8 soft skills that are valuable for software developers
We may no longer be sitting in our underwear, surrounded by energy drink cans and half empty pizza boxes, having ventured out into the real world of monolithic corporate offices or neon colored bean bag and foosball table startup outfits. But do we still lack a certain something? Soft skills are where it is all at.
Actually, with the COVID-19 pandemic a lot of us have gone back to working from home in our underwear surrounded by… but I digress, us brave developers that originally rose up, walked outside blinking at that unfamiliar bright yellow circle in the sky, may be amazing at writing code, but it is not enough.
Soft skills for developers are the game changers. We need to embrace them, evolve with them, and let’s face it, learning and acquiring soft skills might well make us future-proof – artificial intelligence generally sucks at that sort of stuff.
In this blog post we’re going to dive into a pool that cold, logical, Spock loving, digital polyglots might normally shun away from, and hopefully you’ll learn something and want to expand your horizons outside of 1s and 0s. Hello (real) world indeed!
If you’re working in a team, you need soft skills to help you fit in – they will make your existence in the team, and within the company you work for, so much better, and at the end of the day you want to feel good. It’s a two-way street. If you are surrounded by a toxic work environment it makes it hard to develop personally – evolving your own social, soft skills might ultimately help your colleagues too – they can learn from you. (And if not, there’s always a cat / dog / partner / Netflix / beer / wine / Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2* waiting for you when you get home - * refactor as you see fit).
The first step in this process is the self-awareness to admit that you may lack some or all of these soft skills – yes! You are not perfect! The second step is believing in yourself that you can work on these skills – yes! You can learn/improve them! The third step is to stop procrastinating and actually start working on these skills – no! You can’t fake these! And finally, the fourth step is to remember that personal development is all a part of the job, and it is a constant journey – no! You can’t read one blog post and be done with it!
And so, here we present our special guide to step three – learning those most valuable soft skills:
Communication is paramount and there is so much more to communication than just words. It doesn’t matter whether the communication is digital (email/messages), remote (audio calls/video conferencing), face-to-face, in groups, or you are presenting to a large crowd. Learning how to communicate better is the primary soft skill.
Take a breath and read back what you wrote before you hit send. Consider the volume and intonation of your voice, listen while giving the others their opportunity to speak, not interrupting, talking down, or over other people are all key. Practice portraying your ideas, opinions, and problems in diverse ways.
Actively listen and engage in the conversation with affirmative replies and asking follow-up questions. Focus on nonverbal communication such as facial expression and body language – maintain eye contact and limit hand gestures. Manage your emotions. Always ask for feedback and take it positively even when it may come back critical. Try and practice public, open, and group speaking whenever you can, lead meetings, perform presentations – it’s a solid way of building confidence in your ability to communicate.
2. Teamwork (Collaboration skills)
Bigger projects require teamwork and after the all-important primary communication skills you need to understand how to work within a team. Being able to take responsibility for something or to delegate tasks and responsibilities rather than always trying to do everything yourself is a great starting point. Coming up with positive ideas that will help the team instead of staying silent during meetings/group chats will go a long way.
Support your team too – don’t instantly dismiss their ideas. Learning to understand when someone needs your help is vital – and it might not just be a coding problem, as they may need support in other ways, even if it's just someone to talk to and listen to them.
3. Work ethic
Work ethic is the attitude of dedication toward one’s job. This can come out in many different ways including professionalism, responsibility, integrity, cooperation, productivity, discipline, reliability, and, of course, dedication.
There are several ways you can improve your work ethic. Always show respect to others, review your work instead of just hitting submit, actively seek out to develop yourself professionally either through personal learning or taking advantage of your company’s training programs. Prioritize your professional responsibilities over personal idiosyncrasies – don’t answer a call from your best friend during the middle of an important meeting.
Finally, always act as an ambassador of the company. Keeping a positive attitude toward the company that employs you will ultimately be good for everyone involved. The more you reward the company, the company will reward you back albeit, this may not always be a financial reward.
4. Time management and organization
It is very important to learn time management and to organize your working life properly. Utilize technologies such as time tracking, task management, and reminder software to help you – all of these can now be linked to your smartphone or even a smart watch too. Plan ahead, prioritize, and set goals wisely. Be considerate of deadlines whether they are yours or someone else’s.
5. Empathy (Emotional Intelligence – EQ)
Those annoying emotions and feelings you have are actually very important. They need to be understood, nurtured, and grown, not just forced down out of mind and ignored.
Start by recognizing and naming your emotions – this will enable you to choose the best way to improve them and help you learn how to respond better in work situations. Always ask for feedback from other people as to their view of your EQ, however critical the views may be – learn from others and their own responses and experiences of handling situations. Expand your social bubble and read content outside of your normal safe zone. Grow your internal self as well as your mind.
Stress management and mental wellbeing are modern buzzwords with significant implications for your soft skills. Take regular breaks to help you stay focused while you are working. Allow time for personal reenergization. Again, technology and software can help with opportunities for focus and mindfulness along with automated reminders to stand up, step away from your computer/screen, exercise, or even take a minute to breathe/meditate.
This one is relatively simple. You need patience and you need lots of it. You must make yourself wait. Learn what triggers you and be aware of things that make you impatient. Relax, take a deep breath, and count to ten, or twenty, or thirty!
7. Owning up to errors and accountability
One of the worse things for your fellow team members and management is for you not to own up to your own errors. You need to be accountable otherwise others will not trust you. Weekly, monthly, and quarterly goals should be properly managed and not laughed at/ignored. Cooperate with your team to achieve the best results.
The best starting point for accountability is to know your role and understand your responsibilities to be accountable for them but be careful not to overcommit. Set pride aside and be honest – say sorry when something has gone wrong, and you are responsible. Apologize and work together to get it fixed.
Self-determination and the requirement to drive your own motivation are essential skills. Consider how you make choices and decisions. Self-regulation has a part to play with self-observation, evaluation, and reinforcement - improve your problem-solving ability and work on your goal setting and how you accomplish those goals.
A few other pointers
We believe the above eight soft skills are the most valuable but there are few other pointers we can give you.
Always be an active listener and be curious about other people and their ideas. Be confident when talking with people and always respond positively to feedback. Speak clearly and with conviction, listen, and don’t interrupt.
Try to act more often with humility and humbleness – always look to help rather than being antagonist or walking away. This will make you more approachable and much more of a team player.
Conflict resolution and the ability to intervene, to be the bridge between two sides, is a tremendous skill to have. When you consider both sides of the argument, learn from experience, and not be too bossy or passive either way, you can become an expert negotiator.
Grow your creativity. Outside of coding and developing consider writing stories or prose, drawing and painting, creating music. These will all help with self-awareness, mindfulness, and stepping outside of your comfort zone. Shooting zombies in the latest PlayStation/Xbox game is perhaps not the best way forward with this.
If you become particularly good at some soft skills reflect on what you have learnt and, perhaps, choose to mentor others while nurturing your leadership skills – you never know, one day, all this might give you the opportunity for promotion and/or to manage a team or become a section leader.
Some concluding thoughts…
Soft skills help you connect with team members, users, clients, customers, project managers, the executive team, and other stakeholders. The key is enabling yourself to be better at how you communicate, manage your emotions, and resolve conflicts.
Becoming better at all of the soft skills listed here will make an impact and allow you to stand out from the crowd. It will help you build networks within your organization, and external communities. You will be much more likeable, approachable, reliable, and trustworthy.
And that is all a good thing. For you, and everyone around you.
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