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  • Writer's pictureAnna Granta

Why programmers make good coaches

Updated: May 12, 2020

I get some funny looks when I explain that before I was a coach I was in IT. I understand why it confuses people - the stereotypical programmer is not interested in people, is not good with people and would rather be alone in a basement than dealing with complicated human stuff. In other words they would be a terrible coach and they would never choose to become a coach. This stereotype is not entirely unfounded. At a friend's party I was chatting to someone explaining what I enjoyed about my then job as a lead machine learning engineer. He said 'I don't get it. The whole reason I became programmer was to avoid having to deal with people. I'd hate to be a manager'. That ended up as a pretty short conversation!

Someone working on a computer alone.

So there are programmers who would rather avoid complicated human stuff and there are also some people like me who went into programming because they enjoy solving problems and actually we also enjoy working with people. As one of those programmers with people skills what you find is that you get hired for your programming skills but then you end up doing a lot more people work than programming. Certainly you have a much bigger impact that way. Because when everyone is hired for programming skills you get a team that is low on people skills and guess what? All teams need people skills!

Want to build something that is useful? Someone will need to talk to your users or potential users and understand them. They will need people skills.

Interacting with other teams? You're gonna need some people skills.

Trying to persuade highly in demand candidates to work for you of all the possible tech companies out there? Better find someone who understands people...

Team doesn't know what its mission is or why its work is important to the wider company? Sounds like a job for someone with people skills.

Want to get that amazing new thing your team just built into the hands of real users? Want feedback and impact for you work? People skills to the rescue.

Hands full of Jelly beans.

Need a way of onboarding new starters so that they can get up to speed on your expectations, processes and culture? Ask the programmer who hates working with people! No of course not, you need people skills.

My point is that as someone with people skills in a job where people skills are scarce and undervalued you can easily find opportunities to practise and develop your people skills because there is not much competition for this work. I've personally done all of the above and more while working as an 'engineer'.

Person climbing steps to reach their goal

All good engineers (even the ones who live in basements) excel at breaking problems down into achievable pieces and solving each piece step by step. As a coach, I can help you break an ambitious dream or daunting challenge into achievable steps. I motivate you to complete each step and then voila - the steps have taken you where you needed to go.

Excellent engineers can look at a complicated system and quickly understand how the parts work together. This allows us to see where small changes will have a big impact. Your life is a system too. Your work, family, hobbies etc all interact to determine how stressed you feel, your ability to take on new challenges and how much time you have to invest in yourself. As a coach I help people look at their lives and work out which changes will generate big results.

Are you a coach who used to be an engineer? Or an engineer thinking of becoming a coach? Let me know in the comments.

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