Gone are the days when the only expectations from developers were centered around their software development skills and technical skills. Writing the right code and writing and executing tests are still cornerstones of developer activities. As the software industry becomes integrated with business, the expectations from developers evolve. Even if you are a developer working in a software development company, you will still interact with your peers – chances are you are going to be a team member – a part of a larager team. This is why soft skills are a key part of your toolbox as a software developer, as well as your willingness to learn them.
What are soft skills for a software developer?
There are several definitions of what soft skills are. Most of them center around the notion that soft skills are the skills enabling you to communicate and interact with other people. And to do so in a meaningful and harmonious way. This includes things like communication, empathy, patience, and more.
Some people are natural-born communicators and seem to have a particular affinity towards soft skills. But, the great news is that almost everyone can learn how to be an excellent communicator. You can learn to display more empathy and become more confident.
Communication is a usual suspect in most soft skills lists – not only for developers – but for any profession. But in software development, communication is crucial. Keep in mind that communication is a two-way road. You need to be a good listener. Listening to your colleagues, customers, or users will make all the difference. When you listen, you are getting an unfair advantage compared to those who only talk. You get to learn things, expand your horizons, and broaden your worldview. It also helps you rank tasks and requirements.
Once you get to speak, do so with clarity and confidence. With conviction. You are trying to achieve something with communication. Your ability to speak is your weapon and a useful tool. Use it! Also, be polite and never interrupt the other person talking. This will also show that you can be patient, to listen and keep your composure. Keep in mind that communication is not only verbal – it is non-verbal as well. That is why crucial to stay focused and listen. Don’t interrupt and speak with confidence. It all contributes to your communication style. It is necesseary to be able to communicate effectively.
While you might spend a lot of your time writing code for machines, you are interacting with other people. “Putting your self in other person’s shoes” is a way to describe empathy in straightforward terms. Understanding other people, their belief systems, their mental and personal characteristics will benefit you. You will be able to adjust your behavior, to address their needs, and make sure that you are taking them into account. This is something that is often overlooked. But, the best developers will try and understand their customers or colleagues since it will enable them to do their job . Again, empathy is your advantage – it will allow you to see things with their eyes. It will make you more sensible and approachable.
Some of the common issues in software development are avoidable with a bit more empathy. You don’t need to be a user researcher, UX designer, or an anthropologist. Being more empathetic starts and ends with you being a human being aware of the other people.
Software development is not an easy feat. It is a complex effort which often includes long processes. From the project kick-off, through the project execution, testing, deployment, updates… Most of these activities take a lot of time, even in agile environments. Patience is especially important when you are starting as a developer. The most important person you’ll ever have to be patient with is you. Give yourself enough time, enough chances to make errors, and fix them. Once you are patient with yourself, it’s easier to be patient with other people. Sometimes people will need more convincing, you will need to do your best to “sell” them your idea or approach. Being patient is your ally in this mission.
4. Open-mindedness and adaptability
In essence, he encourages you to be open-minded. He is trying to make you be receptive to other people’s feedback. His words are relevant today as new technologies and paradigms emerge.
A decade or so ago – waterfall software development model was still ruling. Later came the more agile and lean approaches. This means that people had to change their mindsets and adapt to the change. Some were more successful in those efforts. Others struggled. While our inclination to be open-minded and adaptable might have its roots in our upbringing and general worldview, it can be developed far more outside those initial settings.
Don’t be afraid to try and experiment. Your company’s tech stack doesn’t include a technology you are interested in? No problem! Try it and research it in your own time. Later you can present it to your team and boss and possibly motivate them to adopt that technology. Here at Point Jupiter, we encourage people to do that during our Friday Coding Sessions (FCS) and our 4-hour-a-week in-house education system.
Being open-minded will make you a better coder. It will mean that you can discover your own weaknesses and tackle them. Asking questions is another way to become more open-minded. This is crucial in all your leadership and management roles. It shows you are open to learning from others, that you are willing to listen and that you appreciate others. In a way, this ticks the communication, empathy, and open-mindedness boxes at the same time.
5. Critical thinking, creativity, and problem-solving
As a good developer, you will be a critical thinker. One who will challenge himself to solve complex problems. One who will drive himself to creatively think about unorthodox approaches. To improvise, even. People often associate creativity with design, music, arts… But creativity is not anyone’s monopoly. As a developer, you will use some creative techniques (it doesn’t matter if you are aware of them in a formal way) to solve complex issues. Sometimes you need to push those performances to the edge while running on weaker hardware. There are situations when you are aware that the problem you are facing has more possible solutions. Your ability to be a critical thinker will allow you to assess those solutions and select the one that will work the best. Your creativity will enable you to expand and build further on it. And all this will grow you as a problem-solver.
By now you are noticing the pattern. All soft skills listed here are complementing each other. And a result is a well-rounded software developer with strong leadership potential.
6. Teamwork and collaboration
Software development is a team sport. While you can be a developer team of one (“A UX team of one” is a quite popular version of this phrase), in reality, you will work with more people. If there are no more developers in your company, then the chances are you will be working with more designers, PMs, and customers. In any case, slim are the chances of you being entirely alone on a project.
This means that you will need to be able to work in a team. It’s not easy as some people are notoriously difficult to work with. This means that you need to rely on several soft skills listed here. That includes patience, empathy, communication, and time management – at least.
While it comes with a set of challenges, teamwork is essential and leads to better results. And if this sounds like a cliché – keep in mind that there is a growing body of research showing that people work better in teams. From Floyd Allport’s “the social facilitation effect” to Harvard’s and Oxford’s studies showing the similar effects.