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Don't just code

alvaro_montoro profile image Álvaro Montoro ・3 min read

You are preparing to become a Software Developer. And you are coding, practicing, completing exercises, following tutorials online, learning JavaScript, algorithms, React, loops, Java, variables... and that is great, but you may be missing something along your path.

Cartoon of a man and a woman looking confused at a dotted line that represents the path to a software dev position, it has many stops (algorithms, variables, classes...) a big question mark over their heads

This path seems solid, but something's missing

Soft skills

Coding is fundamental for a developer, but there's more to it than just that: soft skills are essential too! Actually, social and communication skills are almost as critical and not as easy to master.

Anyone can get to a Junior Developer level in a matter of weeks or months and, with some time and experience, master their coding skills... but coding is not everything.

Empathy, creativity, open-mindedness, good communication, critical thinking, teamwork mentality... they complement the technical knowledge and will take you to the next level.

The good news is you may have those soft skills already! And trust me, we need them in our industry. We really do.

Some people have these skills naturally. Some others need to practice them a little (...or a lot). But we must work on them to grow as developers (and as people in general).

Cartoon of a smiling man and woman looking at a dotted line that represents the path to a software dev position, it has many stops (algorithms, variables, classes...), and it also had some other handwritten steps in between (empathy, critical thinking, communication skills...)

This path leads to better results and success

Here's a little secret: you are not being evaluated just for your technical knowledge in a technical interview. By the time you make it to the technical interview, you should have passed a technical screening, and we have a general idea of your coding abilities.

We also want to make sure that you'd be a good fit for the team and organization, and look for other types of skills: communication, creativity, critical thinking... do they ring a bell?

Listening

While the soft skills are very different among them, there is a common factor that can help improve many of them at once: Listening.

Notice that I use listening in a wider sense, which includes listening, reading, observing, and even writing (which is really useful for solidifying knowledge and improving communication skills.)

Seriously. Do you...

  • ...want better communication skills? Listen to people. It will help following the conversation better, will make you more secure and able to answer. Even if they are not talking to you: listen and pay attention to how senior coworkers present the topics and learn from how they do it.
  • ...want to boost empathy? Listen to people. Understand how they feel, what they are going through, what they think. It will help you understand their needs better, and it will improve the team mentality.
  • ...want to be more creative? Listen to (creative) people. Get ideas, inspiration, challenges... Every artist has been influenced by previous artists. To improve your creativity, search for and listen to other creative people.
  • ...want to improve teamwork skills? Listen to your teammates! Not only to what they have to say but also to how they present things: read their tickets carefully, make sure that you have all requirements... more listening later translates into fewer bugs and missing features and faster review cycles.
  • ...want to...?

Do you see the pattern?

Of course, there are many other ways to improve soft skills, but I find that a good one is following Vanilla Ice's advice: "Alright: stop, collaborate, and listen." :P

Conclusion

Technologies come and go. Programming languages rise and fall. The same language/library changes from one version to the next... but being assertive, having empathy, knowing how to present ideas... those are things that will be with you always. And they will open many doors.

While you prepare for your Software Developer career, don't just focus on coding and also set some time to invest in your soft skills. It will go a long way.

Discussion (6)

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greggomatic profile image
Greg Thomas

It's everything else you bring to the table that matters. When interviewing for junior positions, you are bringing them on to teach them how to be better coders. Who they are and what zeal they bring to the table to be open to that learning, growth, change, etc, etc - is what separates them.

Teamworks skills, often forgotten but so necessary, great post.

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alvaro_montoro profile image
Álvaro Montoro Author

100%. That makes a huge difference.
Thanks!

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sheriffderek profile image
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alvaro_montoro profile image
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juanfrank77 profile image
Juan F Gonzalez

Hey @alvaro_montoro , great post!
What do you think could be a good way to help level up these skills of people getting into the industry?
Curious to know your thoughts.

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alvaro_montoro profile image
Álvaro Montoro Author • Edited

Thank you!

To improve some soft skills when you are starting –and take into consideration that this is my opinion, so take it with a grain of salt–, you could:

  • Work/Study in pairs/groups: not everybody working independently on the same problem, but dividing the problem into smaller parts that each of you individually works on, and then put together. That would help with communication, teamwork building, problem-solving, and organization... plus it would give experience on how work will likely be later.
  • Pair/Mob programming: two people (or more in the case of mob programming) working together on the same problem at the same time. This would be the opposite approach from the point before, but it will help with some of the same soft skills: teamwork, communication, open-mindedness, and negotiation (you won't always agree on the way to proceed).
  • Attend meetups and presentations: if there's a local meetup that has show-and-tells or presentations, sign up and attend. Now with corona, it may be complicated in person, but there are many opportunities online too. This could improve your creativity, learning skills, and you could get some communication tricks from how the presenters do things (and even take some initiative and leadership, and do a presentation yourself some time!)
  • Close your laptop: find someone, a friend, a colleague, or a relative, and go grab some coffee or something to eat. Or volunteer with a group. Forget about programming for a few hours and just chat, find out how they are doing, help them with something. That will help with empathy, taking initiative, and leadership. When I was in college, I often learned more with my labmates at lunch than at the lab.

These are just suggestions: travel, read, learn a new language (not a programming one), meet new places and cultures (not only as a tourist but "immerse yourself" as much as possible), take courses not related to your major... I know some of these seem generic and many are practically impossible at the current moment. The idea is to live and view things from someone else's perspective. Don't let being on a computer define who you are. Be human and interact with other humans.