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    20 Sep 2023 · Culture

    Beyond Technical Skills: How Developers Can Master Soft Skills for Career Success

    7 min read

    The world of software engineering has long been associated with the image of computer geeks tucked away in dimly lit rooms, surrounded by multiple screens, furiously typing away to break through firewalls and uncover company secrets. Fortunately, that stereotype is rapidly fading.

    Software engineers have risen in the ranks to become exceptional founders, co-founders, and CEOs of companies that develop and maintain the technologies and products we can’t live without.

    In the rapidly evolving technology ecosystem, the combination of talent and AI has intensified competition and raised the bar for everyone involved. Merely possessing technical skills is no longer sufficient to secure a job, let alone ensure continuous career growth. It takes a distinctive set of skills and experiences to truly distinguish oneself in this field.

    Now, more than ever, you need to develop a distinctive skill set to leverage the changing landscape and succeed in your career. In this piece, we’ll cover the key soft skills you need to shift from an expendable developer to a flourishing invaluable professional.

    The Importance of Soft Skills in the Workplace

    Nowadays, referrals go beyond internal promotions. Having someone vouch for you can really give your career a boost. It doesn’t always have to be your boss; it could be a former colleague aware of great job opportunities who recognizes your exceptional work. Even if people don’t openly express it, their thoughts about your performance will be discussed in private.

    The difference between landing your dream job and missing out might be as simple as a few words: “They’re good, but they’re difficult to work with” versus “You absolutely need them on your team.”

    4 Soft Skills Every Developer Should Have

    “Success leaves clues,” as the saying goes. After examining the characteristics of accomplished workers who became leaders, here are four key skills they all share:

    Effective Communication

    Effective communication is profoundly important. It can either build or tear down an entire organization. Dedicate time and effort to hone this skill, and you not only amplify your problem-solving capabilities but also pave the way for significant professional growth.

    As a developer, your goal is to create software systems or solutions that address problems. However, to ensure you’re solving the right problem, understanding it is crucial.Familiarize yourself with the broader workings of your organization. Understand why certain solutions exist and their benefits. Demonstrating a deep understanding of a subject requires effective communication. As Jeff Bezos’s renowned Amazon memo rule suggests, “Use short words to talk about hard things.

    “To advance in leadership, conveying your ideas is vital. Establish clear communication channels with your team, ensuring everyone is aligned. Improving your communication—including active listening, body language, writing, public speaking, and verbal communication—is essential. As Warren Buffett advises, refining your communication abilities can increase your value by at least 50%.

    High Emotional Intelligence

    Software engineers in leadership positions possess remarkable emotional intelligence, adept at managing both their emotions and those of others. Emotional intelligence means controlling your emotions to promote positive outcomes and healthy relationships. Steve Jobs, for instance, could captivate and influence audiences with passionate storytelling. When introducing Apple’s products, he conveyed more than just features—it was about the experience and emotional benefits.Building genuine connections based on empathy and understanding is crucial to unite and inspire colleagues. By relating positively, you foster collaboration and drive success.

    Taking Initiative

    Unlike computers that need explicit instructions, humans have free will and creativity.Companies want proactive individuals, not just task-takers. Understand the “why” behind your work, and you can offer solutions to challenges. An ownership mindset is a bonus.Adopt this approach, and you’ll benefit. Be inspired by Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, who began as a developer, or Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube, and Stewart Butterfield, CEO of Slack, who started as product managers.

    Growth Mindset and Continuous Learning

    As Jim Rohn said, “To have what you want, you have to become who you want.”It’s natural for newcomers in tech to compare themselves to veterans and feel inadequate. But your earning potential grows with experience. Jumping from a $40,000 to a $100,000 job by mass-applying is unrealistic.Adopt a growth mindset. Embrace daily opportunities for improvement, and small efforts will yield significant results over time. Give your best in every task, and focus on delivering exceptional results to pave the way for new opportunities.Remember, success isn’t just a goal—it’s what you attract through consistent effort.

    How to Actively Build Your Soft Skills

    Here are practical strategies and actionable steps to help you proactively build and refine your soft skills, whether you’re a seasoned professional looking to elevate your abilities or an aspiring talent seeking to stand out.

    Build Self-Awareness

    To truly understand yourself, pay attention to patterns. Experiment with activities like stream-of-consciousness writing, journaling, or sharing your thoughts online. This offers an opportunity to let your inner voice flow and provides insights into your strengths, weaknesses, and motivations. Allocate time for daily introspection to comprehend your actions. Furthermore, it’s vital to hold yourself accountable.

    There are numerous methods to stay on track. Think about finding an accountability partner with similar goals who can support you. Alternatively, maintain a tracking journal to document your progress and acknowledge small victories. If you desire added motivation, consider setting a personal challenge or sharing your progress publicly. Identify the method that resonates with you and keeps you inspired.

    Practice Active Communication

    With the rise of remote work, communication has become paramount: the onus is on you to highlight your efforts.

    Software engineering demands intellectual commitment, and the work behind a simple commit message extends beyond the mere words. Avoid assuming that others recognize the dedication behind each update or bug resolution. It’s imperative to keep your colleagues informed about your progress and challenges.

    When engaged in a project, consistently provide updates—even if the task isn’t completed. This ensures your team stays in the loop. If you face challenges, communicate proactively with your team leads or project managers, apprising them of the issue and your proposed solutions.

    Build Relationships through Mentorship and Collaboration

    Meaningful connections propel both our personal and professional growth. If you’re in a position to assist, extend your support to those in need. This mutual aid not only aids others but also enriches your own learning.

    Teaching is an insightful exercise, revealing knowledge gaps and solidifying understanding. When you impart your wisdom or aid others, you not only reinforce your knowledge but also widen your expertise.

    Engage in activities like content creation or offer guidance to less-experienced colleagues. This fosters proactive learning opportunities for you and nurtures the growth of the community.

    Ask for Feedback

    Feedback from peers and colleagues is a treasure trove for personal and professional development. By actively seeking feedback, you can discern how others view your contributions, thus revealing your strengths and areas for improvement.

    However, exercise discernment in processing feedback. Seek out constructive criticism, but learn to distinguish between helpful feedback and baseless negativity. Separate the useful from the unhelpful.

    Leveling the Playing Field for Success

    By integrating effective communication, emotional intelligence, proactivity, and ongoing learning into your routine, you’ll notice pronounced progress in your personal development. Moreover, these principles will not only bolster your technical acumen but also open doors to opportunities that remain elusive to many.

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    Writen by:
    Deborah is a software engineer with an undying love for the written word. She specializes in developing scalable and user-friendly web applications.
    Reviewed by:
    I picked up most of my skills during the years I worked at IBM. Was a DBA, developer, and cloud engineer for a time. After that, I went into freelancing, where I found the passion for writing. Now, I'm a full-time writer at Semaphore.