Soft skills in developing Research Software Engineers?

I was at the Research Software Engineers’ conference recently and in the group discussing training.

One of the themes that I advocated is training in soft skills such as communication. In part I meant this as the bridge between the developer(s) and business but on reflection, perhaps I mean something deeper as well. A while ago, I was introduced to Vitae’s Researcher Development Framework. This came back to me whilst discussing the issue as a potentially useful tool to help get the broad knowledge and skill base that Research Software Engineers (RSE) need to be effective.

One of the challenges that is not taught in the Software Engineering classes that I’ve attended is the way of being able to step out of one’s shoes and explain in non-patronising terms what I really mean by certain words or phrases.

This crosses with other developers as we have different skill sets. I’ve had this with close colleagues where one or other of us has a domain speciality. Every so often, one of us has to take a step back in a conversation to define a term or check that we both have the same denotation for a term.

This awareness of language becomes more important when conversing across domains or people. I don’t think that it is useful for either side to become frustrated with the other, especially when one is working towards the same goal.

In truth, I do not entirely know how one teaches communication, either verbal or written. I think that it is practice and the art of listening as well as talking. Perhaps the RSE committee might be able to look at this issue and perhaps we can begin coming up with our own RSE framework along side a career framework.

In my view, a way of getting RSEs having the added value is being able to have the domain conversation with colleagues in both directions: being able to converse and to listen. Technical skills alone will not achieve this but being able to be an active part of the conversation may help.