Soft Skills Every Developer Should Have

When we are on the hunt for a new developer to join the Lampros Labs team there are both tangible and intangible skills that we look for in a candidate. While we have gone over the tangible skills in a previous article, , what exactly are we looking for with those intangible skills? While these skills will benefit you no matter what field you choose to go into, we feel that our developers should definitely have these skills before joining our team.

Communication

Modern technology has resulted in us having access to a range of communication options. These include:

  • In person,
  • Telephone or cellphone,
  • Email,
  • Online chat,
  • Social networks, and
  • A variety of instant messaging apps.

Unfortunately, none of these modes of communication will automatically improve the communication skills we already have. If anything, one could argue that some of them worsen our ability to communicate. Case and point being textspk. As a web developer, even one who works remotely, you need to be able to communicate confidently and effectively with your boss, your colleagues and your clients. Communicating with clients can prove to be particularly tough, since you may find yourself having to explain highly technical concepts to non-technical people. And while your colleagues and peers have no trouble understanding industry jargon, don’t assume your clients will too. This is something that all our current developers have been very good with. Good communicators know when to be brief, and when to go into detail. They understand the difference between formal and casual language, and when to use each. And perhaps most importantly of all, they know how to accept and learn from constructive criticism of their communication style. I know have met some people who want to be developers or work in IT and they say that they want to deal with people as little as possible. Well anyone who works in IT can tell you that you have to deal with people all the time and while it can be frustrating to explain things, it is your job because it is something that you understand and you have a duty to help others.

Listening

Listening is closely linked to communication, but the importance of it as an essential soft skill for web developers warrants it being discussed separately. This soft skill is all about being both a good listener, and being able to understand and interpret what you have just heard. We are surrounded by many distractions – when last did you speak on the phone without doing something else at the same time? – so it is important to remember that there are times when we need to just listen. Turn you back to your monitor, put away your tablet, and silence your cellphone; focus only on what is being said. If you don’t understand something, speak up; ask the speaker to clarify, or ask questions that lead the speaker to clarify or elaborate. For particularly complex discussions that involve several instructions, it helps to sometimes repeat these instructions in your own words. Doing this shows the speaker that you have not only listened, but that you understand what is expected.

Adaptability

As a web developer you should be quite used to change; one needn’t look much further than how the Internet has changed in the last eight years to understand this. This helps explain why adaptability is such an important skill among web developers.

Change within the workplace can mean:

  • Having to learn new skills
  • Having to take on extra responsibilities
  • Having a project you are working on cancelled
  • A change in your working hours
  • Relocating to a new office, or city
  • Merging with, or being acquired by, another company

with any combination of these occurring in the modern workplace more frequently than ever before. If you’re a Millennial (part of the generation born between 1980 and 2000),you are probably more open to change than any other generation, but do you react to all change positively? It is unreasonable to expect all change to be embraced by everyone, but nobody wants to work with someone who outright rejects any change. Respond to any changes in your workplace by looking for the benefits and opportunities in the change. Use these to keep yourself and your colleagues motivated and positive, even during the most trying of changes.

Teamwork

At some point in your career as a web developer you are definitely going to be part of a team, even if you work remotely. And nobody wants to be stuck with a team member who does not play well with others. Teamwork is as much about social skills as it is about support. While you aren’t expected to know the lifestory of each of your colleagues, it helps to know a little bit about each person you work with. Knowing what your colleagues do, and what their strengths and weaknesses are, can benefit you when: You serve as team leader on a new project, and are able to assign tasks to the rest of the team more efficiently, and You are having difficulty tracking or eliminating a bug in your code, and know exactly who you can turn to for help.

Attitude

If you’ve never worked with a Debbie Downer or a Negative Ned, you need to consider the possibility that it is you who has filled this role. The fact that your colleagues go out of their way to avoid you, and seldom, if ever, invite you to social functions would strongly suggest that you are not nice to be around.

Earlier we discussed teamwork as an essential soft skill, and if nobody likes spending time with you, you’re definitely not good at teamwork either. Improve this skill by:

  • Making a point of greeting your colleagues.
  • Complaining less.
  • Offering suggestions, instead of only criticizing.
  • Being less cynical, and more aware of opportunities.

Having a positive attitude will not only make it easier for you to face challenges and obstacles, it will result in your colleagues being more willing to offer their help. Poet and author, Dr. Maya Angelou once wrote

“I have learned people will forget what you said. People will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you make them feel.”

and this is true both in life, and in the workplace.

Work Ethic

Are you a highly principled person? Are you an honest and sincere person, with strong morals? Having a good work ethic is not only about initiative, it is also about your integrity as an individual, and an employee. You don’t need to be involved in corporate espionage or insider trading to have your integrity questioned; regularly expressing negative sentiments about your employer or colleagues alone highlights a lack of integrity. Compound this with an absence of initiative, and you will certainly never be voted “Employee of the Month”.

Judgement

Judgement can be considered an umbrella term, encompassing several connected skills – from common sense to decision making ability. Some decisions are made collaboratively, with the rest of the team or with your superior, while others are made independently. Judgement comes into play when you are faced with a situation where there isn’t time to consult with anybody else – are you confidently able to make a decision on your own? Is your decision supported by sound reasoning? Judgement is also demonstrated when communicating with clients and colleagues – knowing what company, and personal, information can be discussed, and what to treat as confidential. Having good judgement, relating to common sense, is not an impossible skill to get, but it certainly isn’t easy. This is well illustrated by the high number of people who have expressed regret, or even lost their job, over something they posted to Facebook or Twitter. Expressed simply, judgement is all about thinking before acting.

Critical Thinking

Critical thinking has many definitions, mostly academic, and though on some levels it is about problem solving, offering this as a less academic definition is an oversimplification.

Critical thinking does not involve jumping from

Problem: I’m regularly late for work to Solution: Leave for work earlier than I currently do

but instead involves evaluating and analyzing more information before reaching a conclusion. In the above scenario this would involve looking at all the possible reasons for you being late for work, and then evaluating possible solutions for each reason. Each solution may result in new problems, so they would all need to be analyzed and assessed to see which would be the most likely to result in a positive outcome.

As a web developer you will sometimes be faced with several possible implementation methods to achieve the same outcome. Critical thinking will allow you to quickly analyze and test each method mentally, before deciding on the most efficient one.

Ego Management

The strength of your ego impacts on many of your soft skills, both positively and negatively. But as a web developer, it is how well you manage your ego that becomes a soft skill of its own. Regardless of how brilliantly you code, you are not a god, nor a rockstar; at best you are a D-list celebrity.

How well you manage your ego is demonstrated by:

  • Your willingness, and ability, to learn from other people. There will always be someone you can learn from, and some skill you can improve. Accept any offered guidance, and actively seek out advice from your peers.
  • Your willingness to teach other people. This is not about assuming that everyone can learn from you, but about being able to identify someone who is struggling with something, and helping them in a way that is neither condescending nor instructive.
  • Your ability to offer constructive criticism, instead of only criticising. It is the difference between saying, “You write terrible code” and, “Your code would be better if you did X, Y and Z.” The aim of constructive criticism is to help someone, not to draw attention to how great you are.

Your ability to both offer and listen to constructive criticism is also an indication of your willingness to learn and teach. Managing your ego means you end up working with the rest of the team, instead of isolating yourself, or trying to control the team.

These are a lot of skills to expect out of one person but that’s the thing, it is expected and implied when you interview with a company that they are going to be looking for these skills to better access if you’re going to be a good fit not just technically but socially and ethically as well. If you have the best GPA in the world and can build an amazing relational database or can completely revamp a companies strategy in an afternoon, it won’t matter because you can not assimilate into the culture of that company or relate to your peers. No matter the field you choose to go into, these social skills are key to your success and should be taken as seriously as the technical knowledge that you learn and bring to the table.

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