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The Technical-Skills-People-Skills Chart: Be Aware of Negative Energy

The technical skills and people skills are important metrics determining how valuable employees are to a company. In this article, we argue that employees with excellent technical skills may be negative energy, if accompanied with poor people skills.

First, let's examine the technical-skills-people-skills chart.

The blank squares correspond to the employees who are poor either in technical skills or in people skills, and not excellent in any. Such employees generally do not exist in a company -- they either were not hired in the first place, or have been let go.

Majority of the employees possess ok technical skills and ok people skills, although the "ok" bar varies from company to company. Good engineers tend to have excellent technical skills and ok people skills, while good managers tend to have excellent people skills and ok technical skills. It can be rare to get employees who are excellent in both -- they are the super stars.

It is questionable whether to hire employees with excellent people skills but poor technical skills. Clearly they are not qualified for engineer positions. But they may be good managers. Most companies have different hiring processes depending on whether the position is a management position or not. But some newer technical companies ask deep technical questions even when interviewing manager candidates.

The most controversial question is how to evaluate engineers who have excellent technical skills but poor people skills. Some people regard these engineers extremely valuable because they have deep understanding of the technology and can solve technical problems way faster than average. Although it is generally known that these engineers have people issues, but the issues tend to be ignored.

At the same time, these engineers can do damage as well. For instance, it is possible that they complain, hijack meetings, fight, rob credit, cause heart burns, and decrease morale. Unfortunately, the degree of their damage are often under-estimated, for several reasons. First of all, such damage tend to be harder to quantify. For instance, it may be hard to associate the company morale with a number. Secondly, their complaints tend to have some factual basis, e.g. a product has this and that flaws. Ironically, the more talented the engineers are, the more they might be tempted to complain -- they understand the product deeper and see more flaws others don't see. Thirdly, people tend to pay more attention to their technical achievement (easier to measure) than to their damage (harder to measure), just like people tend to pay more attention to the above-sea-level part of an iceberg.

We advocate that please be aware such engineers could be negative energy, despite their technical talents. There is nothing wrong to discover flaws. What's wrong is their attitude, the way they think and talk about the flaws, and the fact that their narrowness limits them from seeing much beyond the flaws. Guised by their shining technical strengths, they may directly or indirectly create a hostile working environment with low morale, causing people to leave the company and/or the company to fail.

For further reads of negative energy and how to turn it to positive solutions, we recommend 15 ways to turn negative energy into positive solutions.

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