Most developers build up an impressive stack of technical skills through years of studying and practice. But many lack the people skills needed to be a strong candidate, valued team player, and leader.
As a result, you can be a seriously intelligent and talented developer, but still struggle to be successful at work and in your career.
So, to continue our series on developer careers, let’s talk more about soft skills, why they matter so much, and what developers can do to increase their soft skills.
What are soft skills?
Soft skills impact your ability to work better with other people, build relationships, understand other people, and even understand your own triggers so you can do better work. They might include communication, people skills, productivity, emotional intelligence, adaptability, and more (we’ll get into some specifics in just a bit).
Hard skills include things like software languages, frameworks, and tools that you can use to write code, create features, and fix bugs – all the technical skills you need to do your job.
Why do developers need soft skills?
Everyone needs soft skills, but there are specific ways soft skills can benefit developers and help them advance in their career. Soft skills can help you:
- Relate better to your team
- Improve team collaboration
- Be easier to work with
- Create a shared understanding with your team
- Get buy-in from your team
- Manage communication issues and conflict
- Feel empathy for the user
- Make the right choice about what features are more valuable
- Stand out in job applications
- Interview better for new jobs
- Step up as a leader
Although technical roles may experience disruption, thanks to automation and AI, your soft skills will remain relevant well into the future. Even if machines can write code, they won’t be able to solve problems, think outside the box, provide a human element, or manage a team. It’s fair to say that soft skills will become even more in demand in the future.
The stats back this up. In LinkedIn’s Global Talent Trends 2019 report, 91% of professionals agreed that soft skills are transforming the workplace more than any other trend. 92% said that soft skills matter as much or more than hard skills, and 80% agreed that soft skills are increasingly important to company success.
So, let’s go through some of the soft skills that will have the most impact on your career as a developer.
13 soft skills for developers
Communication skills can help you share your ideas, tell stories, establish trust, and build stronger connections with colleagues, customers, and your wider network. People are more likely to listen to (and follow) clear and confident communicators, and those who listen as much as they talk.
We’ll share more about adaptability and flexibility in a future blog, but to sum it up: a flexible developer is open to change, has a broad skill set, and examines problems from different viewpoints. They don’t mind if the plan changes as they go along, especially if it leads to a better product that delivers more value to customers. And with most developers using agile methods, this mindset fits perfectly with the agile principle of welcoming changing requirements, even late in development.
Being able to promote your work and ideas is important. We’ve previously shared about the benefits of marketing for developers, but they all come down to more opportunities. And more opportunities means more flexibility for your future career path.
All software developers are problem solvers, but refining this skill will become increasingly important as technologies become more complex. Some ways to become a better problem solver include:
- Broadening your technical skills
- Approaching problems with curiosity (not frustration!)
- Bringing in other people’s perspectives
- Asking lots of (good) questions
Patience is a virtue, especially when you’re a software developer. You’ll often need to chip away at projects for a long time before you have a working product. You might also find yourself dealing with customers or coworkers who don’t understand what you’re doing or why it’s taking so long. Deep breaths.
The best way to work on your patience is to try and see things from the other person’s perspective. Take the time to explain anything they don’t understand, and give them the opportunity to ask questions.
6. Time management
The better you get at managing your time, the more value you can deliver to customers (and your employer). Better time management can also help you provide more accurate estimates and meet your deadlines (with less stress and burnout). Try using different time management techniques to help you focus and get things done, like:
- Daily routines
- Time blocking
- Eat the frog (doing the hardest task first)
- No multitasking
7. Productivity and efficiency
Time management is important, but it’s also important to do the right work at the right time so you can get more out of your day. Here are some productivity tips that might work for you:
- Prioritize your most critical tasks so they happen first
- Delegate wherever possible
- Schedule when you check emails
- Use to-do lists and project management tools
Your ability to work in a team is critical to your success, both now and in the future. Nearly all developers work as part of a team, whether alongside other engineers, marketers, operations managers, designers, or customer service representatives. When you work well with other people, you’ll be able to incorporate more skills, ideas, and perspectives, and achieve bigger things together.
The ability to network with other developers and professionals is a huge part of future-proofing your career. This is especially true if you work in a startup. If your startup fails, networking can help you find other opportunities you can easily move into.
Networking can also increase your value to your current employer. Your connections can lead to valuable partnerships, better hires, new customers, and more opportunities.
10. Big picture thinking
The best software developers can zoom in on the details and fix their code... but also zoom out and see the big picture. They know:
- The goals and strategies behind the work
- How it will impact the business/employer
- How it will impact the user/audience
When you understand the big picture, you can talk to your colleagues about the “why” and help them feel motivated to do the work. You can also add value to your management team with new ideas that help them achieve their goals and build a better product for users.
11. Willingness to learn
The best way to future-proof your career and stay relevant in an ever-changing environment is to be willing to learn. That doesn’t just mean following technology blogs, listening to podcasts, and reading books. There’s more to it than learning the latest languages and frameworks.
It means that if someone wants to show you a better way to do things, let them – and even seek out the advice of other developers. Be open to doing things differently, because you might be able to save time, find a new tool, or change the way you work for the better.
If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.
Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Empathy involves imagining things from another person’s perspective. Practicing empathy can help developers with:
- A better understanding of team members – So they consider their feelings and situation when providing feedback and guidance
- A clearer understanding of the audience’s needs – So they can focus on how to solve their biggest problems
Empathetic developers work better with other people and help prioritize the backlog to deliver value to the customer sooner.
13. Emotional intelligence
Can you read the room? If you have high emotional intelligence, you’ll find it easier to identify what others are feeling, and you’re more in control of your own emotions. This is a valuable management and leadership skill because you’ll find it easier to work with others and foster a harmonious team environment.
Aim for continual improvement
Just like your technical skills, there’s always more to learn – even if your soft skills are already above average. You spent 4+ years of your life studying computer science – now it’s time to invest your time into soft skills training. Continue to improve on your soft skills via:
- Structured learning – Workshops, seminars, and online courses
- Books – About leadership, empathy, productivity, and management
- Real life situations – Look for ways you can strengthen your team with team building activities
- Leadership – Put yourself into situations where you have those opportunities to be a leader
- Mentoring – Find a mentor within your company who has the soft skills you’re looking for and pay attention to their behavior
- Feedback – Ask for feedback from your mentor and team to see where you can improve
How are you developing your soft skills?
Let’s continue the conversation on Twitter @joinTiny. Let us know how you and your team are improving your soft skills and what impact this is having on your work.
We’ll be back with more content on career success for developers over the next few weeks, so make sure you follow along for updates 🎉