Are soft skills more important than deep technical expertise?

Often I hear the ideas that technical skills are somewhat less important than, for example, communication or other soft skills. Here are some quotes to illustrate what people think:

Dustin Ewers, DeveloperOnFire:

The developer that’s a ninja at whatever the latest JavaScript framework is is great but a developer who is OK at that and also really good communicator is gonna win every day of the week in terms of actually delivering value to people.

John Sonmez, SoftSkills book:

I’d rather hire a developer who knows a little less but knows how to figure out what needs to be done and how to do it, than someone highly skilled who requires constant hand-holding to be productive.

I have seen the most technically competent yet arrogant and unfriendly people lose out on a job to a much less skilled but likable person.

TJ VanToll, DeveloperOnFire:

I don’t consider myself very good software developer necessarely I think I succeeded more in that like learning how to write a good email, learning how to write an opinionated article, can actually take you a lot far ther in many cases than knowing how to write good code for instance.

Now let’s look Pareto principle and we see that roughly 80% of problems we can solve with 20% of features that has a tool we use (like programming language or framework).

Multiply it by diminishing returns law which states that the outcome of our efforts always diminishes. Hence learning 20% of the most used programming language features will provide much more value than learning next 20% of features. But learning that next 20% of features will require more effort because they are more rarely used and therefore it will be harder to remember them.

Add the fact that:

Half of what a programmer knows will be useless in 10 years.

And I would emphasize here that the more detailed and specific the piece of knowledge, the faster it will become useless. This kind of demotivates people to learn new stuff, especially if they are not going to use it immediately.

Finally, add to the equation StackOverflow, YouTube, blogosphere and all other freely and immediately available resources which are capable to solve most of your programming problems in seconds.

What do we get? Well, for most of the jobs very deep and detailed technical knowledge is not as valuable as soft skills – ability to communicate with people via natural as well as via programming languages and ability to solve problems and organize (architect) systems.

At my current project, we hired a guy just because I knew him, I knew he was a good communicator, nice person and loved his craft, that’s it. We did not ask him any questions like what is polymorphism or the sequence of calling of constructors in the inheritance hierarchy. And it really worked great. Do I instead want someone who knows 80% of .NET by heart but with hypertrophied ego or something? No way…

Of course, I just share my thoughts and the fact that these same thoughts appear to other people as well. Interviewers, however, want you to know nitty gritty details as if knowing them proves you will be able to deliver, will keep working on the long demanding project or will be doing well with the team. Many people would disagree and insist that deep tech expertise is the key.

What do you guys think? What is your experience?

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