Can Teaching Coding Close the Skills Gap
Why educators should take note of Google’s evolving hiring practices
Google analyzed its hiring data and found that 21st Century soft skills are more impactful to success than technical skills. Educators take notice.
I am not a coder. I can do some basic html edits, primarily thanks to early MySpace profile markups, but beyond that my knowledge becomes all theoretical, and not very practical.
For most of my career as a marketer working at at various technology companies, I often felt that we marketers and sales folk were looked at as less than by our more technically-inclined colleagues in the engineering department. But as the years have gone by, I took notice that while many engineers are incredibly talented and capable people, it often took more than just engineers to solve problems, ideate, innovate, and create new products.
In more than one occasion, I witnessed or was part of a team of marketers, sales, product and operations folks that created company-changing innovations through the application of soft skills. Often our interactions with customers, and our intention to empathize with their pain points, would help inspire us to look at our product differently and find elegant solutions to challenging problems. The solutions would often take the form of user stories (narrative), which would then translate its way to product design and ultimately code.
So, I was pleased to come across research conducted by Google validating my completely anecdotal workplace observation - that people with strong soft skills are often more impactful at a technology companies than people with strong technical skills.
Turns out that after some serious number crunching of its historical hiring data, Google determined that the seven top characteristics of success at Google are all soft skills, with STEM expertise coming in dead last. The most important and effective teams at Google often exhibit a range of soft skills like empathy, curiosity, and emotional safety (no bullying on this team).
The research ran opposite to what Google believed about its top performers and inspired the company to change its hiring practices to increase the number of non-technical employees. Many other technology companies are taking notice and following suit.
I hope educators also take notice of this very telling research. There is a rush to teach coding across the country at all levels of education. Coding is an amazing skill and absolutely should be taught at an early age, but there is more to 21st Century Skills than coding. Computational thinking, the method in which many engineers approach problem solving, is a way of thinking that can be applied across subjects, and can help develop problem solving skills more broadly.
Teaching collaboration, critical thinking, problem solving, communication, and leadership, are all incredibly important soft skills to get work done in any group setting. Increasingly, these are the skills than many employers seek.