Soft Skills: Key to Standing Out as a Developer Today

For the longest time in technical-focused careers — like those of developers — coding proficiency and expertise was viewed as the baseline to display your knowledge and set yourself up as a desirable job candidate.

Lately, however, a shift in the emphasis placed on soft skills has emerged. Abilities such as communicating effectively, reading the room, and inspiring confidence and empathy in co-workers are quickly becoming just as, if not more, valuable. Organizations are recognizing the growing need for these soft skills, coupled with technical competencies, as workforces become more distributed. In fact, according to LinkedIn’s 2019 Global Talent Trends Report, 92 percent of respondents stated they value soft skills as much or more than hard skills when hiring. 

As soft skills become increasingly important in today’s workforce, how can developers best display and enhance their abilities?

Highlight Your Soft Skills and Coding Skills

When interviewing, recognize that, while your coding capabilities are key, it is equally valuable to showcase your interpersonal and teamwork skills. Today, hiring managers are building interview questions aimed at understanding developers’ soft skills, as they seek candidates who can communicate with customers and their own team members effectively.

For example, hiring managers may ask about communicating with customers under difficult circumstances, selling new ideas to team members, dealing with conflicts, or influencing other teams.

By recognizing the importance placed on soft skills, you can highlight your coding skills while also speaking to situations in which your ability to communicate and listen was critical to the success of a project or task. Display open-mindedness, ask questions and express curiosity to learn from others.

For example, you could discuss experiences where you incorporated feedback from peers when doing code reviews, or resolved disagreements related to a particular design approach. Whether you’re networking or interviewing, hone in on past experiences that display your soft skills and tie them back to your day-to-day role and responsibilities in these conversations. Most engineering managers will appreciate a candidate who demonstrates the ability to learn from prior experiences and improve how they approach critical situations.

Also, be ready to discuss past interactions that challenged you, how you handled the situation, and what you learned from it.

Tap Company Resources and Refine Your Skills

As senior-level leaders recognize the value of soft skills, companies are beginning to take on the responsibility of fostering employees’ soft skills. In the past, this level of training was reserved for top executives at some organizations. However, as workforces become increasingly remote (according to DigitalOcean’s Remote Work Currents report, 86 percent of developers work remotely in some capacity), there is a more evident need to support employees’ development of soft skills, so they can collaborate effectively from different locations.

There are a variety of ways this can be done; some organizations offer education funds, so managers can encourage their direct reports to pursue trainings on soft skills in addition to technical areas, whereas other organizations host company-wide trainings or seminars. As these resources are more regularly offered to employees of all levels, it is proving to be a valuable investment. 

Ask your company leaders about available resources, voice your interest in refining these skill sets, and thoughtfully explain the value it will deliver to you and your organization in terms of boosting cross-team communication and collaboration. Lastly, as you work to master and become more confident in your soft skills, pay attention to those in your organization who have strong interpersonal skills; emulate their behavior. This type of learning is continuous and takes place across all levels of an organization. 

Enroll in Training Courses Beyond Coding Bootcamps

Coding bootcamps are a $309 million industry, according to Course Report, showing a clear level of interest in bootcamps as an approach to code education. A separate DigitalOcean Currents report looked at the sentiment around bootcamps and found that respondents who attended them felt far more prepared for a software engineering position than their peers graduating from traditional programs (61 percent of bootcamp graduates versus only 36 percent of traditional college program graduates). 

Given the impact and value of coding bootcamps for developers, there is an opportunity for bootcamps to build on their success and traction by incorporating lessons on effective team communication. When evaluating bootcamp options, consider ones that have partnered with organizations or experts that teach soft skills. In fact, some of these programs include roleplaying to allow students to practice soft skills in a safe environment.

Alternatively, developers should consider enrolling in professional development courses outside of their specific field. There is an array of options that focus on teaching timeless soft skills such as effective communication, listening, and presentation (or organization skills more broadly). 

The value of soft skills is here to stay. Developers should assess their soft skills and take an introspective look at where there is room for improvement. From there, create an action plan and find a mentor to serve as an inspiration, provide feedback and keep you honest against your plan. By investing the time and energy into further developing your soft skills, and learning more about the way different team members around you communicate and work together most productivity, you will ultimately improve the output of your work and set yourself up for success as a well-rounded developer. 

Al Sene is VP of Engineering at DigitalOcean.

One Response to “Soft Skills: Key to Standing Out as a Developer Today”

  1. Brilliant article, Al! You’re so right about how soft skills are here to stay. They have always been important, but I’ve found that they’re becoming more important for people earlier in their career. Nowadays, employees are often on their own to learn these important soft skills. Mentors from senior level are often too busy to help with this. But there are so many resources out there for people to improve on their soft skills – books, podcasts, audio books, online courses, workshops. You just have to start searching.