When most people think about programmers, coders and software developers, the stereotypical image that comes to their mind is usually something like this: an unkempt guy with headphones sitting in front of a computer screen completely oblivious about the world around him. This image may have been more or less correct in the past, at the dawn of the Internet age, when programmers and coders were a sort of separate caste detached from the rest of the professional world. However, they long ago became an integral part of it, and these days a coder cannot hope to achieve significant success with tech skills alone. Just like in any other job, he/she needs a significant spattering of soft skills. So, which of them are the most important for your average programmer? Let us take a closer look.
Of course, no job stays totally static in the course of one’s career. Innovations do happen, and sometimes they can overturn an entire industry. The difference with programming is that to it, this happens on a regular basis. Software development evolves at breakneck speed, and skills you possess today may be severely outdated if not obsolete in one year’s time. If you do not study constantly, if you do not keep track of the changes in the industry, if you do not seek to expand and deepen your skillset on a daily basis, you are lagging behind.
One would think that somebody who has to spend most of one’s time writing and reviewing code does not need to be particularly good at communication. However, in reality, things are a bit different. These days, coders rarely work in isolation – usually they are a part of a team, and where there is a team, there is also the need to communicate with it. One has to talk to the members of other departments. Even individual programmers have to discuss things with clients. A successful software developer is good at talking not only to fellow programmers who at least exist in the same context but also to the people who are far removed from it. He/she is capable of explaining what is possible and what is not, how much work something needs, and if it is worth the effort. Today IT companies pay as much attention to communication skills as to the actual coding and programming knowledge. According to Social Market Way – SEO company mentioned by Forbes, Huffington Post, and USA Today, communication and teamwork are among the most valued skills they look for in new employees.
Again, one may think that the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes is irrelevant for somebody who does not work with people directly. In fact, nothing can be further from the truth. Programmers create software that other people are going to use, and it is important to understand how these people think, what they know, and what they need. Otherwise, you risk creating an application with a cumbersome and obtuse interface that you may well navigate because you created it, but which will be a hell incarnate for a non-programmer.
4. English language
The programming community is highly diverse: you will meet people from all geographical locations and speaking all languages. Although large national communities of developers do exist, English is de facto the lingua franca used by programmers. It means that whether it is your first or second language, you have to use it perfectly. It is especially important to speak and write in proper English when communicating with non-native speakers, as they may have trouble understanding more casual language.
Grammar, spelling and syntax are just as essential as basic fluency, as it gives credibility to what you say. If you cannot follow the rules of a simple human language, how can you be trusted to properly use programming languages where a single mistake can render an entire piece of software non-functional?
5. Time management
Like any other open-ended work, programming requires you to be very good at managing your time and energy, at least if you do not want to live in the atmosphere of a constant crunch and wonder why deadlines always sneak up on you so suddenly. You have to not just deal with procrastination – everybody has to – but also learn how to properly ration your time because you will always have a lot to plates to juggle. How much time can you afford to spend planning and preparing for a project? How long will the coding take? How much should you set aside for work with the rest of your team to come up with better ideas and solutions to existing problems? How much of your non-work time do you have to dedicate to brushing up your skills and learning new skills to remain competitive? All this requires your attention, and you have only so many hours every day to deal with it all.
As we already said, programming is open-ended work. Theoretically, you can work on any task, any bit of code, any software indefinitely, always finding something to make it better. Clean up a line of code, add a new feature, squash a couple of bugs. However, a good coder should know how to set his/her priorities right and when to stop. Selecting the wrong things to work on may lead to the creation of a product that has unnecessary features but does not properly carry out the function it was built for. The desire to perfect a product leads to feature creep – i.e., adding many more features than is necessary. It does not just mean that clients will not use the majority of the product’s functions, but also that its interface will be cluttered and hard to navigate. Being able to set priorities right means knowing what absolutely must be done, what may be sacrificed, and what needn’t be done at all.
As you can see, there is a lot more to being a coder or a developer than having the right tech skills – as if it were not enough already!