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Tanaka Mutakwa
Tanaka Mutakwa

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Improving your communication skills as a software developer

Communication with other people is an important part of a software developer’s career. As a software developer, you will often communicate with other developers on your team, non-technical people on your team, stakeholders, and users of your software.

Having good communication skills will help you work well with your team and others through communicating your messages across effectively.

Software development is a technical field and developing your technical skills often takes priority over other skills. However, it can be argued that communication skills are equally as important as technical skills. Failures in software teams result more often from communication issues than from technical problems.

Software developers are often expected to naturally have good communication skills. However, this is not the case in reality. Most software developers have poor or underdeveloped communication skills. Similar to technical skills, you have to work on improving your communication skills. Both written and spoken communication skills are important to develop.

In this article you will learn different approaches you can use to improve your communication skills as a software developer.

Learn to listen

Listening is the most important skill to develop if you want to become a good communicator. This is because great communication happens when all parties reach a point of mutual understanding.

In a highly technical job such as software development, reaching a mutual understanding is even more important. Differences in understanding of an implementation can lead to errors and bugs, extended project timelines, and disappointment from unmet expectations.

As human beings we often rush to express our thoughts and opinions without allowing the person we are communicating with to finish speaking. We stop listening the moment we think of an opposing point or what is we believe is a better idea. This leads to bad communication habits.

To improve your communication, you must learn to not interrupt others when they speak to you. Listen carefully to what the other person is saying. Give them time to say everything they want to say before you add to the conversation. When you are ready to add your own thoughts to the conversation, one thoughtful technique is to quickly rephrase what the other person just said so it is clear that you have understood what they are communicating.

Your body language also plays an important role when you are listening to someone else speaking to you. Being engaged in the conversation shows you are interested in what the other person has to say and is also a sign of respect. Have a comfortable amount of eye contact, stand/sit with a good posture, focus on the conversation (don’t look elsewhere or use your phone).

Listening is fundamental to good communication and should be the first skill you work on improving as a software developer.

Present your work to others

As a software developer it is important to be good at communicating about your work and ideas with others. This is how good collaboration starts. You have to be able to express yourself clearly when talking about what you built, why you built it, and how you built it.

You have to be able to determine how to communicate appropriately depending on context. Most of the time you will be communicating with other developers and you can communicate in a very technical way. Other times you will be communicating with a non-technical audience and you will need to communicate in a way people understand what you are saying without using technical jargon.

One of the best ways to practice improving spoken communication is through presenting your work to others. Present your work to your team and other people. Volunteer to be the presenter at team demos, code reviews, stand-ups, and any other opportunities that are available in your workplace.

Always ask for feedback from a few people after you have presented your work. Use the feedback to help you improve your future presentations. Over time you will become better at expressing your ideas and talking about your work. It will also become less stressful when you have to present your work to others.

Speak at meetups and conferences

Public speaking can be a nerve wrecking experience for software developers. One of the best ways to improve your public speaking skills is by committing to speak at a software meetup or conference.

Identify some meetups of conferences in your area and apply to speak about a topic you are passionate about. Once you are selected as a speaker for a meetup or conference you will have to practice so you can deliver a great talk. This is where all the learning happens.

You will need to develop skills such as making good eye contact with the audience, speaking at a volume everyone can hear you, using good body language and posture, and speaking with clarity. All these skills that are useful for delivering a great talk will improve your general communication skills as a side-effect.

If you constantly practice public speaking you will improve your spoken communication skills.

Write documentation

Writing some documentation will provide you with an excellent and free written communication exercise. As a software developer working in a team there will be many opportunities to write some required documentation.

Examples of documentation written by software developers includes, deploy notes, code review notes, user instructions, API documentation, incident reports, product / project proposals and many others. All these documents need to be written with clear communication for their audience.

To improve your written communication skills, volunteer to write some documentation when the opportunities present themselves. Always ask for feedback from the audience of the documentation that you write. This will help you improve any future documents that your write.

The documentation that you write can be technical or non-technical. Both are important aspects of day-to-day software developer communication.

Start a blog

Starting your own blog is also another great way to practice and improve your written communication skills. Having your own blog will give you a public audience and you will need to learn how to write your blog posts so they communicate topics in a simple way with clarity.

On your blog you can write about any topics that you are passionate about. This will help with your motivation for starting a blog and publishing blog posts consistently. Remember writing consistently is the best form of practice and over time your writing skills will improve.

If you keep comments from the audience open on your blog you will also be able to receive feedback from your audience. Use the feedback to improve future posts and improve how you communicate back-and-forth with the audience.

Over time you will become more confident about how you express your thoughts publicly which is a skill all software developers require as they work in teams over their careers.

The New Developer

This article was originally published on The New Developer. Head over there if you like this post and want to read others like it.

Final thoughts

As a software developer, being able to communicate in a clear and concise way is fundamental to having a successful career. Software developers rarely work in isolation. There are other parties involved, other developers, stakeholders, users and many others.

Technical skills development is often given priority by software developers, however, improving communication skills is also very important. In this article you learned about different approaches you can use to improve your communication skills as a software developer.

I am interested to hear what other approaches you are using to improve your communication skills? Let me know in the comments.

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