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It's Hard to Overstate the Value of Good Communication Skills in IT

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Ed Tittel discusses the value of oral and written communication "soft skills" in the IT workplace, and suggests resources to help you improve your skills.
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This past week I've been OOO (out of the office), where I served as an expert witness in a patent suit. If there was one lesson I took away from that experience as I watched the 8-person jury struggle to absorb an amazing amount of technology information and patent law, it was the vital importance of clear communication in making things understandable and accessible as a prelude to taking action.

Over the years, I've written repeatedly and at some length about the importance of soft skills in the workplace. Though my focus is on information technology (IT), this is equally true for people in all walks of life and work. There is very little that a technical person can do to improve their value more than working on communication skills, both verbal and written, outside of the immediate technical focus of their day-to-day work. And even then, the ability to communicate effectively will only boost a person's ability to do his or her job, and improve that person's standing in the workplace.

What does this mean? It means seeking out opportunities to speak with (or in front of) peers, colleagues, and management, and looking for every possible chance to express oneself in written form. Often, this requires overcoming fear and trepidation, and may demand that you buck up your courage to overcome all of the fears and doubts that putting yourself out there in front of an audience can cause.

The good news is there are lots of relatively safe ways to develop and groom such skills outside of work, before putting on any kind of show (or sharing your prose) on the job. Those who need to develop speaking skills should look into Toastmasters International, whose motto "Where Leaders Are Made" gets right to the heart of why public speaking is an important part of anybody's career development objectives. They can also participate in public service organizations like Rotary International, which mixes speaking opportunities with public service and lots of exposure to practiced and professional speakers as a part of their general routine. You can even find classes on public speaking, usually through various kinds of adult education programs at local schools, community colleges, and universities, both online and in classrooms near you.

The same is true for written communication. Here, classes that teach all kinds of writing skills (business communications, creative writing, technical writing, and so forth) are also available through local community colleges and universities, where community colleges often offer the best combination of low prices, convenient hours (evenings and weekends for working stiffs), and excellent instructors with current or recent IT experience and knowledge to boost their writing chops.

If you're interested in learning more about this topic, and the general topic of soft skills in IT, please run this Google search. You'll gain access to a sizable collection of articles I've written on this and related topics for Tom's IT Pro, IT Career JumpStart (TechTarget), and even right here at PITC (Certification and Career Self-Assessment: Can and Should You Do It (2014 Edition)). You'll find lots of specific pointers, ideas, and resources to help you work on your communication skills, no matter where you are on the continuum between rank amateur and grizzled veteran. Enjoy!

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