In the world of coding, it’s easy to list off technical skills developers will need to up their game: programming languages, database knowledge, data structures and algorithms, etc. But when it comes down to it, soft skills can make the difference between optimizing your effectiveness and working well on a team. Some might even make the difference between getting the job you want or hiring someone that’s going to be a good fit.
It’s up to both the developer to demonstrate how those skills make them better as well as the hiring manager to explore beyond a resume. As artificial intelligence continues to improve and expand in scope, it’s the strictly human skills that are vital now and will continue to be valuable in the future.
Creative problem-solving skills
At the root of a developer’s job is solving problems. Some are more complicated–and interesting–than others, but at the end of the day, everyone in the field will need to figure out solutions throughout their career. How you approach those problems and your ability to be up for the challenge is important.
Use creativity to come up with innovative solutions and to write better code. Thinking differently will increase your value exponentially, especially if you’re able to figure things out when others are stuck. You can be the hero. It’s equally as important to recognize when you need outside help. Sometimes solving an issue means knowing whose expertise to tap into. With critical thinking, you can sort through possible solutions to find the best path forward and save everyone time and frustration.
Creativity is also a skill that can be used in feature creation, approaches to the development process and beyond. And as an added bonus, it’s something AI can’t replicate…yet.
Regardless of whether you work in an office or with a remote team, you need to be able to communicate clearly with project managers, users, clients, your team, etc. Not only will how you communicate factor into how your colleagues feel about you, but if you’re freelance, it could determine whether or not a client wants to work with you. Be polite and—particularly when writing—concise. One way to practice writing is to start a blog and learn to organize your thoughts in a way that gets your point across effectively.
As a developer, you may be working with engineers and other stakeholders, not all of whom use tech jargon. There also might be opportunities for presentations and persuasive public speaking in your role. Get good, and you’ll inspire the people around you and establish yourself as an expert in the process.
People often overlook the ability to actively listen without interrupting, but this, too, can be an asset. Understanding the ideas of others or taking their opinions into account is part of working as a team and building trust.
People and interpersonal skills
Be kind when giving constructive feedback. Remember those compliment sandwiches where the constructive criticism goes between two positive messages? Now’s the time to use those. Talk to people how you might want to hear the same comments from someone else about your work.
In other situations, think about what other people want. What does your boss want? What are your colleagues’ goals? Figure out how to tailor what you’re saying to each person you’re speaking with, and they’re more likely to listen.
Mistakes happen. It’s a fact of life. Some may be minor, and others may cause chaos. Either way, a good developer owns them and learns from them before moving on. Managers should encourage that kind of behavior to prevent a culture of stress and trying to hide issues that may eventually come out anyway and cause more trouble later down the line. In some cases, it might even come up on an error that other people are likely to repeat. This is your chance to teach them how to avoid it and save time in the future.
Put simply, be able to self-assess. No one is good at everything, but it’s important to know where your strengths and weaknesses are. Done right, you’ll be able to identify where you can improve. Done wrong, i.e. not admitting when you don’t know something, you’ll set yourself up for failure. Be confident in what you’re good at, and ask for help or fill out your skills where needed, and you’ll build trust amongst your team and supervisors.
Initiative for independent learning
Being a lifelong learner can benefit a person in any industry. Taking it upon yourself to teach yourself a new programming language or brush up on the latest trends shows people you care about your work and are willing to go the extra mile. Plus, you’ll be more likely to identify problems and find effective solutions independently. Things are always changing, and being able to keep yourself competitive is a vital skill.
Everyone works differently, and only you know how to be most efficient. Take notes when needed. Know when you’re most productive and work accordingly, when possible. Organize your tasks and schedule your week. With many tasks, it can get overwhelming quickly. When you know what needs to be done and when you’re going to do it, you can focus more on the work itself.
One thing to keep in mind is that contrary to what practically every hiring manager asks for, multitasking is bad for productivity. Shut down those 50 open tabs. Prioritize your task list and work your way down. If it helps, try something like the Pomodoro technique; work for a set period before taking a break. Step and repeat. Be organized, and you’ll be able to give better estimates when a client or manager asks how long something will take resulting in smoother project progression.
Emotional intelligence and empathy
A high EQ ties into multiple skills on this list, as it will improve your communication, problem-solving, management, and ability to stay calm and focused under stressful conditions. It makes working with others better, too. People with emotional intelligence respond to challenges effectively. They can adapt, resolve conflict, integrate constructive feedback, and use empathy with their team. The opposite is also true. A person with a low EQ doesn’t do well with teams or take responsibility for mistakes. They may be poor listeners and use ineffective communications styles—passive or aggressive.
Empathy helps you understand the problems other people on your team face and can help you strategize how to get around or through them. It will also help create an environment of support, leading to people being comfortable expressing ideas without fear of negative feedback. You can also use empathy to envision how someone will react to something and adjust your comments or feedback accordingly. And, of course, developers always need to be able to see things from the point of view of the people who will be using what they’re building.
Approachability and helpfulness
Be someone people want to work with. That means being positive, engaging and motivating your team. Be someone people can ask for help, and you’ll keep a small problem from becoming a big one. As an added perk, people will be more likely to help you, too. Set boundaries if you’re in the middle of something, but other than that, be open to assist.
There will come a time when you have to explain something simple that will not be simple to non-technical people. It might be in the form of an unrealistic ask or an impossible-to-meet deadline or even a basic update meeting with a client. Be prepared, and take a deep breath.
If you can stay calm amidst the pressures of looming deadlines, stubborn bugs, training colleagues, changes in direction and roadblocks, you’re going to set yourself apart. There has never been a time when getting upset has solved a problem or sped up the process.
Be open to new ideas and ways to do things. You never know who will present an idea that’s the perfect solution or something you can build on. Even bad ideas can inspire good ones, so don’t dismiss someone trying to be helpful. Clients, your team, someone in sales, your mom… You never know when inspiration will strike. Be gracious and be happy people are trying to contribute to the solution.
In general, your technical skills may get you through the door, but your soft skills will keep you in and help you stand out. Even if you’re struggling with something like patience, remember that all of these skills can be improved with practice if you’re self-aware enough to know they need work. Good luck!