A good software or web developer is skilled at writing code. A great one is skilled at writing code and so much more. Though writing great code is a huge part of a software developer’s job description, to excel, there are many skills a great programmer has beyond coding ability. We’ve talked up developer personas, let’s talk soft skills.
Here are some of those must-have skills to go from good to great as a developer:
Fast, Eager Learning
A worker might have all the natural skill in the world, but if they stop learning about their field, they will eventually fall behind. This is true for any profession, but it is especially relevant to coding.
Software changes daily, a company’s needs may shift, and new technologies frequently emerge. That means rather than stubbornly holding on to what has always worked for them, a great software developer continually stays up to date on their field, making sure they know how to use the best tools available.
According to Yelp co-founder Russel Simmons (not hip-hop mogul, Russell Simmons), writing on Forbes.com, a great programmer is not satisfied with simply completing the job. Once they appear to have something that works, they will test it repeatedly.
That involves “cross-checking and sanity testing,” which can uncover problems that were not apparent at first glance. This skill also means great programmers investigate seemingly minor discrepancies, rather than writing them off, because looking at those can uncover larger problems. Additionally, tenacity is a helpful trait when the time comes for tasks like debugging or rewriting code to improve it.
Communication is one of the most important skills for any employee, and coders are no exception. Though they may spend long hours honing in on problems and solutions essentially alone, great coders still need to be able to keep their coworkers and supervisors up to date on their progress and needs.
This may entail explaining coding challenges in layman’s terms to non-programmers, the ability to communicate in technical terms with fellow coders, and requesting more resources when necessary.
Uplifting Colleagues and Users
Great programmers possess the ability to write clean code, thereby making it easier for others to work with. They also provide clear documentation for both fellow coders and users of the software.
And when reviewing the code of others, a great programmer provides feedback in a constructively critical manner. The goal of truly productive feedback is to help colleagues grow—not simply find problems in code.
Prioritization of Goals
Like communication, goal prioritization is a skill all truly effective employees share. This can mean letting go of stretch goals to focus on core goals when a deadline is approaching.
For example, if a gaming software developer absolutely needs to figure out why a quest is not working by a certain date, that should be their focus. If they have ideas for other ways to make the game better, they should be able to shelve those until the quest is fixed, even if those ideas seem more exciting to work on.
A large part of software development is solving problems. A great software developer is able to lean on software knowledge, industry best practices, and their ever-expanding skillset to solve problems that emerge.
At the same time, they are not afraid to ask for help when they need it, whether it be from a colleague, mentor, or other resource. Effective problem solving means fixing what you can and asking for help rather than suffering in silence over what you can’t.
A Good Attitude
Though a good attitude may seem more like a trait than a skill, there are efforts software developers can take to make sure they are enjoyable and productive to work with. A skilled programmer who holds that knowledge over their coworkers’ heads will quickly burn bridges and build resentment in their organization.
At the same time, a skilled programmer who is overly meek will not be able to leverage their skills effectively. A great software developer shows both confidence in their work and respect for their colleagues.
Understanding the Big Picture
Rather than getting lost in line after line of code, a great programmer works with the big picture in mind. They constantly ask themselves questions like:
- How does my project fit in with the company’s larger goals?
- How can I make this software easier for my colleagues to use and improve?
- How can I make this software easier for my company’s customers to use?
- What is on the horizon, and what skills will I need to tackle it?
This article spent relatively little time on the nitty-gritty details of coding itself, because a great software developer will already have that covered. At the same time, they will show a desire to constantly improve and expand their skills, the ability to work well with others, and the big-picture thinking necessary to keep company- and project-wide goals at the top of their mind.