Software development is a rapidly growing field. However, it continues to suffer from a serious talent shortage. In order to fill the demand, more people need to be encouraged into the industry. This raises the question: what type of person is more likely to succeed in a software development role? There are many stereotypes about software developers and the key skills, competencies and drivers aren’t necessarily what you’d think. After all, as well as writing and testing code that enables computer applications and software programmes to work properly, the main goal of a software developer is to solve problems.
The Key Skills of Software Developers
While you might immediately think about technical know-how and mathematical aptitude as the most important skills for software developers, there are actually core skills that need to underlie these abilities. Of course, it is vital for developers to be comfortable with abstractions and computational models and to be able to read and write complex logic. However, that’s just part of the puzzle. Some of the other key skills that all talented software developers have in common include:
- Analytical Mind – developers need to be able to analyse requirements and then build solutions that can meet them.
- Innate Creativity – software components and systems aren’t a one-size-fits-all solution, creativity is fundamental to ensure solutions work effectively.
- Excellent Communication – developers need to not only write clean, easy-to-read code, they need to document it and communicate functionality to others.
- Interpersonal Skills – the key to working in groups, collaborating and communicating with a wide range of stakeholders is excellent interpersonal skills
- Desire to Learn – technology is constantly evolving, which means developers need to be keen learners who are able to quickly adopt new frameworks and technologies.
- Detail-Oriented – the devil is in the detail when it comes to software development; developers need to consider every aspect of their solution.
- Wide Perspective – successful developers don’t work on solutions in isolation; instead, they look at the big picture and how applications interact and integrate.
When it comes to software development, communication and interpersonal skills are just as important as technical know-how. After all, developers are writing a language, it might not be a spoken one, but communication is at its very core.
The Difference Between Expert and Novice Brains
While having the skills mentioned above is a fundamental starting point, no one becomes an expert developer overnight; that comes down to experience. Those just starting out as software developers will have to think much more actively about what they are doing; their brains will be engaged in getting the basics right. However, once a developer has been writing code for some time, some of that effort is committed to memory and runs on autopilot. Over time, the brain changes and adapts, rewiring so it can meet the challenges of software development while expending less effort. This means that, in the same way athletes condition their bodies to excel in sporting activities, programmers can condition their brains to code more effectively.
With practice, developers can build stronger connections between the left hemisphere of their brands, where logic, analysis and language reside, and the right hemisphere, where creativity, imagination and intuition reign. It’s the combination of all these skills that makes for an excellent developer. While software developers’ brains aren’t different, they have developed enhanced working memory capacity, heightened language processing skills, and strong analytical skills. Neuroplasticity, practice and conditioning are all at play. Ultimately, if you want to be a software developer, you need to exercise your brain.
How to Think Like a Software Developer
Software development is about creativity and making something work in a particular way, and it’s a skill that everyone can use in their life. As we’ve touched on, it involves critical thinking, problem-solving, planning and constantly making decisions and evolving. Coding simply puts that thought process into words or, more to the point, code. It’s how software developers rethink problems and seek out solutions that sets them apart.
To help you think more like a software developer, these are the common steps they take when faced with a problem:
- Define the Problem – fully understanding the problem that needs to be solved is fundamental; it leads to questions, such as what causes the problem. what areas are related to it, why is finding a solution important and more. All of these questions lead to different scenarios that need to be thought through and, ultimately, to a solution that fits the problem.
- Reduce the Scope – once the problem is defined, it may need to be broken down into smaller problems that are tackled one at a time to reach the end goal. Incremental changes can help overcome obstacles standing in the way of the main problem.
- Ideate the Solution – the solution can’t be worked on before there is a clear understanding of what it looks like. Ideating the solution before implementing it is fundamental; this involves analysing different scenarios and making sure all the pieces of the problem are in place.
- Test and Learn – developers will carry out small implementations of any solution to enable them to test, learn and improve throughout the development process. This both simplifies the problem and ensures the best solution is created.
- Optimise the Solution – however well code is written, there are always improvements that can be made. Software developers will go back and look for ways to make code more efficient.
While this is specifically software-related, it can be used for any problem-solving activity. Software developers are incredibly adept at setting goals, creating clarity and constantly improving. What’s more, they are ok with the unknowns, work in a routine way, persevere and use creative thinking to find solutions.
Who Can Be a Software Developer?
Being a software developer takes a lot of skill and knowledge combined with a unique way of thinking. However, it isn’t something that is reserved for a particular type of person. The stereotype of developers being boring, antisocial men is far from the truth. The job isn’t boring and, when incorporated with the rest of the business, it is far from antisocial. What’s more, it’s not reserved for men. In fact, women are often more adept at some of the personal skills fundamental to the role. Forward-thinking companies will consider their developers as value generators and creative problem solvers and this can come in all shapes and forms.