Hardware-Software Convergence: Key Skills to Consider

Monday 4/17/17 11:20am
Posted By Mike Roberts
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Hardware-software convergence, or how hardware and software systems are working more closely together, illustrates how each are empowering (and sometimes literally powering) the other. And in our current development environment, this is happening more than ever. Of course, deep technical skills will be of the utmost importance to navigate this technological trend, but it is also the soft skills we apply to our engineering practices that are as important in determining our success.

What skills do developers need to nurture, and how do you put them to good use? In this piece, we’ll cover three soft skills developers can use to stay ahead of the hardware-software convergence, and share resources to help you grow and maintain those skills.

Creative Inspiration

First off: Creative Inspiration. While it’s easy to identify your technical shortcomings and fill those gaps with training and practice, knowing which soft skills to hone can be a lot more complicated. In fact, you could even think of these soft skills as “mindsets,” since they’re more about how you approach a problem instead of just being a tool you use to solve it. For this first skill, it will be important to start approaching challenges antidisciplinarily, rather than relying on existing mental frameworks. That’s what being creative is all about – finding new ways of doing things.

So where do you start? Ask yourself this question: What is the dent you want to make in the universe? Begin from a place of passion – think about what problems and projects keep you up at night, and what issues big or small you want to solve.

Then, understand that creative inspiration is a process. What seems like overnight genius is often the result of many erroneous attempts (ex: Thomas Edison’s 1,000 or so attempts in creating the lightbulb) and then having the fortitude to gain deeper understanding of an issue to then apply your imagination. We particularly like the design thinking method, which encourages starting from a place of inspired empathy and developing knowledge through lean prototyping and iteration. The Stanford D.School has a Bootcamp Bootleg that you can download for a quick start guide to this design framework.

Man in gray shirt and blue sweatshirt speaks in front of group of people

Design with Intent

Next, focus on designing your product with intent. This means concentrating on outcomes over outputs – which is the difference between producing a product (say, a better hearing aid) and producing an outcome (providing a sense of sound to the deaf). The first way of thinking will lead you to create something that’s bound by the limits of what you expect from that product, while the other way of thinking can open up possibilities you may not have considered yet – which may lead to an even better result beyond the scope of your initial concept.

This goes back to what we mentioned earlier about thinking with an antidisciplinary mindset. Joi Ito, director of the MIT Media Lab, has said of this way of thinking, “Interdisciplinary work is when people from different disciplines work together. But antidisciplinary is something very different; it’s about working in spaces that simply do not fit into any existing … discipline — a specific field of study with its own particular words, frameworks, and methods.” From this, make it a practice to continually examine your implicit assumptions and ways of thinking so that you have a chance to identify new opportunities outside the box.

Of course, that’s easier said than done. Yet, understanding that you have blind spots can help you locate and identify them, and ultimately give you a chance to work through them.

Team Skills

The first two of these soft skills relate to internal frameworks and thinking processes, but this last skill is about how you bring that thinking into the world. Team Skills are important whether you’re leading a team in person, or working with other contributors remotely. Always strive to be masterful at expressing your ideas – both in words and in data, and be clear about your findings so that others can offer feedback, insights, or additional data to help you improve the project.

Teamwork helps us work better as antidisciplinarians because it’s easier to identify other people’s blind spots, since we’re coming at it from an outside perspective. Question everything and use your imagination to solve problems. Keep digging until a path forward becomes clear.

This is a large part of why we created Qualcomm Developer Network and, in particular, our hardware and software forums. We know many of you have questions or advice to share and are looking for other QDN developers to collaborate with, so we wanted to create an open space where that was possible. If you have any projects you’re working on, we hope you’ll dive in and contribute. Many of us are facing the same hardware-software convergence trends – but together we can come up with new products and solutions that helps build the future the way we want it to be.

Are there any other soft skills you think are critical for developers? Let us know in the comments.