17 Dec 2019

More than a Coder: 9 Surprising Skills Software Developers Need to Take Their Craft to New Heights

When pushing your development career to the next level, don’t make the mistake of focusing only on advancing or expanding your programming abilities.  While top-performers are highly adept in their craft, they create success in their careers through skillsets honed beyond the computer screen.  Certain soft skills separate average software developers who process code from those who quickly progress to senior positions as team leaders.  In this article, we’ll tackle the 9 often-overlooked skills you must polish and improve on in order to break through the boundaries and propel your career to new heights.

 

1) Teamwork

Though many programming tasks are often a solo undertaking, in the scope of a larger project, you will most likely find yourself as part of a team. In fact, if you’re thinking about becoming a lead developer, you need to step up your team game – studies show that being a good team player has a big impact on one’s personal career.

What are some of the things you need to keep in mind? First, the clarity in communication is key. Team members must be able to discuss project requirements and articulate ideas with one another. This is the most efficient way to develop a complex product while tackling challenges as they come.

Also, don’t forget that when brainstorming solutions and ideas with others, disagreements are inevitable.  By demonstrating consideration with open ears, this avails the opportunity to broaden your perspective.  Be patient and empathetic.  Listen actively to criticism and use it to improve your performance.  Be approachable and willing to help or teach others, and don’t be afraid to ask for help yourself.  A team player remains open and involved with their team no matter the circumstance. Don’t be the one waiting to shout “I told you so” if the other solution turns out to be a flop.

 

2) Big Picture Thinking

Programming is a detail-driven process. However, programmers who focus too much on the minuscule details, often fail to see the big picture. As a result, they don’t see their work as part of a larger whole. They end up just blindly following the requirements, without thinking whether they even make sense. Since they can’t visualize the finished project, they don’t understand how their code will get integrated with it and how it’s all supposed to work once the project is done.

What’s more, overly detail-oriented programmers often lack clarity in their coding. Their code lacks readability and they are forced to supplement it with notes, some of which soon become outdated and cause confusion. This confusion can lead to misunderstandings when other programmers who review the code waste hours trying to understand what’s going on.

When you see the full picture, you can review the tasks ahead and optimize for what comes next. Developing in this way shows attention and consideration for the project at large. Not to mention how helpful it is for your team members and other programmers. Just don’t forget to test the code before you send it in for a review. You want to make sure that it’s working before you ask someone else to spend their time on it.

 

3) Time Management

The average software development project takes 4.5 months. How can you speed things up? And, most importantly, how do you maintain attention to detail when you are assigned multiple projects or tasks, each with their own deadline?

The solution is to assess your priorities and strike a balance.  Setting milestones and personal deadlines allows you to properly devote the time and focus required for each project. This establishes a strict game plan to follow and serves as a tool to monitor your efficiency and progress. Once you have enough experience, you will be able to estimate how long certain tasks will take.  Be sure not to forget to factor in the time that will be devoted to all the stages of the project. From planning and discussing the project with your team to writing tests, testing, reviewing the code and fixing it.

To improve your skill in efficient-time-management, hold yourself accountable for the timely completion of your projects whether there is a strict deadline in place or not.  Internalizing responsibility can motivate you and make you more aware of your strengths, weaknesses, and performance efficiency.  By holding yourself accountable, you will treat the time allotted to you with more value and respect.

 

4) Business and Sales

Just as important as your coding skills are, so is your understanding of the company you are a part of and the customers you serve. Why?  Imagine for a second that you’re not a software developer but a furniture designer and you’re tasked with designing an office chair.

For an office chair that is designed to be ergonomic, the manufacturers need to understand what is required to make it comfortable and useful to those who spend long hours seated every day. They also research what materials to use in order to strike a balance between utility and affordability.

While a chair is not a piece of code, the same approach can be applied to any business, product or service – software included.

A deeper understanding of the business that you’re working with makes it easier to develop better software. Remember that your goal isn’t to write just any code. Your work is an investment for your client. It needs to bring their business real value. If you understand their business, you’ll be able to provide them more of that value compared to other developers. And, if you’re working on a product that’s to be released to the public, your insight may increase its profitability.

Don’t forget that most clients will welcome all helpful suggestions. Making them makes your business partners view you as someone who cares about more than just letters and numbers in the code. What’s key to building a successful long-term relationship.

How to increase your contextual business knowledge? Speak with your co-workers and managers, read company literature, and research your client base.  Being able to see your business (or that of your client) from a high-level business and industry perspective is a tremendous asset for any developer aspiring to become a leader.

 

5) User Empathy

Though you may not use the software yourself, what you develop will be used by different people. That’s why it’s important to view the product from their perspective and consider varying forms or depth of usage. Spend some time to ensure that the navigation is top-notch and that it’s easy enough to use and understand for the average person from your target audience.  If you have the budget, think of not just the features that your customers need, but also of features that you believe they would appreciate based on your experience. The goal of every software is to improve the quality of life of its users.

If you have access to current or beta users, don’t hesitate to reach out to them and ask them for feedback on a regular basis.  Keep an open and empathetic mind, but know how to weigh the value of opinions and suggestions.  Empathy is essential when dealing with frustrated or unsatisfied users.  By putting in the effort to understand the root of their worry, you can figure out a proper solution and create a better product.

 

6) Visualization

Just as a sculptor visualizes a finely detailed figure before they begin sculpting, programmers should practice visualization as they approach their projects.  It is an exercise of concentration and imagination, which teaches you to build and hold a complex image in your mind.  By visualizing your project first, you will feel more capable and ready to handle the necessary steps when your work begins.  If there is a plan on paper, read it. Then close your eyes and paint a detailed picture of it in your mind.  If there are concept mockups and prototypes, take a moment to visualize how all parts of it will work together and function.

By exercising your visual imagination, you can construct mental models and use them to overcome future challenges.  A clear picture gives you the quintessential understanding of what you are building so that you can plan efficiently and prevent errors before they happen.  With enough practice, you can visualize and hold the smaller details in your head as well.  This provides you with the ability to think and solve problems with a high degree of creativity and efficiency.

 

7) Habitual Learning

Programming languages evolve and development requirement shifts with the flow of demand. In fact, almost 2/3rd of companies consider using new programming languages in the next 12 months. To remain competitive within your industry, you must establish a habit of learning at every available opportunity.  Learn before starting a project.  Learn during development. Learn after success.  Learn after failure.  Never allow yourself to become stagnant in the rapidly changing field.

Allow new and unique technologies to prick your curiosity and challenge yourself to think outside of the box when tackling problems.  Read up on the latest updates for your frameworks and discover what upcoming versions have in store.  Analyze codes written by others for the “how” and “why” behind their unique programming choices.  Curiosity will keep your mind young and your skills relevant.  More importantly, it will expand your range of capability and understanding. You will be better equipped for challenging and complex long-term projects if your expertise is cultured and up to date.

8) Flexibility & Perseverance

Technology advances every day, as do the demands of consumers. Your development environment and requirements are subject to change at any time; thus, it is vital that you remain agile and adaptable, ready to adjust to any change and progress with the project without stopping.

No matter how prepared you are for a change, it can still be a frustrating experience transitioning from one path to another.  Furthermore, programming itself can often be frustrating, challenging us with errors, glitches, and not-so-obvious solutions.  Perseverance is a key trait among high-performing developers, who are willing to sacrifice work and time in order to set the project back on the right track. When faced with a series of difficult challenges, they keep an open mind for creative solutions or alternatives.  Patience, flexibility, and belief in your own abilities are the keys to perseverance.  Emotions are set aside to focus on the project’s progression, making this a very valuable skill to employers.

 

9) Leadership

Contrary to what some believe, a leader is much more than a manager.  A leader is a person who exerts a defining impact and influence on a project and is critical for maintaining cohesive direction within a team.  Leaders achieve this through hard work, communication, and empathy.

No matter your current position or title, you always have the opportunity to practice leadership.  Leaders lead by example and hold themselves to a high level of accountability.  Confidence is just as important as humility.  You earn the respect of others through hard work and the impact you create.  As such, building leadership skills can be a long and arduous process as it forces you to truly grow as a person.

Leadership requires a high degree of communication, so you must solidify your ability to listen and articulate.  A leader must be compassionate towards others, understanding the situation from their point of view with great respect.  Lastly, as a leader, you must keep the larger picture in mind without ever overlooking the smaller moving parts.  Successful leadership of a project and team will require practice in all the soft skills we have listed thus far. That being said, solid leadership skills will certainly open new opportunities for your career.

 

Push the Potential of Your Development Career

A creative problem solver knows that where there’s a will, there’s a way – even when the solution may not be so obvious.

Brushing aside these soft skills as irrelevant can cause even the most talented developers to struggle to advance their careers. These skills are valuable assets that not only catch the attention of corporate employers and software development agencies but also make us better programmers overall.  By devoting time to practice and implementing new habits, you can tremendously increase your value as a software developer and skyrocket your career to the next level.

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