By default, I approach every training I conduct ( I mostly conduct sessions for folks who are in their final year, or finished graduation but looking to upskill for a better career) with a simple underlying goal. If you learn xyz technology, will help you (eventually, if not right away) to make a little more money than what you do now.

I have noticed that there are a lot of students (defined above) are pretty good in what they do (coding stuff). However, they lack certain essential skills that are really warranted in a work atmosphere. Taking my own example, at best, I am a below average developer at best, but somehow somewhere, I end up working in some high level projects. When I self analyse, I notice that my communication skills, presentation skills and simply the ability to discuss without fear with the key stakeholders (like the VPs, CTOs and CEOs) allows me get assignments that otherwise would not.

So, over the years, I have made it a point to provide feedback about non-technical skills to my students. Now, after so many years of training, I want to take this to the next level. instead of just giving feedback, I want to make it part of my curriculum. There lies my challenge.

In a session I conducted last year, I noticed that an entire team of developers were just straight up bad with their English. This may seem strange to other community members, but English, the preferred language of communication itself is a huge challenge for many of us folks here in India. When I finished my gentle tirade by concluding that the reason why all of them being billed lowered rates despite being technically competent (and I was one of the trainers who made that happen) is because you guys cannot speak and communicate in general.

Eventually, despite maintaining excellent ratings for all the previous ratings, for the last day, I got 1 out of 10 ratings for every point in the review sheet.

So, a very long story short, like the English example above, there are so many other qualities that are lacking in developers in general. I want to make it part of my training, but at the same, I don't want to end up with negative reviews either. You folks are in the education domain. Have you faced this issue? How can I handle this?

Right now, the only solution I have is, just give up on that. My pay is linked to my reviews. At the same time, I feel strongly about this. As always, if this is too broad, I hope the mods will flag it, or I can break it up into individual questions.

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    $\begingroup$ So what is your (ultimate) question? $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 30, 2017 at 14:42
  • $\begingroup$ I've never encountered language as a barrier. Culture to a small extent (people unable to admit they are stuck and need help) - but not in me personal experience with people from India. Soft skills help, and maybe it depends what level in the market you're addressing, but delivery is what matters in the end. Here, you're providing an excuse to your students about why even after you trained them, they will struggle - and they don't like that. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 30, 2017 at 15:13
  • $\begingroup$ "I've never encountered language as a barrier. " ah...well, it is a big deal here. With so much work coming from Europe and US, this is a huge one for us, and by extension a challenge for every trainer who works in Asia. We have no choice but to deal with it. I have had managers spending hours telling me how they have lost so many deals because of language issues. Its actually very sad. $\endgroup$
    – Jay
    Commented Aug 30, 2017 at 15:55
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    $\begingroup$ I hope it works out for me :) $\endgroup$
    – Jay
    Commented Aug 31, 2017 at 5:20
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    $\begingroup$ @Jay I do work quite a lot with engineers in Asia (possibly well above average ability, I can't judge). Maybe it's better to say the illusion of following process is a far bigger barrier than language in the cases where there are problems - and I see some of your question here resonates with that conflict. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 31, 2017 at 9:17

2 Answers 2

  • Let students know this is part of the curriculum going in. If they take your class, they shouldn't be surprised by these soft skills lessons.
  • Demonstrate the value. If students are there for hard-core technical skills they may grow impatient if you "waste their time" with soft skills. However, if you preface the soft skill lessons with discussions of why they're important - numbers if you have them, anecdotes if you don't - you'll get more buy-in, more attention, more appreciation.

  • Praise in public, criticize in private. It sounds like your "gentle tirade" was not private. Maybe it was private to the group of folks to whom it was directed, maybe it was public for the whole class, but if you embarrass someone in front of others, don't expect them to feel good about it - or you - or your class. I'm sure the response to this type of feedback varies slightly by culture (and I have almost no knowledge of Indian cultures), but I haven't heard of any culture where people enjoy being publicly embarrassed.

  • Offer suggestions. If you simply told me my English was bad without giving me a plan for fixing it, then... you've simply made me feel bad about myself without teaching me anything.

  • Ignore things people can't change. If you think my English is bad because of my poor grammar, vocabulary, ... then okay, that's something I can fix. If the problem is my pronunciation because I literally can't hear the difference between "rice" and "lice" or between "heat" and "eat" then just leave it alone.

  • $\begingroup$ the gentle tirade is putting it mildly. I tend to get dramatic...so there is that. Perhaps, I could work on that. offering suggestions, I do that...ignoring...thats hard but already doing it..and making it part of curriculum is what I am hoping to do with this question above. $\endgroup$
    – Jay
    Commented Aug 30, 2017 at 15:57

What you are trying to do is entirely laudable; helping your students to not only be better engineers, but also better hires, could help them in tremendous ways in the long run. However, since you are in a situation where your rating numbers matter very much to you, be careful that you always attend to your own professional needs as well. You would be in no position to help others if you simply lost your job.

Usually, people are okay with instruction that meets their expectations. Therefore, I agree with G. Ann that telling the students that this will be a part of the course is an important first step.

However, students signing up for a specific technical course might already have fairly fixed expectations before they enter your classroom, and, as what you are doing may differ from these expectations, you may find that your review marks still take a hit. Thus, I might recommend two alternatives as well:

  1. Develop a course in soft skills for developers. Include a full evaluation in order to address areas of weakness that you cannot reasonably cover in class (such as English), and spend the course time talking about the things that you can do. The advantage here is that students who sign up for the class will clearly want it.

  2. Keep incorporating the material into your regular coursework, but make some of it optional for students who want it. And, as already said, always pay very careful attention to setting the expectations of your students with clear communication.

It sounds like your circumstances may preclude you from doing this sort of work if it causes a hit to your salary, so you may need to carefully monitor the effects of taking these changes, and communicate with your own administration to be sure that any temporary drops in your numbers will be understood correctly (eg. you won't lose your job).

Good luck!

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    $\begingroup$ to put some things in context, I don't have a job but rather arrangements with various agencies. There is no job to lose because I don't have one. However, instead of making 10 dollars, I might make 9 (which is still more than what most of my peers make). While there is a monetary loss, it is something that is acceptable to me. I feel that if I can figure this out (like say in the next 1 year), it will pay for itself. $\endgroup$
    – Jay
    Commented Aug 31, 2017 at 5:23

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