Engineers need strong technical skills to be successful. But many underestimate the importance of developing strong communication skills as well.
Many AI products are so complex that it’s hard for any single person — no matter how talented — to build the whole thing. As teamwork becomes more central to AI development, clear communication is becoming more important, too.
In large and small companies, I’ve seen senior engineers with no management responsibility (often called individual contributors) whose words carried more weight than those of VPs who managed large teams. They often had a massive positive impact on the projects they took part in. How did they accomplish this? These individuals are generally:
- Technically sophisticated, with a deep understanding of the most promising technical approach to a problem.
- Cross-functional collaborators who can help match technology with business goals.
- Positive contributors to the company’s culture. For example, they foster a transparent and safe environment where ideas are evaluated based on merit and all voices can be heard.
- Clear communicators who help others understand their thinking through speaking or writing.
What if you’re not yet a strong communicator? That’s okay! I used to struggle with my writing and speaking as well, and I still have ample room for improvement. Last week, while I was giving a practice talk on a new way to think about data (yes, I do practice talks), a friend told me that a section of my presentation was confusing. He was right! I try to embrace critical feedback on my communications and hope you will, too.
There’s no need to set an impossible standard for yourself; just aim to improve a little every month. The only person you should compare yourself to is the person you used to be. Let us all keep trying to be better than our previous selves.