Written by Eleanor Hecks
If you love to work out complex computational problems, then a career as a developer is probably right for you. You’ll get a chance to use your creativity to come up with innovative solutions. Developers often work on the back-end of websites, apps, and software as a service (SaaS) companies.
There are around 174,300 web developers and digital designers in the United States. The industry is growing at about 8% per year, which is faster than average growth across all sectors. Software developers number over 1 million, and the field expands around 22% each year.
Although plenty of jobs are available, competition in the industry is fierce. Pay often depends on your expertise and ability to adapt to new situations. The longer you work as a developer, the more skills you’ll develop as you learn new technology.
Although specific skills might vary depending on your area of specialization, there are some qualities every developer must possess in order to excel. Here are nine soft and hard skills to focus on.
Developers must be ready to work through bugs and glitches. Knowing how to hit the ground running and which places to start is a vital part of proficient time management.
While much of this skill develops over time, you can also practice exercises to improve your problem-solving abilities. Play games that require strategy and think through role-play scenarios.
No matter what projects you work on, you’ll run into snafus. Knowing how to work through issues and create a viable solution helps you stand apart as a professional in the industry.
2. Basic UX Principles
Usability makes a huge difference when designing websites, apps, or software. Developers need to understand how users interact with sites on both desktop and mobile devices.
User experience covers a wide berth of topics. You must understand the contrast between background and content, how people read a web page, and many other factors.
Always keep in mind the people who will use what you create. What features work best for them that will meet their needs?
Developers should learn published guidelines such as the W3C WCAG standards. Use best practices, but be prepared to dig deeper to really understand the psychology behind why some design principles work better than others.
3. Communication Skills
People who choose to go into the back-end of development may be introverts, so communication skills may not be at the top of their must-dos. However, if you want to work with clients, you need to ask clear questions and listen carefully to their responses.
You may also need to speak with people on your team as you work through larger projects. Refine your communication skills by taking online courses and looking into interpersonal and speech classes, such as Dale Carnegie, or through your local community college.
If you aren’t 100% sure what a client wants, ask questions until you fully understand. You’ll save a lot of time and aggravation by understanding expectations before developing websites or software.
4. Back-End Stack
You must understand how servers work and the backbone software running websites and apps. The structure of a server comprises elements such as databases, programming languages, and middleware.
In addition to understanding the equipment, developers must know what elements are most compatible and how to work through issues with software installation or crashes.
What happens if a site you’re working on gets hacked? Do you have a series of steps to recover your client’s website and prevent hackers from coming in through the back-end?
You need to understand the environment well enough to help clients interact with it on the front-end. If you run a web hosting service, part of your job may be solving technical problems, but another aspect could be explaining to customers how to access and use various features on the front-end. The best developers are well-versed in both back- and front-end.
5. Time Management
There will be times when you’ll have several projects to juggle at once. Knowing how to keep track of where you are on a given assignment and manage your time appropriately makes you more productive as a developer. Optimized productivity is essential, whether you work for a corporation or yourself.
There are many free online courses to help with time management techniques. Invest in a good planner and come up with a system that works best for you.
Experience may be your best teacher here. Identify methods that work for your development style. Pay attention to what your mentors do to stay on top of things and make the most of their time. Implement what makes the most sense for you.
6. Good Memory
Developers need to be able to remember minute details. If you worked on a project last year and the client comes to you because of a bug or they need additional features, how will you remember the details and appear competent and professional?
If you don’t have good memory naturally, there are some things you can do to offset the issue. Keep careful notes about past and present work. Have an organized system that allows you to pull up notes easily and scan through them to jog your memory.
7. Work With Others
Developers need to be good at teamwork. No matter what project you’re on, you’ll likely work with graphic artists, marketing departments, and business leadership. Knowing how to inspire others to excellence and manage moving parts will mean the difference between success and failure on jobs.
According to Gallup, teamwork helps improve engagement, which can result in 41% lower absenteeism and 17% higher productivity. Improve your skills with exercises and paying careful attention to each member of your team. Make sure everyone feels valued and their skills are used to their fullest potential.
So much of our personalities correspond to how patient we are as people. If you’re not the most patient person, though, there are some things you can do to become more diligent. If you find yourself growing frustrated when you run into development hurdles, you’ll be in a constant state of aggravation with your work.
Make a list of steps to take when starting a new project. If you run into an issue, go back over the steps and make sure you didn’t forget anything. You might also want to create a troubleshooting checklist.
9. Growth Mindset
Developers must go forward with a growth mindset. You should be a lifelong learner if you want to continue to enhance your skills. Take online courses, attend conferences, and seek a mentor to help you learn new techniques.
Technology is ever-changing, so staying on top of your workload is vital in this industry. Pay attention as new things take hold, such as 5G and advances in machine learning.
Add Bonus Qualities
In addition to the skills listed above, there are many other things you can do to get ahead. Keep an ear to the ground for additional elements to add to your developer repertoire. When it comes to working in technology, new knowledge is never wasted.
Stay on top of trends, take online courses, and read articles in your field. If you strive to occupy a growth mindset, you’ll be at the top of your game.
Eleanor Hecks is editor-in-chief at Designerly Magazine. She was the creative director at a digital marketing agency before becoming a full-time freelance designer. Eleanor lives in Philly with her husband and pup, Bear.