11 Characteristics of a Really Great Developer

One of the more fascinating professions in today’s world is the developer. People tend to think of them as “the people who do cool things on the computer.” Though it seems like a broad generalization, it is a fairly apt description.

Not only do their skills and abilities help create, maintain, or modify various software, websites, or web applications, they are many times the go-to guys/gals for all things technology-oriented (though we should not expect a unicorn).  

At the most basic level, a great developer needs to understand and write in various programming languages. To accomplish the goals of their company or client, they have to create functional and efficient codebases.

They also need to understand and speak in different workforce lingo to work with a variety of colleagues and vendors. Everyone does not speak “tech”.

You’re probably not going to see a job description for “fluent in marketing or operations jargon,” but this ability is always an asset.

Because a developer is often part of a work group that includes designers, salespeople, marketers, and other professions, they also need to have the interpersonal skills to contribute positively to these discussions.

For those considering this career path, or an employer looking to add a developer, here are some traits of a great programmer.

Be Flexible

A busy company will often have multiple projects in motion at once. This requires regularly assessing which projects should take priority, which projects are close to completion, and which may need more time.

While a dynamic workforce can often be exciting, it can also sometimes be challenging when goals and dates change. Flexibility in the face of constantly changing projects is an important trait to foster as a developer.

Have the Right Skillset

Programming skills are one thing that’s fairly impossible to fake. Some employers may require a computer science or computer engineering degree from an accredited university to prove that candidates have the skills. But having a degree is no absolute testament to practical dev skills.

Many other employers will take a chance with developers who obtained their skills through a certificate program. These programmers can be highly skilled and should not be written off. The only way to truly determine skills is to assess candidates before hiring. Or else, take the chance and cross your fingers.

Maintain a Calm Disposition

Sometimes you can’t get a program or application to do what you want (WordPress is notorious for this!). It takes patience to figure out the problem and fix it.

Or, there are the times your non-technical co-workers will want an explanation of what’s happening with this or that or why this thing isn’t working. It is important to stay calm and help them out. It isn’t their fault they don’t understand these things.

Be a Piece of a Larger Whole

Keep a good familiarity with other jobs in the organization. Developers can have a reputation for sharing only their perspective, which can make them challenging participants at team meetings.

It’s important to learn that they’re only one part of the larger organization and its goals. This perspective can help them appreciate where others are coming from in their requests and questions.

Be Humble & Willing to Learn

As tough as it seems to say it, it’s usually OK to say “I don’t know” or “there will be some delays.” If your company’s culture values honesty, and most do, then it’s a good idea to share when something goes wrong.

Most companies prefer to figure out what to fix when mistakes happen before worrying about who is at fault. This helps an organization to thrive and get better in the future.

Keep an Open Mind

Be open-minded. When developers are able to consider new ideas and think bigger, they can get more satisfaction from their jobs and better opportunities going forward. This quality distinguishes developers going through the motions from the really creative developers.

Don’t Get Buried in “Yes”

Everyone understands that certain projects may have limitations. It’s easy to say “yes” to everything to make people happy, but that can put you in a hole. One major, yet undersold, quality of a good developer is being able to understand and explain why something can’t work under current circumstances.

Positive thinking and good intentions are fine but some technology-heavy projects may take months or even years, such as building a new site or an app. That said, it never hurts to seek new limits, such as adding extra help, shifting workloads, or increasing funding.

Use Positive Communication

There’s rhetorical skill involved in finding better ways to say “no”, or even “yes”.

Staying positive can start simply by using phrases like “This may not be as easy as you think – perhaps consider ___ as an alternative” or “let’s discuss how to make this work since currently there are some obstacles making this difficult,” rather than a hard “no”.

Understand Company Goals

Seeing the big picture can help add perspective to your work. Most private companies exist to make money, and most public agencies exist to serve a particular constituent group. A developer helps makes these goals happen, along with the support of every other role in an office.

It’s easy to get focused on the little stuff and getting lost in the coding. But a developer can be more effective if he or she learns something about the company or agency’s history, mission, and role, and how good programming can help accomplish this.

Have the Desire to Learn

Stay current! Some of the foundations of programming never change. But languages, tools and development resources keep adapting and evolving. This is especially true of open-source projects, where other developers regularly come up with patches or improvements.

The WordPress community also has no end of great plugins that are always being released, and software companies regularly share updates or certifications that can benefit developers. There are plenty of resources out there to help keep developers sharp and in the know.

Be a Team Player

Unless you’re a solo entrepreneur and you run the whole show, you’ll need to collaborate with other developers and departments. To achieve certain goals, you’ll need to consult on upcoming deadlines and timelines, coordinate with other departments, and meet with stakeholders. Play well with others and you will go far.

This list really just scratches the surface of all the skills and personality traits that could be useful for a developer in a professional organization. Every business environment is different but many of these traits can be universal.