Pop culture stereotypes depict computer programmers as non- client-facing, socially awkward office drones relegated to the basement office. However, the most successful software engineers are not only incredible problem-solvers; they’re seasoned communicators, empathizers and, yes, leaders. Like in any industry, soft skills for a software engineer make the difference between a mediocre career arc and an exceptional one.
Here are the five most sought-after soft skills software engineers need.
Excellent client-facing skills
Coding is not a solitary activity. A developer’s biggest challenge is taking complex technical problems and describing them in simple terms for non-techies to understand. This is especially crucial when gathering the requirements for a project. Clients understand their customers and their business problems; your job is to express their ideas in code. When you fix a bug or develop new code, you need to be able to report the issue to the client and your other team members.
“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” – Albert Einstein
The best programmers understand that clients don’t always know what they want, especially when they’re unfamiliar with the vast potential (and limitations) of computer programming. Much of your job involves reading between the lines to infer a client’s needs, which may entail a process of trial-and-error.
Finally, you need to communicate openly with software testers to get their honest feedback to improve the quality and performance of the product under development. The same goes for UX designers, whose research may be at odds with your own preconceived notions. However, they’ve spent countless hours interviewing, interfacing with and testing hypotheses on the end-user, so their findings are backed by data.
Seeing the big picture
On that note, don’t think writing code is your only job. Remember that you’re building a product, not just creating a website or new software feature. To do that, you need to understand the product in its entirety (which may include other product lines), the people involved (the client and the end-users) and the pipeline. Software design isn’t an assembly line, and you’ll most likely work on a small piece of a puzzle within a team of other developers, so you need to understand the nuances of the project regardless of whether it falls within your niche.
Essentially, coding is building someone’s idea into a tool that others will use to achieve a goal. While you should take ownership of your work, you also need to put the end-user first. You do this by having empathy for them. What are their problems? How can your software help? Always think about the user experience.
If your site has a high click-through rate with a low abandon rate, it’s a sign your users find it easy and expedient to navigate your site. Remember that your success as a software engineer is measured predominantly on UX metrics.
While you don’t need to be proficient in technical drawing, you do need to be able to model processes and data flow in flowchart form. Don’t be intimidated; most software engineers draw boxes and lines freehand, and it’s enough to get their point across.
The key here is to avoid complexity. It’s better to generate many different diagrams, each one communicating one aspect of the software, than to cram all the details and specifications into one. For instance, start with a bird’s-eye-view, then generate subsequent flowcharts to show the flow of data, deployment and so on.
With visualization skills, you’ll be able to draw blueprints for a project instead of just waiting for a set of UML files to come along. (A UML file is a diagram that visually represents a system, along with its main actors, roles, actions, etc.) People expect true engineers to have a say in how a system should be built from the very beginning.
Finally, with more and more software engineers learning about UX design, being able to visually model user flows will help you stay ahead of your peers.
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