Interview with Renate Motschnig – Prof. at the University of Vienna

Renate Motsching is a Professor at the University of Vienna, Austria. We have discussed with her the outcome of the first two rounds of Soft Skills Training for IT Professionals. To find out more about the training and how to sign up, please click here.

ZOIS: Welcome Renate and thank you for your time doing this interview with us. We have already had two rounds of Soft Skills for IT Professionals training. Actually, the second round is ongoing and new rounds are planned for August and September. From your point of view, how do you see training on soft skills for such a really tough and hard matter like IT? How does it fit together in your view?

Renate Motschnig: That’s a good question because soft skills are something that in my view really need to develop gradually. You don’t get them by just reading a book or participating in one training. IT people in particular, during their education are a lot more exposed to the technical stuff, to the programming, the architectures and so on. Very little time is actually spent on the soft skills. This happens despite the fact that we know that for projects or organisations to succeed, it’s the people with their whole-person – not just technical – capacities who tend to make the difference. Nevertheless, people-skills get underrepresented most of the time. I think that IT people feel that they need more of these competencies, so I guess that is the reason why training we offered were immediately filled up. This shows that people are inherently interested and think that they could benefit from more exposure to communication and teamwork subjects. I think people need these skills for successful work. IT people also need someone who understands their job. Therefore trainers from, for example psychotherapy would probably have a different take on this. In my view, soft skills trainings for IT people should optimally be run by trainers who have a fair understanding of IT and interpersonal dynamics. This way they will bring in more understanding and empathy for their target group, improving acceptance and learning.

ZOIS: Thank you. Let me connect to your last thought. You’re saying that people who have an IT background are better trainers for this kind of courses than people who have a psychology background. What is your background? What can you bring to the training? What’s your experience? And what are the milestones of your career which you can deliver to the participants?

Renate Motschnig: My professional education was in IT. I studied computer science, but I was still very interested in the human aspects; how can we make IT really useful for human beings, engaging in interface issues and then learning with computers. This deep interest in interfaces and people brought me into communication science, cognitive and humanistic psychology, that from early on, I kind of worked in an interdisciplinary manner. This wasn’t always easy at the faculty of computer science, because these disciplines aren’t considered the most relevant. It took some energy, but pairing with the industry and doing research about what our graduates would really need, supported my ideas. It came up that the required skills where not so much technical, but paired with soft skills e.g. presenting or working in a team on an IT project. Industry has always been a good partner in helping to establish more awareness of the importance of the human side in computer science, even in academia.

ZOIS: Thank you. If you look back to our two training rounds, we had participants from a huge storage vendor and also from a huge bank in Brazil. Can you give us a few insights? What did you notice that they learnt? What could they takeaway that would help them in their daily and corporate lives?

Renate Motschnig: Honestly, it is difficult to say right after the training because the most valuable things would stay with them for a longer time. We could and should ask them sometime after the training. Nevertheless, the feedback sheets they filled in were definitely a good indication;

“This is something valuable for me.”

“I refreshed my active listening and I’ll be more conscious of it.”

I think that during the training, they also improved. We observed their interactions and many of them applied some of the skills that we tried to mediate, for example not interrupting, active listening, expressing themselves transparently, paraphrasing. So I hope if they continue being conscious about that and probably also if some of these people work in the same team, they can be alert and talk about that later on. Gauging from their positive attitudes and from how they opened up to what we wanted to teach them, I guess they are motivated to continue. I think that it’s important not to have this training as a one shot exercise and it would be important to follow up at regular intervals.

ZOIS: Definitely. So going forward into the future, do you see a change in IT people’s behaviour? The public perception is more or less that they are very shy people in dark data centres doing something that nobody understands and now we talked about psychological soft skill and training elements. Do you this kind of training can become more popular in the IT industry?

Renate Motschnig: This will depend in my opinion on several issues, but I think we are doing the right thing. With the support of such large associations as ZOIS, we really can have some influence. I think that it is essential to really reach out to people to involve them and see how this can spread. In academia, there is definitely still a lot to do to mediate the human side. It is still my vision to have more impact on that and try to research its importance. Still, I would be cautious, because these transformations often really need time. So we need to be active, but patient.

ZOIS: One last question; How did you make the training possible during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Renate Motschnig: Fortunately, we could adapt the training to take place online but we are also open to run it on a company’s premises.

ZOIS: Thank you very much for the interview.

Renate Motschnig: Thank you for having me.