February 20, 2024

Soft-skills and formal education

Xteen years ago, I graduated from university, got a job as a young software engineer, and discovered that school hadn't given me any of the soft-skills needed to function as an adult. I had no public speaking experience, presentation skills, negotiation, planning, team management, project organization know-how.

Sure, I had the vocabulary, I had read thousands of books, but I had no practical experience whatsoever. I didn't even know how to collaborate, because in college we were taught to solve problems alone, it was always a competition. In 5 years of engineering school, I don't remember even one group project, or a public speech (only the final master dissertation, also without guidance).

My first boss (and mentor) once told me that he needed time to trust me because I wouldn't look him in the eye when speaking, and he often felt  I was hiding something.

I needed software engineering and project management courses from Open University UK, to learn how to organize and collaborate.

I needed patient managers and mentors to teach me how to speak in public, lead meetings, motivate and organize projects and teams, create a strategy, a Gantt, an organizational chart or a budget.

I discovered project-based research and study only during the MBA (with American professors).

Soft skills are part of basic education in the Anglo-American world, in northern and western Europe. A few years ago, I met a student from Sweden who gave a phenomenal speech at a European conference, and he had very little domain expertise, but he spoke with a poise and style that left me speechless. In Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, these skills are taught directly in elementary school. Project-based learning, team collaboration, creating and using slides and props, communication and oral presentation.

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