The Top 8 Soft Skills for Software Developers in 2022

Illustration showing two software developers talking.

To be a successful software developer, technical skills are not the only thing that matter.

To be truly successful in this field, you also need to have strong soft skills.

Why are soft skills important for software developers?

Soft skills are important for software developers because they help you better collaborate with others, communicate more effectively, and solve problems more efficiently.

They also help you get paid more.

The Masaryk University article analyzed empirical literature on wage returns to soft skills. The study found a connection between soft skills and significant wage returns.

Another paper from Jiří Balcar showed that soft skills are as important as hard skills for getting a raise. In his analysis, for every standard deviation increase in hard skills, there was an 8.84% wage increase. For soft skills, there was an 8.51% wage increase.

This means that we should give equal importance to both hard and soft skills in career advancement.

Here are the top 8 soft skills that make a successful software developer:

1. Communication

Communication is the most important soft skill in software development because we often have to work with incomplete or ambiguous information.

We need to communicate with other developers, team members, and clients in order to get clarification or more information.

What comprises communication skills?

Communication skills are the ability to communicate effectively with others. It comprises many sub-skills.

MIT conducted focus groups and interviews with software engineers and managers and identified over 35 communication skills that comprise communication in the software engineering workplace.

Boiled down, software engineers should:

  • Explain clearly: Provide a concise, effective, and accurate explanation of the software systems.
  • Design communication: Apply proper medium and level of detail for the message and audience.
  • Discuss productively: Lead a productive group discussion.
  • Receive communication: Listen actively; ask clarifying questions.
  • Communicate professionally: Be nice to others, through words and tone.
  • Use common forms & tools: Master the standard software tools for communication within the domain.

2. Decision-making

Decision-making is the ability to decide quickly and effectively.

In software development, we often need to decide on incomplete information.

We need to weigh the pros and cons of each option and decide. It applies to big decisions, for example, should we use React or Vue for the frontend? But it also applies to everyday decisions, like which task should I work on next?

The ability to decide quickly and effectively is a valuable skill because it can save time and help you avoid getting bogged down in analysis paralysis.

A Microsoft survey of 1926 software engineers found that besides having book knowledge, brilliant engineers understand how decisions play out in real-world conditions.

In addition, they believed that decision-making skills could be learned, unlike personality traits.

Soft skills needed for decision making.

Model of attributes of great software engineers.

Source

3. Teamwork

Software development is a team sport.

You need to work with others to get things done.

When you work with a team, you can leverage the strengths of each member to create a stronger whole.

How to be a good teammate?

In 2012, a group of Google employees set out to figure out what makes some teams successful.

They found that the difference between high-performing teams and dysfunctional ones was how team members treated each other.

The number one factor for a successful team was psychological safety.

Psychological safety is the belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for making a mistake.

It’s a sense of confidence that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking.

The ability to foster psychological safety is a soft skill.

It’s the ability to create an environment where people feel comfortable taking risks and speaking up.

When people feel safe, they’re more likely to share information openly, give constructive feedback, and take risks. This leads us to better decision-making and improved team performance.

4. Accountability

Accountability is the willingness to accept responsibility for your actions.

When you make a mistake, it’s important to take ownership of it and learn from it.

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team book cover

In his bestselling book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni described the dangers that can lead to a team's failure. One of these dangers is the avoidance of accountability.

People who are not accountable often blame others for their mistakes or try to sweep them under the rug. This creates an air of mistrust and makes it difficult to work with them.

Being accountable also means being reliable and following through on your commitments. Your team members should be able to count on you to do what you say you’re going to do.

5. Adaptability

Adaptability is the ability to adjust to new situations and change.

Software development is full of unknown unknowns. Things that we don’t know, that we don’t know.

Adaptability includes stress management. When things don’t go as planned, it’s important to keep a cool head and not let the stress get to you.

It also includes being able to learn new things quickly. As the software engineering field grows, we need to pick up new skills and knowledge rapidly.

Another important aspect of adaptability is being able to deal with uncertainty in people and situations.

6. Problem-solving

Problem-solving is the ability to solve problems and is one of the most important skills a software developer can have.

As developers, we constantly solve problems, whether it’s a bug that needs to be fixed or a new feature that needs to be implemented.

Problem-solving is a mix of soft skills and hard skills because you need to have the technical knowledge to understand the problem and be able to come up with a solution. But you also need to have the soft skills to have the right mental attitude and approach to solving the problem.

To have a good problem-solving attitude, you need to be able to:

  • Accept that there is a problem.
  • Be open to different solutions.
  • Be persistent in finding a solution.
  • Learned from previous mistakes.

7. Reliability

Reliability is the ability to be depended on.

Reliability is important in software development because our team members need to count on us.

Being reliable means being punctual, consistent, and dependable.

It also means having the integrity to do the right thing, even when no one is watching.

To be a reliable team member:

  • Be on time for meetings and deliverables.
  • Do what you say you’re going to do.
  • Be consistent in your work quality.
  • Communicate early and often.
Illustration of two people working together.

8. Creativity

Creativity is the ability to come up with new and innovative solutions.

In software development, there are often multiple ways to solve a problem. The best solution is not always obvious.

Creativity also includes stepping outside of the box and thinking outside of the obvious solutions.

For example, when you’re tasked with creating a new feature, you need to be creative in how you approach it.

Software engineers are not machines. We’re not just problem-solvers, we’re also creators.

Being creative also includes being open to new ideas. Foster a culture of creativity in your team by encouraging people to share their ideas, even if they’re outside of the box.

Conclusion: Top 8 soft skills for software developers

Soft skills required by engineers vary at different levels of their careers, based on a Penn State study. So take some time to assess what you need to work on.

Focused effort in these 8 areas will make you a more valuable, well-rounded software engineer:

  1. Communication
  2. Leadership
  3. Collaboration
  4. Accountability
  5. Adaptability
  6. Problem-solving
  7. Reliability
  8. Creativity

After the assessment phase, it's all about taking action. Taking it a day at a time, week by week, to slowly improve in each of these areas.

And remember, soft skills correlate with an increase in the paycheck, and they are equally important as hard skills.

They are transferable skills that will help you succeed in any field, not just software engineering.

Soft skills make you not just a better engineer but also a better person.

FAQ

What is the most important soft skill for software developers?

In the software engineering workplace, communication is the most important skill because it enables you to sharing information with others effectively. This involves using clear and concise language, as well as active listening skills. By communicating effectively, you can get clarification or more information from other developers, team members, and clients.

Are soft skills trainable?

Soft skills are trainable. The University of Chicago paper summarized several studies on soft skills. They found soft skills are important for predicting success in life. They also found that programs targeted at teaching soft skills can be effective. It means that soft skills are trainable.

How important are soft skills in the software engineering workplace?

Soft skills are just as important as hard skills in the software engineering workplace.

A Microsoft study finds that technical competency (hard skills) is the number one factor for the success of software engineers.

But beyond hard skills, soft skills such as personality traits, decision-making, and teamwork also play a big role in success.

Can programming skills be considered a soft skill?

Programming skills are a type of hard skill. They are specific to the software engineering field and are learned through formal education or training. Hard skills can be measured and are often objective. Foir example, programming skills include the ability to write code, debug code, and understand data structures and algorithms.

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