Must-have mindsets: 5 essential soft skills for developers

by Maarten Jansen
When we hire software developers, we don’t just look at their “marketable skills,” job experience or list of certifications. Great developers also need to have certain soft skills to make them an asset to their team. Although we think curiosity is the most important mindset for a developer to have, there are a number of other qualities we find essential for developers:

#1 Growth mindset

Great developers embrace the growth mindset, where abilities and intelligence are seen as something that can be developed. Coined by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, the concept of growth mindset encourages people to learn from failure and seek to constantly seek to learn and improve themselves. This is in contrast to people with a fixed mindset, who believe abilities and talents are fixed. Those with a fixed mindset seek success through confirmation of their innate abilities, and tend to be defensive when faced with criticism or failure.

Developers with a growth mindset know there is always more to learn. When other people know more than they do, they get inspired and take notes instead of feeling small. If someone on the team disagrees with their approach or provides critical feedback, they are open to understanding why and accepting new ideas.

Teammates won’t be the only ones to challenge a developer’s thinking: so will people in other parts of the company and clients. They may not understand much about coding, but that’s exactly the point: this helps developers climb out of their echo chamber and see things from another angle.

#2 Creative problem solving

A key hallmark of the growth mindset is creative thinking. Software developers are much more than coding machines: their main added value is in coming up with creative solutions to software related problems. Developers are regularly called upon to use their critical thinking skills and solve problems that other people can’t. It’s not only important to find a solution and show results: how they react to and deal with problems also says something about them.

The first part of solving a problem is identifying the cause, which can take some creative inquiry. More complex problems require out-of-the-box thinking, which is why it’s important not to get stuck in a rut. There may be multiple ways to solve a problem, and developers need to use their critical thinking skills to assess and weigh them. It’s also important for them to encourage their colleagues to be creative by encouraging fresh perspectives, instead of shutting them down.

Ideas are everything in software development, and the more we break out of our regular thinking patterns the newer solutions and fresh approaches we can find. Pursuing other forms of creativity, from cooking to writing, can help flex that creative muscle. So developers who have other hobbies and passions may be more growth-oriented and creative.

The good thing is problem solving isn’t something developers have to do alone, which is what brings us to #3!

#3 Teamwork

Developers don’t live in a vacuum: they are part of a team and company. They may sometimes spend hours working alone but having good teamwork and communication skills is essential to their job. After all, they aren’t creating whole systems on their own. They need to coordinate with a variety of other team members to create the final product. A team that can’t work together is a recipe for project failure.

The key to good teamwork is effective communication. Developers have specific expertise and often have to explain to people in lay terms how something can be fixed or why something isn’t realistic. Having the ability to communicate clearly without sounding negative or patronizing is key. At the same time, the team needs developers to speak up and explain how things can be improved to everyone’s benefit. So developers must be able to speak and present their ideas, but also to listen to others and understand their views and concerns.

#4 Emotional intelligence

Being able to work effectively in a team takes a high level of emotional intelligence. Developers who are able to empathize with other team members and clients can more fully understand their concerns and how to create a product that meets everyone’s needs. They are also more able to predict how others will react, so they can tailor their words and tone to their audience. Honest feedback is an important part of the software building process, it helps to give and receive feedback when it is delivered with sensitivity.

Emotional intelligence helps software developers realize that not everybody is a developer. Things that are familiar to them may not be to others, so it helps them communicate more clearly with the other’s perspective and experience in mind. Having emotional intelligence also means seeing people as individuals, and understanding how each person might interpret or react to an interaction. Emotional intelligence also helps people understand how they are perceived. That self-awareness helps them understand their own strengths and weaknesses and place them within the context of the team.

#5 Time management

Working under pressure to meet tight deadlines is a big part of being a software developer. Time is money, and clients need an accurate estimate of how long it takes for a project to be completed. Managing their time well and focusing on the task at hand are essential skills for a developer.

To plan well, developers need a good sense of how long it takes them to do things, whether it’s coding or brainstorming. They need make plan in all the aspects of software developing realistically (taking into account the need to eat, sleep and visit the restroom, among other things). A good overview of the project complete with sharp timelines is essential.

Next, focus is everything. Good developers know which tricks to use to stay on task. For example, using the Pomodoro Technique to work in spurts with short breaks in-between. Techniques like these help developers spend their time wisely while accounting for a normal human attention span. The worst thing they do can do is multitask: this is a recipe for errors and inefficiency. While techniques can always be learned, to start with the developer needs a certain level of organization, ability to prioritize, self-awareness and judgement.

You may have noticed by now that all these soft skills feed into each other! A good developer is much more than a coding dynamo: he or she is a well-rounded person who fits well into a team and company. ! Are you a software developer or engineer looking for an exciting challenge? We are hiring! Check out our open positions.

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