Unicorns Are People, Too: Re-Thinking Soft and Hard Skills

Accepted Session
Short Form
Scheduled: Thursday, June 26, 2014 from 10:00 – 10:45am in B302/303


As developers, we tend to value hard skills that can be quantified or measured objectively. Job postings search for unicorns, but we are people first and foremost and being human isn't as easy as programming. While the code comes easily, the soft skills that make us human are complicated and difficult to get right. This talk will explore the danger of neglecting so-called "soft" skills, what we stand to lose by overvaluing technical skills, and alternatives to the hard and soft dichotomy.


The contributions made to a team by someone with a positive attitude, influence, and team building abilities are immeasurable, but without them, the code might not be possible. These attributes aren’t reflected in expectations for engineers, but we’re surprised when communication problems among co-workers happen.

This talk will cover:

1. Problems with the dichotomy of soft and hard skills, including: the hidden (and sometimes gendered) meanings of soft and hard, what you lose by using these terms, and what you lose by not valuing them both.

2. Potential alternative terms.

3. How to incorporate soft skills into day-to-day expectations and recognizing/appreciating employees for them, including: action steps and resources for making updates in the workplace.

By the end of this talk, you’ll remember that people are human, and you’ll learn how to appreciate a variety of skills in yourself and each other.


soft skills, teams

Speaking experience

As co-leader for Girl Develop It Chicago, I regularly teach technical workshops and lectures for diverse groups of people. I am an incredibly enthusiastic public speaker with very little shame (I have been known to occasionally break into a dance during a talk). This year, I will be speaking at Mountain West JavaScript and Madison Ruby.


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    Liz Abinante is an engineer for Instructure and co-leader of the Girl Develop It Chicago chapter. She is infectiously enthusiastic about web development, teaching, learning, and tacos. She enjoys writing and speaking about education, diversity, and happiness in engineering. Previously, Liz has worked as a writer, editor, and knitwear designer.