As an engineering student, I missed out on certain parts of the education that my friends seemed to get in college. I took the requisite number of core courses, like English and social studies, but my curriculum was mostly filled with science, math, and engineering classes. While my friends were writing papers, I was working on problem sets and computer programs. I received a great education in engineering and science, but I didn’t get as much training in writing and speaking. When I graduated I had to play catch-up. Does this sound familiar to you?
Honestly, I can’t blame college for my stunted development in communication. It was my own doing. I wasn’t interested in reading the mind-numbing classics or writing tedious papers. I wanted to learn how to make things that were useful and solve problems that mattered. After graduation, I achieved my dream and went to straight to work as a design engineer in Silicon Valley.
But when I got there, I realized that completing problem sets and computer programs didn’t teach me how to communicate with other team members, manage my visibility, interact with sales and marketing, or see the end-user’s perspective. These were all skills I had to learn to be successful at work. I had graduated from Harvard and my education was lacking. How could that be?
It turns out, I’m not alone. This is very typical of people in STEM. We become technical experts at the expense of learning people skills. There’s no blame there. It’s hard—impossible, in fact—to be good at everything. We all have to choose what to specialize in. Some focus on the people at the expense of technical skills. It works both ways.
But we’re finding that we all need to have some skills outside of our expertise. People-people need to learn technology to survive in today’s world just as technical people need to learn people skills. We don’t have to be masters at everything. But we do need to learn just enough to get by.
That’s why I developed the Reinventing Nerds program specifically to help technical people develop communication skills. I get it that you don’t want to be smooth-talking, manipulative, or touchy-feely. You just want to be able to work effectively in a team, manage your manager, and understand the end-user’s perspective to get your product designs right. I know. I’m a nerd too.