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What other skills can set me apart as a software developer?

Whenever someone thinks about a software developer, the skill “coding” always comes to mind immediately. However, this isn’t the only skill a software developer wields in their toolbox – not by a longshot. In order to be a well-rounded contributor on a development team and grow your career beyond being an individual contributor, there are many other skills we would recommend you invest time and energy in. 

In addition to coding skills, there are several other skills and attributes that can set you apart as a software developer. Here are some key skills and qualities that can enhance your effectiveness and make you stand out in the field:

  • Problem-Solving Skills
  • Critical Thinking
  • Communication Skills
  • Team Collaboration
  • Continuous Learning
  • Attention to Detail
  • Time Management
  • Soft Skills + Networking
  • Agile and Project Management
  • Understanding of Security Best Practices

Let’s take a look at these in detail!

Problem-Solving Skills

Software development is often about solving problems. Whether you’re working on a bug fix, a new feature, or a complete rewrite, you need to be able to identify the problem, understand the root cause, and develop a solution. This requires strong analytical and problem-solving skills.

Every piece of software is a working solution to a client’s problem. For example, a Customer Relationship Management platform like HubSpot is the solution to the business problem of being able to track customer sales journeys throughout its entire lifecycle and market effectively at each step. It would be very expensive and time consuming to do this without a tool like HubSpot, so the solution here is very effective. 

This means that problem solving is the “meta-skill” to end all other skills for a developer. We have another article that tackles this in detail, so we won’t go further in this one.

Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is the ability to think clearly and rationally about a problem. It involves evaluating evidence, identifying assumptions, and drawing conclusions. Critical thinking is essential for software development because it helps you make informed decisions about the best way to solve a problem.

This type of thinking is all about step by step processes. Think of it like building a checklist. The thinking that goes into that allows you to build out a sequence of events that need to happen in order to accomplish a goal, like packing for a trip. Critical thinking is the art of tackling a problem from all angles and developing that step by step process. 

It’s hard to think of a domain in which critical thinking skills would not be useful, but it’s… critical in software development! All algorithms are essentially step by step processes to efficiently complete a task, so learning to think algorithmically is important to not just write the correct code, but the most efficient code possible.

Communication Skills

Communication skills are essential for software developers. You need to be able to communicate effectively with your team members, your clients, and your stakeholders. This includes both written and verbal communication. You need to be able to clearly explain your ideas and solutions, and you need to be able to understand the needs of others.

Many students come into our programs looking to deal with people less. If that’s you, I have some (potentially) bad news – there’s no avoiding people in the world of business and technology! So, even if your working preference is putting your head down to work independently on a task, you’ll make your marketability significantly higher if you’re also putting time into developing your communication skills.

Some ways you could practice is by building a writing habit, whether it’s on a blog or social media, to learn how to craft messages that connect with your intended audience. You can also seek feedback from mentors and supervisors to learn how you can better communicate. They’ll likely see things that you can’t!

Continuous Learning

The tech industry is constantly evolving. New technologies, languages, and frameworks are constantly being introduced. To stay ahead of the curve, software developers need to be open to learning new things. This means being willing to take on new challenges, experiment with new technologies, and read up on the latest trends.

Most effective and relevant software developers are always building projects on the side to test out different technologies and add more to their toolbox. Those projects don’t have to be huge, but they should happen continuously in order to keep skills sharp.

Time Management

Software development can be a demanding and time-consuming job. It’s important to be able to manage your time effectively, prioritize tasks, and meet deadlines.

There have been volumes written about effective time management, and there’s tons of content about it out there. If we could give a single resource to dive into, it would be Cal Newport’s body of work around the concept of Deep Work. He uses multiple strategies to help creatives do better focused, complex work, including timeboxing. Check him out if you want to learn more and try implementing his strategies – they work wonders!

Soft Skills + Networking

In addition to technical skills, software developers also need to have strong soft skills. These include interpersonal skills, such as empathy, patience, and adaptability. These traits contribute to a positive team dynamic and can enhance your overall effectiveness. 

The best way to practice getting better at soft skills is to use them! Meet and talk to people. Learn how to read body language and social cues. Focus on increasing your capacity for active listening and tune into opportunities to share and support others in conversation. 

A great book for this kind of work is What Every Body Is Saying by ex-FBI Agent Joe Navarro. He’s an expert at reading people and distills his knowledge into a highly practical reference that you can apply immediately.

Agile and Project Management

Every software developer lives and dies on the heartbeat of projects. Every software development initiative is a project: an endeavor requiring multiple actions to complete with a fixed deadline for completion. There are many ways of managing projects to make sure they come in on time, under budget, and meeting the expectations of the clients they are being developed for.

This is a heated topic for software developers, but it’s good to understand the fundamentals of Agile and other traditional forms of project management. Teams you will work on will often have some form of Agile powered product development framework or strategy like Scrum and Kanban. The Agile Manifesto is a good place to start in understanding the philosophy of how Agile differs from other ways of approaching building software, and there are plenty of free courses.

The more knowledgeable you are around how projects are effectively managed, the better you can contribute as an individual to those projects while setting yourself up for future roles that are more managerial if you are interested in those.

Understanding of Security Best Practices

Security is a critical issue for software developers. Awareness of common security risks and knowledge of best practices for secure coding can help you build robust and secure applications.

Many developers focus on how to build software but are less focused on the more tedious elements of making that software secure. The world of security, especially cyber security, is vast. Start by researching a specific programming language or technology with the word “security” in the search. For example, “javascript security” or “website security” and see what articles come up. Read more and determine if there are practices you can start to incorporate. This will immediately set you apart from other developers.

Conclusion

Here are some specific examples of skills and attributes that can help you stand out as a software developer:

  • Technical skills: These include programming languages, frameworks, and tools. It’s important to stay up-to-date on the latest technologies, so you can be a valuable asset to any team.
  • Problem-solving skills: Software developers are constantly faced with problems to solve. Being able to identify and troubleshoot problems quickly and efficiently is essential.
  • Communication skills: Software developers need to be able to communicate effectively with both technical and non-technical audiences. This includes being able to explain complex technical concepts in a clear and concise way, as well as being able to listen to and understand feedback from others.
  • Teamwork skills: Software development is a team sport. Being able to work effectively with others is essential to success. This includes being able to collaborate with others, share ideas, and resolve conflicts.
  • Self-directed learning skills: Software development is a constantly evolving field. It’s important to be able to learn new things on your own and keep up with the latest trends.

It’s a lot to learn, and this really brings home one of the most important attributes of a good developer – a love of learning! If you have that, then this field has a never ending fountain of knowledge to drink from. You’ll never run out and get to experience the joy of constant growth.

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