentation skills and the art of persuasion are a key part of leadership that take practice to develop. As you develop your presentation skills, you will find they become easier and you will soon be comfortable expressing your ideas concisely and confidently to an audience. Presenting your ideas to others also gives you an opportunity to personally reflect on how you interpreted the problem, what other solutions you considered, and why you chose the one you did.

Aside from presentations, the ability to communicate clearly in writing and conversation is another must-have skill. As a programmer, you will likely work with people from a diverse range of backgrounds and who have varying degrees of technical expertise. It’s important to be able to translate technical language into everyday speech to get everyone on board.

It’s likely that you are going to be an expert in your role and others may not fully understand what you do or the time it takes to get things done. Being able to explain yourself clearly will help reduce miscommunications- arguably the biggest source of stress in a workplace. Having the patience to explain the reality of the programming process will go a long way to better collaboration in the future.

And remember, a key ingredient to good communication is also knowing how to listen.

Empathy

Empathy is all about seeing the world through the eyes of others. From a professional perspective, empathy can help you build better solutions as you practice seeing technical problems as more than mathematical puzzles and as solving real pain points for users. Imagining how technology will operate in context and serve audiences will help guide your work in new ways.

Empathy also helps us play better with others. Team working and collaboration skills nearly always top the lists as critical attributes sought by employers. The ability to understand others’ points of view when working towards a shared goal is a hallmark of effective team work. It’s important to remember that your colleagues in marketing and sales are on the same side as you- even though they may have different priorities. Acknowledging their priorities- and demonstrating that you care about them as people- is the way to build rapport and strong and trustworthy relationships in the office.

Solving the problems of technology is often a driven, single-minded pursuit. But the ability to switch from this focused approach to the open-minded state needed to collaborate with colleagues is invaluable.

Curiosity

The biologist and famed science fiction writer Isaac Asimov once wrote that the most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds the most discoveries, is not “Eureka!” (I found it!) but “That’s funny…”

Curiosity is a key ingredient to the scientific process of investigation, experimentation, and problem solving. And the science of computers is no exception.

Students of this field who keep the spirit of curiosity alive in their minds are often the ones that are the most driven, the most motivated, and the most inspiring to work with. Curious programmers want to understand how things function. They are keen to learn new skills that will help them solve novel problems. They question everything, seeing each failure as a lesson and an opportunity to try a new tactic.

Importantly, curious people are able to view problems objectively (even if they are the ones who created them) and this helps them keep their pride in check and explore creative possibilities.

Business acumen

The business world is increasingly looking to technology, and computer scientists, to solve the problems that plague them. As a technologist, it’s often your responsibility to understand the best practices of technology in your industry and lead the business accordingly. You may be acting as a kind of consultant, an internal specialist, as you present possible solutions to the wider business. So having an understanding of how the technology you are developing serves business goals is critical.

Being fluent in the language of business also helps you to translate your work into a real-world, relevant context. You will get an opportunity to practice this on the BSc Computer Science as part of the programme’s final project.

Budgets, timelines, testing, and roll out all play a role in the work of a computer scientist. Understanding the importance of these constraints and regularly checking in with the business team on progress and developments is likely to be a big part of your job as an engineer.

Adaptability

For most of us, 2020 has been a crash course in adaptability. The rules of business and social life have been turned on their head and we have had to react accordingly. On top of that, businesses want solutions faster than ever. Timelines are shrinking and a project that may have taken a year in the past may have a deadline of three months today. When it comes to computer science, adaptability often means accepting that a solution may not be perfect but that it’s the best option for the current circumstances. The challenge of balancing the integrity of your work with the demands of the market is one of the greatest opportunities for creative thinking for a computer scientist.

Adaptability is often tied up with time management, another key soft skill. Juggling changing priorities is a personal challenge for every worker in today’s distraction-filled world. Setting aside blocks of time that allow you to get into the flow of concentrated work while respecting deadlines is especially important for a technologist who may have many other people relying on their work to move forward.

At the University of London, we know computer science is about more than programming and maths. The BSc Computer Science Programme Director, Dr Matthew Yee-King, emphasises the importance of flexibility in the field:

“We don’t want students to be stuck using the first coding language they learned or to be afraid of new things,” he says.

“Resilience. Being able to adapt to different situations and technologies. These are important qualities in a computer scientist. We must learn to be flexible and unbiased as new technologies come up. That’s the way it is in the real world.”

Our instructors understand the importance of communication skills and adaptable mindsets when it comes to problem solving. If you’re interested in learning the hard and soft skills it takes to break into today’s tech industry, explore the BSc Computer Science.