Bottom Line — Worried about being replaced? If you stack your above average skills, they’ll be worth more than the value of a single highly valued skill. Here are examples where stacked skills helped me overcome fierce competition.
Have you felt that you could be replaced? To some extent, all of us feel vulnerable. However, I’m talking about the dude that shies away from openly sharing his knowledge because he fears that another will take what he knows and become better.
It’s a zero-sum game to him. It’s either a win or a loss. If he loses, someone else gains. That’s the scarcity mindset I’m talking about.
If you take my ideas and become better – I’m happy for you and still feel secure because I operate from a skill stack.
Skill stacking is adding complementary skills to whatever you’re already skilled at. For example, let’s say you’re an engineer and you have sharp technical skills. How are your social skills? How about your presentation or writing skills? How are your persuasion skills?
A technical + social + presentation skill stack has more weight than one of these skills alone.
Of course, there are exceptions. I prefer my surgeon to have excellent technical skills and I care less for his presentation skills.
The best I could do is share what I’ve seen in my own life and where my skill stack helped me overcome competitive challenges.
Applying to a Masters Program
I finished my bachelor’s degree in Petroleum Engineering in 2008, exactly when the recession hit and job opportunities were low. I chose to continue studying and applied to a master’s program in Petroleum Engineering.
I had to take the GRE (graduate record examination). I don’t do well on rushed exams and I scored a bit below average in Math.
I felt my scores weren’t good enough to get in.
I had an acquaintance – a foreign exchange student from an Asian country – who applied for the same program and he scored almost a perfect score. His technical skills were great but he was shy and had less developed communication skills.
While doing the four-year study, I got to know the department faculty by working as a teaching assistant for several professors.
The test results came in. I got in. He didn’t.
It didn’t make sense to me.
About a year later – I spoke with a faculty member and brought this up to see what they thought.
He said – Scores matter, but more than that, what matters is our confidence in the potential applicant to take on a master’s thesis project and carry it through without quitting when things get tough. Technical skills aren’t enough to carry you through when quitting seems reasonable. That means the applicant has to be well rounded and at least known by faculty.
His technical skills beat mine but my stacked technical and social skills pulled through and I got into the program.
Engineering to Management
I worked as an engineer at an Oil and Gas software company for two years and was promoted to product management. I strongly suspect that skill stacking was responsible for this.
Engineers are typically introverted and are uncomfortable presenting.
While doing technical work, I used my presentation skills to create above average presentations. I moved to directly communicating with clients. From there, I was promoted to product management. It wasn’t because I was an exceptional product manager. I feel it was because I had an above-average skill stack and could talk to clients and engineers.
I switched careers from Petroleum Engineering to Software Development. As a junior developer looking for an opportunity, the competition is fierce.
I wasn’t going to compete solely on technical excellence. I have no doubt there are software developers much more technically advanced than I am.
My strategy was to overcome competition with skill stacking.
What were other junior developers not doing and how could the sum of my stacked skills pull me through?
I saw that most did not have demo projects on GitHub. Those that did, did not have documentation. They didn’t have a live demo. They didn’t have a blog with technical articles. They didn’t have a presence except for a resume and a LinkedIn profile.
Taking notes from Soft Skills by John Sonmez, I knew what I had to do to get an edge.
Besides, I wasn’t going to compete solely on programming prowess. I had years of industry engineering experience and building software products from scratch and shipping them.
All those things helped me pull through and give me an edge.
If you stack your skills, you’ll have a unique skill set that’s hard for others to replicate. Due to skill stacking, I don’t fear losing out. I truly hope that you take something away from my experiences.
I might not be the most technical guy in the room, but I know that if I continue working on my stacked skills, their sum is usually worth more than an individual skill by itself. I know that a unique skill stack is HARD to replicate and therefore it’s hard to steal.
So stack your skills: add marketing, sales, tech, people skills, or whatever else your skill-set and you won’t have to live in fear of someone else taking your opportunities.