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The 8 Soft Skills You Need as a Software Developer

There’s a lot more that goes into becoming a successful software developer than raw programming skills. For one, the most successful coders are at their best when they’re part of a team — the stereotype of an unkempt young man wearing a hoodie subsisting off of energy drinks by himself in a basement is pretty much a Hollywood fiction that bears no relation to how modern apps are really made.

I interview countless software engineers every year, and while I cheer for every single one of them, we end up rejecting the vast majority of our applicants. Sometimes it’s because of a lack of technical knowledge, but other times it’s because they lack some of the critical soft skills that are often just as important as the technical side. Here are eight soft skills that can make an especially big difference:

1. Empathy

Being able to empathize with your team, with a client, and with end users of the software is so important. Empathy for all these groups allows you to fully understand the problems that each group faces and find a way to make your project work for everyone. It can really help avoid unnecessary conflicts.

Empathy allows us to predict how others are likely to react to what we say, meaning that we can tailor how we speak to our audience. It also allows software developers to more authentically understand how the software will be used and intuit certain features or design decisions.

2. Communication

The ability to explain ideas or work methods clearly, ask and answer questions productively and respectfully makes a huge difference.

  • Speak clearly.
  • Be kind, or at least professional. Every now and then we find a brilliant engineer who just puts everyone else down and makes the whole team feel terrible — that person can kill the productivity and morale of an entire team.
  • Be able to translate complex concepts into points that can be understood by a non-technical audience. Remember, the non-technical business executives will pay more attention if they understand what you’re talking about.
  • Listen. The best communicators spend as much time listening as they do talking.

3. Teamwork

Constructively sharing ideas, and supporting others’ ideas in turn, is a key element in team success. Teamwork provides more than a fun environment and people helping each other, but having different points of view helps to build more successful projects.

Positive team dynamics are crucial to high performance teams.

4. Approachability and politeness

At some point, someone’s going to want to ask you something. Being approachable is really important.

If people don’t feel they can approach you and ask you something, when something goes wrong, they’re less likely to ask you for help and it could evolve into a bigger problem. If you can establish a rapport with people, they’re more likely to work with you and not against you.

In general, assume the best until proven otherwise, and be kind to the people around you — it’s a great way to ensure support for your ideas and create a far more pleasant work environment.

5. Open-mindedness and flexibility

When your mind is open, you’re more willing to accept new ideas. Sometimes the worst ideas can inspire something great if you’re willing to consider them before dismissing them. 

Unfortunately, too many engineers make up their mind about something and don’t want to be swayed. But the best engineers are always open to suggestions for a better approach, even if the idea comes from someone else.

6. Accountability

Accountability is all about taking ownership of your mistakes. It can be difficult to admit that a decision you made created an undesirable result, but in the long-term, both you and your employer will be better off.Use the opportunity to analyze what went wrong, then use this data to fix the problem and teach you and your colleagues how to avoid similar mistakes.

What’s more, blaming others is yet another quick way to destroy a team’s morale.

7. Creativity

The best ideas and solutions often come to us when we approach things from a different, less obvious angle. The more ways of creativity you explore, the easier it is to find different ways to approach the same problem.

8. Time management

When you have a lot to do, knowing how to manage your time is crucial. Managing your time efficiently allows you to focus on what’s most important and get tasks done more efficiently. If you often multitask, prioritize your to-do list to help you focus.

Any software developer you hire should possess these skills to contribute the most to your project. If you’re a programmer yourself but don’t think you’ve got the soft-skills chops, there’s good news! You can always learn, practice and improve. Even if you don’t get a new job out of it, you’ll benefit — these are the kinds of abilities that won’t just make you a better coder; they’ll also make you a better all-around human being.

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