STEM vs. “Soft Skills”

Modern education places a heavy emphasis on STEM subjects: science, technology, engineering, and math. However, a project at Google set out to determine the value of so-called “soft skills” in their workplace.

Google initially set out to hire computer science students with top grades from the best science colleges upon its conception in 1998. But in 2013, they tested hiring, firing, and promotion data and found that STEM qualities actually ended up last on the list of the eight most important attributes as an employee at Google. The top seven were soft skills: the ability to be empathetic, excellent communication skills, critical thinking and problem solving, to name a few. Their findings led the company to reconfigure their hiring process and expand their focus beyond technology-based fields of study to humanities majors and MBAs.

Even at a company as technical as Google, studies continue to show the value of soft skills.  The article states:

“the company’s most important and productive new ideas came from B-teams comprised of employees who don’t always have to be the smartest people in the room.”

And that begs the question, what is smart anyway? We tend to think of people who excel in technical subjects such as math and science as the smart ones, without the same regard for those who are excellent writers or can paint a masterpiece.

Furthermore, these “soft skills” cited in the article go beyond academic subjects we learned in school. Studies noted that emotional safety, generosity, and curiosity were qualities that aren’t taught to us by teachers, but rather by peers. This shows that our socialization plays an equally important role in our contributions at work, not just our academic excellence.

As a software company, we’re focused on our technology and using fantastic software engineers to build our products to the best of our ability. But we also work to recognize that being a great team member goes beyond coding. We strive for personal and professional betterment, which makes our office a prime space to excel. As important as technology is in our set of skills, it’s equally vital not to overlook the soft skills as well.

Women’s Empowerment & Bravery

We discovered another great TED Talk, this time by Reshma Saujani, the founder of the non-profit organization Girls Who Code which supports efforts to increase the number of women in computer science. Saujani draws attention to the tough issue of the gender imbalance in the technology industry. She recognizes aspects of our socialization that affect our inclination to take risks and further describes her efforts to encourage risk-taking and the acceptance of imperfection among young girls as a form of women’s empowerment.

Without sounding too much like a sociology lecture you slept through in college, it’s important to recognize that we don’t make our behavioral decisions (including those around our careers) in a vacuum. Some argue that “there are fewer women in STEM because they choose so,” which negates early experiences where we give young boys toy cars and young girls dolls and subsequently teach that technical skills are a boy’s trait. Girls Who Code combats these early lessons with their program and encourages young girls to embrace imperfections so that the future of the tech industry includes a more balanced gender parity. Here at Steelray, we’re all too aware of the gender imbalance and hope to continue to support women in tech.

Watch the TED Talk below.