I’ve got the skills to pay the bills….

Who really likes the term “Soft Skills”?

As testers, we find ourselves testing, even when we aren’t testing, and semantics is a fine example of that.

Rick Tracy gave a Soapbox talk on ‘Testing the city’, at EuroSTAR 2017, and he touched again on that in longer form, with his talk ‘Are we crazy?’ at UKSTAR 2019.

Part of his talk’s blurb is:

Testing is dangerous. No, I don’t mean it’s hazard-pay dangerous or wear-your-helmet dangerous, but it is drive-you-crazy dangerous. We work in an industry that is constantly, deliberately, and effectively driving us nuts.


Sometimes we struggle to let go, and sometimes we can’t stop noticing faults, defects, imperfections, irritations etc.

Even today, I was getting irrationally upset about anomalous apostrophes in a restaurant’s menu. Sometimes I need to let go.

In In my mind, my body and my soul….. I talked about the need for testers to have strong communication skills, highlighting further the need for diplomacy, pragmatism, emotional intelligence, and a greater awareness and appreciation of our love languages along with those of our colleagues.

The more I think about it, the more these “soft skills” are something that I find hard to quantify. Wikipedia’s opening spiel about these are:

Soft skills are a combination of people skillssocial skillscommunication skillscharacter or personality traits, attitudes, career attributes,[1] social intelligence and emotional intelligence quotients, among others, that enable people to navigate their environment, work well with others, perform well, and achieve their goals with complementing hard skills.[2] The Collins English Dictionary defines the term “soft skills” as “desirable qualities for certain forms of employment that do not depend on acquired knowledge: they include common sense, the ability to deal with people, and a positive flexible attitude.”


My testing instinct, that gut feeling that you have when something doesn’t sit right with you, just has a hard time to resolve that in common parlance, these skills are soft, whereas something more tangible, or measurable is hard.


This infographic is presented without any particular point, other than a means to add a visual stimulant to this monologue of a thought process.

I’m aware that I have bias regarding soft skills, I believe that it is one of my strengths and something I really look for when recruiting testers. But, why should testers be the only ones for whom we are paying attention to these skills?

Why is something that is so hard to teach, called soft?

What do you look for in your managers, your coaches and your leaders?

An exciting return to Sporting Analogy Corner:

When you look at some of the world’s greatest footballers, did they all transition into superstar managers?

Not all, but some did. Look at Zinedine Zidane, Franz Beckenbauer or Didier Deschamps.

But then again some really didn’t work out, Diego Maradona or Alan Shearer, for example.

Then there are success stories in management who weren’t superstar players. Such as. Jose Mourinho, Arsene Wenger or Joachim Loew.

It’s all about balance really, we all have our own mix of the two columns and hopefully we will all find our place. But, why can’t we give them different names?

I put out a quick question on Twitter, what could we rename soft skills and hard skills, below are some of the replies.

  • Learned and taught
  • Interpersonal and tech
  • Peoplegood and Computergood
  • Light magic and dark magic

Maybe you’ve got more suggestions?

Blog post title lyrics from: Skills to pay the bills – by Beastie Boys.

Find all the songs from my blog posts at this Spotify playlist.

3 responses to “I’ve got the skills to pay the bills….”

  1. Speaking as someone whose soft skills trumped my hard skills in at least the last two jobs I’ve held (I started out in testing before it was any sort of discipline at all and certainly before there were any qualifications or even courses in software testing), I found this quite interesting. I suppose you could say that it was my mastery of soft skills that got me where I am because without those soft skills I couldn’t have persuaded employers to take me on and benefit from my years of business and organisational experience.

    Your infographic illustrated one interesting anomaly: that the hard skills were easy to quantify and demonstrate whereas the soft skills were the opposite. There is one other difference; hard skills can be formally taught, whereas soft kills have to be learnt. That learning takes time and a certain amount of varied experience, not only in different companies and roles, but even in different life situations. Certainly my soft skill abilities arise out of different types of work situations and a range of outside and voluntary positions that have seen me do public-facing stuff and negotiating way beyond my “official” pay grade.

    Taking your footballing analogy a stretch further; I don’t follow football much, but I grew up in Derby (UK) in the 1970s, when Derby County were managed by the infamous Brian Clough. Clough had been a good, if not spectacular, player in his youth, but he became one of the era’s best known, if not particularly liked, managers. After Derby County, he went to Leeds – a club with which he’d had a distinctly spiky relationship – for 44 days, which went down in sporting history as the prime example of classic car-crash management. He then moved to Nottingham Forest, where he was extremely successful. The main road between Derby and Nottingham – two cities only about 15 miles apart – was named ‘Brian Clough Way’ in his honour.

    But… I recollect the 1991 FA Cup Final between Forest and Spurs. It was 1-1 at full time and so extra time had to be played. After 15 minutes the score was still level. During the half extra time break, Spurs went into a huddle, with their manager talking to the players, encouraging them, inspiring them and generally reinforcing their team spirit. Clough, however, sat in the dugout with his arms folded and a face like thunder. The team milled about on the touchline and had no words of encouragement.

    When play resumed, Nottingham Forest conceded an own goal and that was how the match ended, Spurs winning 2-1. Clough only lasted another two years in the job and then retired from football management altogether.

    My point being that this match, out of the few I’ve ever watched, has stuck in my mind because of precisely the illustration it makes of the value of soft skills. Brian Clough was an excellent technical manager but had no soft skills whatsoever; and when it was most important, their absence swung the match without the other side having to do a thing apart from hold the game together.

    And after all that, I can’t think of any different labels for these things beyond ‘hard’ and ‘soft’!


    • Hi Robert,
      Thank you for your comment, it’s always nice to hear other people’s take on the subject.
      I don’t believe that I agree with all that the infographic says, but it is a good conversation starter, and it helped promt you to write your comment. Things are never that binary in reality.
      I like the Brian Clough analogy, I lived and worked in Nottingham through university and beyond, so am well aware of his story and indeed the link road along the A52. It’s a fine example where “soft” skills were lacking.
      If you do manage to come up with any different ways to term soft and hard skills, do let me know. I doubt we can change the world, but at least we’ll have a new way to reference them!


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