Bill Hinderman

Robot Skills & Human Skills.

I rewrote my résumé this weekend.

Before this iteration, I hadn’t looked at it in a few years. The previous was a too-full single page PDF that could be printed and shared among people that would glance at it for a moment then look back at their computers. In the intervening years, I’ve gotten better at attempting to bias things that I create toward actionable results. As such, the new version is annotated, allows for exploration and detail-focusing, and has a layer of actions built upon the typical résumé fodder.

There was, however, one portion where I hit a stumbling block deciding what I was gaining building for screens, rather than paper: The skills section.

It isn’t a thing every industry has, but at least in our world, and always among candidates whom I have interviewed over the past few years, résumés have a dump of “these are the things that I know.” In UI engineer interviews, this portion of the résumé is universally a list of languages, libraries, and technologies that they have had some exposure to.

That’s dumb.

Knowing “HTML5, CSS3, and JavaScript” is not a differentiating skill. It’s something that everyone that has made it far enough to throw a résumé at someone has. Sure, there is value in calling out the more unique libraries that you’ve happened to explore as a way of showing off, but they aren’t things you’ve learned. They’re things you can use.

From now on, I’m calling these robot skills.

They’re the skills that simply prove that you have taken in some number of hours looking at something, and can now use it to spit things back out.

I hate talking about robot skills. See, there’s a part of (bad) engineering interviews where the interviewer attempts to out-nerd the interviewee by asking the most obscure thing they can. The worst example of these I have ever gotten was:

Interviewer: “What are the five things that happen if you don’t declare a DOCTYPE?”

Me: “Well, the browser will have to make guesses as to what type of markup you’re actually send-”

Interviewer: “I’m looking for five specific things.”

Me: “Yes. Well, I build with correct standards, so I would never do that.”

Interviewer: “We’ll be in touch.”

The interviewer, at a company I won’t name, was looking for robot skills. Had I memorized the things that happen when I don’t do a different thing correctly? I was giving him an explanation using human skills.

Human skills are how you take all of your knowledge, creativity, and intelligence and create solutions. They’re what you do with your robot skills. On my résumé, human skills consist of things like responsive design, data visualization, A/B experimentation, and team leadership.

They’re not skills that have a multiple choice quiz to validate. But at the same time, they are not specifically soft skills. Human skills are your foci within the concepts that are driving our industry forward.

The next time you’re looking at your résumé, or updating your LinkedIn, or sitting in an interview, keep the difference top-of-mind. If you’re listing off your robot skills, you’re making yourself replaceable. If someone is asking you to prove them, they already believe you to be.

My résumé still has robot skills, but I’m calling them out as such. I’m putting them in their place. They’re the things that I can use, not the things that I can do.

You’ll pick up robot skills throughout your career by nature of the practices we have constantly evolving. You’ll grow your human skills by making an effort to evolve those practices.

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2 Responses.

  1. Mary says:

    I have to admit that I needed to look up the word foci, and after I did, I had to find out how to pronounce it.

    Always learning . . . thank you for always teaching.

  2. Ashley Charleson says:

    Love this, Bill! This is a thought-provoking observation.