It was the year 2009. Me and a bunch of my friends, rushed to our super senior (fourth year senior), who had successfully cleared the placement process and landed himself a job at Wipro. We all were thrilled for him since he was one of our favorites. Not to mention, back in those days, anyone who was given a pre-placement offer (PPO) was considered quite the hero. I was so happy for him. Deep inside however, somewhere near the pit of my stomach, I remember experiencing a sinking feeling. I think others felt the same. The anxiety of what the professional future may entail was catching up and all kinds of scary scenarios were playing in each of our heads.
Inquisitive and enthusiastic, we trampled him with endless questions. The goal was to elicit as much as possible from his placement experience. He was kind enough to guide us in detail. He did end by telling us that, while being technically sound was definitely a must for software engineers, looking to impress the interviewer, we may not make it far, if we didn’t speak well. The idea simply being that even for engineers, communication skills were a must.
His words resonated with me. But how does one now, build those skills?
More on that later!
For now, let me take you back to my younger years. I was born and brought up in Meerut, an upcoming small city in the State of UP – Uttar Pradesh. Meerut is famously known for the Sepoy Mutiny (Kali Paltan) of 1857.
If you grew up in the 90s in India, you will remember the rage that convent education was amongst the new and growing middle class. It was their only chance of getting their children, a headway into the English speaking world that promised prosperity. Therefore, just like all others, my parents also wanted to send me to one of those saintly schools (pun-un-intended). Fortunately or unfortunately, I wasn’t Sophia’s choice and was eventually admitted to a non-convent CBSE public school in Meerut. The school was no less and is actually still doing pretty well for itself in the city. My school, Meerut Public School for Girls (MPS-G) among other things also gave me ample opportunities to develop my public speaking skills. The guidance of my teachers (best teachers ever!) cultivated in me, the confidence to get over stage fright. Simple practices of reading paragraphs aloud in class to preparing small speeches for morning assembles helped me hone my oratory skills.
Eventually when I joined an engineering college. I made efforts to get noticed by seniors, hoping to be a part of the various societies and events that took place in the college. Our seniors were the ones who would plan the college fests. During the second and third years of the course, I pushed myself to participate in various public speaking college events – the extempore were my favorite. I might not have won at all these events (I did win a few , tooting our own horn are we!) but the experiences I carry with me, from the tingling sensation in the feet to those sweaty palms as I gathered my thoughts to address a crowd, are all worth the effort.
During our final year, one of my dearest friends, pushed me to host the musical concert at our fest – Kolahal, with him. I had no interest in music and genuinely feared being booed off-stage by a live audience of unruly college kids. Since he pressed, I reluctantly took it up. While there were initial hiccups – most jokes falling flat, overall your hosts managed well and we were applauded.
Without realizing, all these years, out of interest or sheer coincidences, I had been tacitly building my communication and even public speaking skills. Allow me to be a little preachy here, but I do believe that during the formative years of our life, we seldom value time. To be fair, we don’t have to. But we can admit that sometimes the best of these years in school and college fleet away without much growth. With even the smallest of efforts, during these years, one can utilize small opportunities to learn and grow.
I have now become a teacher myself, and one day in my class, as I was casually discussing their interests with students, one of them said to me that he wanted to be able to speak as well as I did. He specifically meant English. My advice to my students has always been, to converse in English as much as possible.
The other day I was reading how the engineering course work matches with that of UPSC, which is touted as one of the toughest examinations to crack. The engineering students never value the amount of efforts they put in grasping these complex technologies which is similar to IAS or IPS aspirants. The ones with the passion for the subjects fair well and get placed in high paying jobs. The students who suffer are mostly the ones who have lesser interest in the subjects and also do not have good communication skills.
For any degree to be fully utilized, it is important that the students work on both their technical as well as soft skills. Our interpersonal skills form an integral part of our personalities. This aspect does get ignored in the quagmire of Java and Python. I have mentored students who had exceptional love for coding but lacked confidence to present themselves. The medium of communication across corporates is English. Sooner or later one has to learn to give presentations and express their ideas in a language best understood and also “appreciated” by majority.
I remember one of our teachers back in college used to tell us, “C++ or C– alone will not steer your life boat, Duniyadari seekho (learn to be street smart).” He was right! One has to learn and acquire skills that will help in dealing with clients along the way. Soft skills are one of those very essential skills. These skills affect our behavior and our ability to effectively interact with people in a workplace. Most of the employers look for employees who possess these harmonious skills.
My students often get bogged down by their inability to excel in the Engineering subjects. I have always advised them to look beyond the books. The parameter of technical knowledge that they use to evaluate them on, can be learnt and mastered with guidance. The problem lies in the inability to address the lack of thinking and creative problem solving. The idea of encouraging students in extra-curricular activities is mostly to broaden their focus. Lack of confidence in young students’ results in creating employees with job insecurities and lack of professional clarity.
As for my friends and I, the year 2011, our final year of engineering, had a happy ending. We muddled our way through the maze of codes and duniyadaari and managed to land decent jobs and “packages” in TCS, Wipro, Accenture.