8 Critical Soft Skills Every Developer Should Have in 2021

by Sandra Petrova

8 min read·

As we progress towards the future of work that will be driven by artificial intelligence, experts predict that soft skills in software engineering will become even more critical.

Abilities such as empathy, critical thinking, and communication skills are likely to persist over time and become more sought-after than good-old hard skills. 

A hard skill for a developer, for example, might be the ability to program software.

A soft skill, on the other hand, is the ability to get along well with all the people with whom they interact.

Below is a list of the most important soft skills that every developer should possess in 2021. It also includes a detailed explanation of those skills and how they can make a programmer a perfect fit for your software company.

Problem-solving skills and critical thinking

If you take a step back and look at software development from a broader perspective, you'll realize that it really is about solving complex problems.

It's about designing operating systems, maintaining bookkeeping software systems, or fixing bugs. 

Sooner or later in their careers, software developers will come across a complex issue.

How a developer handles a problem will affect your company and the project they're working on.

If you're putting together an engineering team, look for developers who can challenge themselves to solve a complex problem. Ones who motivate themselves to think creatively and come up with unorthodox approaches.

A critical thinker will be aware of the problem they're facing and understand that it has more possible solutions. They will assess those solutions and proceed with selecting the one that will work the best.

critical thinking soft skills developers

Communication skills

Whether a developer has a full-time role or works remotely, they should be able to communicate efficiently with other people. Other people include users, project managers, or team members. 

Especially if your company allows remote work, you have to ensure that the developer possesses the skills to speak to others in different situations or settings.

They have to know how to communicate with people from all backgrounds and cultures. 

It's also important for a developer to understand what they say and how they say it can have an impact on what people feel about them.

For example, let's say that a developer disagrees with how their client wants to proceed with a certain project.

Instead of saying: "I am the developer and this is how I do things", they should try to acknowledge the client's idea but suggest a better way of doing things in a polite and professional way.

They should say: "Based on my experience, I think we could implement your idea in a much better way."

And it doesn't mean that they only have to have good spoken communication skills. We live in a world of Slack, email, and instant messaging.

Many times, their work will demand developers to interact using written communication. Concise written skills are crucial for the programmer to have the ability to put their thoughts in writing precisely.

This helps them to state their opinion, share an idea, or write a report — all in a polite manner. 

People and interpersonal skills

At the end of the day, you might have the best coder working on your project, but it amounts to little if they don't work well with other members of the team.

This means they will need to have good people skills and interpersonal skills.

Meaning, a developer must master soft skills such as patience, empathy, communication, and time management. Because sometimes, team interactions and cohesiveness matter more than the code they write. 

When putting together a software engineering team, you may want to check if the team members can have conversations with each other, if each member can efficiently interact with others, or if they think together as a group.

They should be able to resolve issues fast, be comfortable working with each other, and compromise as needed. 

interpersonal skills in software engineering

Self-awareness

Developers should be confident in the things they know, and humble in the things they don't.

Knowing in what area you need an improvement is a form of true confidence.

When a developer is aware of their weak sides, they can seek proper training and mentorship from their colleagues or manager. 

In most cases, when people deny they don't know something, it's often a sign of insecurity.

But if a developer is secure in himself/herself and acknowledges his/her weaknesses, it's a sign of emotional maturity which is always a valuable skill. 

In the same way, being confident in the things they know is also equally important. Self-confidence lets people speak their minds, make fewer mistakes, and face criticism head-on. 

Self-learning

Having the skill of self-learning can greatly benefit a developer at their workplace.

Life-long self-learning can equip them with the ability to identify problems and quickly look for effective solutions on their own.

There are thousands of developers who enter the tech world without a formal computer degree.

In fact, according to the StackOver Flow 2018 Survey, 87% of respondents taught themselves a new programming-language / technology.

When a person is passionate and curious about a subject, there's nothing preventing them to become a better version of themselves.

As the information technology landscape is constantly changing, developers must keep up-to-date with current trends and news.

Whether it’s learning a new language or dabbling in new technology, continuously learning is a good soft skill to possess. 

Self-learning helps coders broaden their problem-solving thinking and avoid getting stuck in a roadblock.

Additionally, learning new things is far easier now, thanks to the wealth of freely available software on the Internet.

From taking online courses to taking advantage of resources such as StackOverflow and GitHub, developers can keep their skills up-to-date. 

self learning soft skills developers

Accountability

Developers were, are, and will be making mistakes.

Some will be more impactful than others.

Some might even go unnoticed.

However, accepting and taking ownership of one's mistakes is a soft skill you should be looking for in a programmer. 

Mistakes will happen but developers should use that as an opportunity to learn from them and not repeat them again.

Keep in mind that accountability is a two-way street. If admitting mistakes is not well-received with the management at your company and if people are punished for making mistakes, then your company is also to blame for the lack of accountability.

Time management

Developers are always working on a project that's time-bound. In some cases, they're even tasked with managing a team.

Or, maybe they're working remotely.

All of this requires a developer to possess good time management skills.

Being time-conscious can help a developer meet deadlines and give exact estimates.

Clients look for punctuality and sticking to deadlines.

If a developer says "this will take ten weeks", and then takes five more days, that's fine. But if a developer is still not done after those extra five days and needs more time, then this is a sign of poor time management skills.

Only by employing people with good time management skills will you be able to successfully finish any given tasks and projects.

Emotional intelligence

One survey has found that a whopping 75% of hiring managers value an employee's EQ more than their IQ.

The truth is that emotional intelligence is a valuable skill that is highly sought after, and not just in CEOs and senior managers.

It's a quality that's important for employees as well, whether they're juniors learning how to navigate the world of work or experienced seniors who want to advance into a leadership role.

Emotional intelligence is a skill that's thought to help improve communication, management, and problem-solving.

For instance, employees with high EQ can keep cool under pressure, while those with a low EQ often have passive or aggressive communication styles.

Moreover, emotionally intelligent people have greater empathy, resolve conflicts, and listen when someone gives them constructive feedback.

On the other hand, emotionally unintelligent people don't work well as a team, dismiss others' ideas, and don't take responsibility for their errors.

So, the next time you're hiring a developer, make sure you check for emotional intelligence skills.

They should be easy to recognize.

An emotionally intelligent person will be an adept listener, ask a lot of questions, and display curiosity. They'll maintain a direct eye contact, smile genuinely, and mirror your gestures.

Final word

All the soft skills outlined in this post are complementing each other. Having good communication skills can lead to better collaboration and team cohesiveness. Being self-aware of one's strengths and weaknesses can improve one's accountability skills. And the result is a well-rounded developer with strong potential. 

And a well-rounded developer who possesses both technical abilities and soft skills will be crucial for the future of work. In fact, an Accenture Strategy report found that if investment in training for these soft skills is doubled, then the number of jobs at risk from automation would drop from 10% to 4%.

Let this list serve you as a reminder of what skills you should be looking for in a developer and why you should invest in proper soft skills training. Because creating the future workforce is the responsibility of every CEO. Only those leaders who understand the importance of soft skills and embrace the challenge will get to experience the greatest gains in growth and innovation. 

Sandra Petrova
Sandra Petrova
Senior Content Editor

Sandra is a Senior Content Editor, particularly interested in the future of work. Her most valuable talent is searching under every rock to discover valuable information and incorporate it into well-written and insightful posts. When she's not typing in Google Docs, you can find her reading a fantasy novel, binging on Netflix, or watering her plants.

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