CI/CD series – Sauce Labs: Soft skills are the key to highly functional pipelines

This is a guest post for the Computer Weekly Developer Network in our Continuous Integration (CI) & Continuous Delivery (CD) series.

This contribution is written by Marcus Merrell in his role as director of technical services at Sauce Labs – the company is known for its continuous, automated and live testing capabilities which can be used for cloud, web and mobile applications.

The Sauce Labs director says it can be tempting to look at the mechanics of the modern CI/CD pipeline and think it’s a black and white process, the success or failure of which is defined by coding skills and technology purchases.

Merrell writes as follows…

The reality for those on the ground, however, is considerably different, and considerably grayer than any notion of a black and white process.

While having skilled coders and arming them with the right development, testing and integration technologies is indeed important, soft skills and intangibles are often what make or break most development teams.

Sustainable soft skills

Take adaptability, for example. If there’s one constant in the development world, it’s change. Changes to organisational structure and business priorities happen all the time. Changes in customer behaviour and product requirements are equally recurrent. As are changes to the overall market. In the midst of change, it’s more important to have a development team that adapts well to new processes, leaves their collective ego out of it and takes constructive criticism from peers, than to have a team of superior coders and developers who are unable or (worse) unwilling to adapt to the inevitable cycles of change. That’s why, when building out your CI/CD team, soft skills are every bit as important (if not more) as coding acumen.

The good news for tech leaders and practitioners alike is that adaptability is a skill that can be honed and advanced by spending time to understand the roles and needs of other functional teams within the organisation, as well as the roles and needs of your customers.

Try to get your developers close to the customer, whether through your ‘customer success’ team, or by participating in customer advisory boards.

Empathy epiphany

The more CI/CD teams understand and empathise with the challenges their customers and colleagues face, the more adaptable they’ll become.

But even adaptability won’t be enough to overcome modern development challenges if everyone on your team has the same resume or CV. The most successful CI/CD teams in the world embrace diversity and foster a culture of inclusion.

It’s impossible to understate how important it is to have varying perspectives and life experiences on your development and delivery teams. Your customers are diverse, and your development team needs to be as well. You can’t put yourself into the mind of someone with a completely different background and set of life experiences as you. To develop and deliver software that meets your customers’ needs, you have to understand their needs. To understand those needs, you need people on your team who share their perspectives.

Most teams already have the requisite skills, invest in the right technologies, and instill the right processes and procedures.

What they typically do not have are the critical soft skills, and that will make the difference between a struggling team and a high-performing one.

Merrell: the road to good code starts with empathy.



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