10 Non-Technical Skills Every Developer Needs

Adriana Campoy and Victoria Burghi
February 14, 2020

What does it take to excel as a software developer? While knowledge of languages and frameworks is extremely important, outstanding developers aren't great at what they do because of technical proficiency alone. At sophilabs, we work as a team to build first-rate digital products, and we rely on a diverse set of skills to make this possible. Check out the top ten qualities and skills every developer should hone if they want to take their performance to the next level.

1. A Client-Focused Approach

In order to deliver high-quality software, a developer's primary focus should be to help customers meet their goals. Empathizing with clients allows developers to better understand their needs, which enables developers to build more effective solutions. In addition, great developers recognize that customer feedback is extremely useful, and they look forward to implementing it and improving the product. A savvy developer also has a good sense of business value and prioritizes what is valuable to the client over what may be new or interesting to them as an engineer.

2. A Passion for Software Development

There's a reason one of our core values at sophilabs is "Love your craft." We think when developers love what they do, they are better able to produce quality work and stick with tough problems until they solve them. A developer who is truly dedicated to their craft even spends time working on programming puzzles outside of their job because of the pure joy it gives them to create something new and sharpen their skills with consistent practice.

3. A Positive Attitude

Software development can be a demanding job, so it's crucial to be resilient in the face of difficult or tedious tasks. Good developers don't allow themselves to give up or get discouraged when they encounter a tricky problem, and they know how to find something interesting about more mundane assignments. Another key part of maintaining a positive attitude is being flexible and open to change. The fast-paced world of software often requires teams to make adjustments, so developers need to adapt without letting these modifications ruffle their feathers.

4. Ability to Thrive on a Team

Building software is a team endeavor, so collaboration skills are essential. Every developer should understand and fulfill their unique role on the team. This involves recognizing teammates' contributions to the product as well as taking ownership of their own contributions and mistakes. Being on a team means respecting all teammates and appreciating their input, as well as following the Product Manager's suggestions. Teamwork requires remaining open to different perspectives and solutions as well as giving teammates thoughtful feedback on their work. Perhaps most importantly, working as part of a team means always being ready to provide support and helping teammates whenever they need a hand.

5. A Growth Mindset

In order to explain what a growth mindset is, we have to dive into a little bit of psychology. In her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Dr. Carol Dweck of Stanford University explains that individuals tend to have one of two pervasive attitudes, or mindsets, regarding their own abilities and intelligence.

Someone with a fixed mindset believes that their level of intelligence, talent, and other personal qualities are static, finite, and determined at birth. They avoid challenges because they believe failure would prove that they are not intelligent. In addition, they tend to either ignore constructive criticism or take it personally, terrified of what it supposedly reveals about their innate talent.

In contrast, individuals with a growth mindset view their intelligence, talent, and other personal qualities as skills and traits they can develop. They believe they can improve anything about themselves with enough effort and practice. They love taking on challenges because of what they'll learn in the process, knowing that their success or failure does not determine how intelligent they are. They welcome constructive feedback because they see it as an opportunity to grow. Neuroscience supports the growth mindset, as our brains are in fact always capable of forming new connections. 1

But what exactly does Dr. Dweck's research have to do with building software? In order to be great at what they do, developers need to cultivate a growth mindset. The world of technology is always evolving, so developers must remain eager to learn throughout their careers. They should consistently take the initiative to deepen their knowledge and work on the skills they are not confident in.

Not only do great developers invest time in research and self-learning, but they also actively seek resources and support when needed. A growth mindset makes it much easier for a developer to admit when they don't know something and ask questions. Addressing skill gaps head-on actually allows a developer to learn more quickly than someone who is more concerned about hiding their weak areas.

Another key advantage of a growth mindset is the way it enables developers to accept constructive criticism and implement suggestions. On an Agile team, developers regularly receive feedback from teammates, the customer, and users. A growth mindset allows developers to make the best use of that feedback and improve both the product and their own skills as engineers.

6. Communication Skills

Quality communication is crucial to effective teamwork and client satisfaction. Competent developers make sure they're consistently available and respond promptly to communication from teammates or clients. Having excellent communication skills means knowing how to prioritize clarity and take advantage of tools like screen sharing to avoid misunderstandings. Developers should be astute enough to detect when it makes more sense to jump on a call or hold a brief in-person meeting, rather than have an extended back-and-forth via email or Slack.

Following up after a meeting or conversation is another great habit, as it helps everyone stay on the same page and demonstrates genuine concern about the issue at hand. Developers also need to be diplomatic about sharing their viewpoints and explain their reasoning in an objective way.

Perhaps the most important skill in this area is active listening. Whether collecting client feedback or participating in a sprint retrospective, developers need to know how to listen and empathize with others in order to collectively determine the best path forward.

7. Attention to Detail

A successful product requires well-structured, semantic, maintainable code, so an eye for the smaller things can make all the difference. Detail-oriented developers think through the choices they make, check their work thoroughly, and take pride in delivering high-quality code.

8. Organizational Skills

Developers often have a sizable workload, especially if there is a hard deadline coming up, so organization has a profound impact on whether they can do their jobs effectively. Savvy developers know how to prioritize tasks according to the most pressing dependencies or overall level of urgency. They then complete tasks in order of priority, not necessarily in the order the tasks were assigned. Staying organized also means keeping track of smaller administrative tasks and not letting the more tedious duties pile up. Developers can maximize their efficiency and productivity by designating a fixed time for admin, setting personal productivity goals, and identifying the specific organizational strategies that work best for them.

9. Problem-Solving Skills

Software development requires critical thinking and creative solutions. Proactive problem-solvers can analyze the consequences of different development choices and actively make suggestions for improvement. They can attack a problem from different angles and recognize when they need to temporarily step away from a tough challenge in order to return with a fresh perspective.

10. A Strong Work Ethic

This final quality makes all the aforementioned skills possible. Consistently giving their best effort enables developers to not only do great work, but also to continually improve their skills across the board. Coupled with a growth mindset, a solid work ethic gives developers the means to fulfill their potential, perhaps even exceeding their own expectations of what they could achieve.

Software development is a fascinating field in which there are always new things to learn. Developers who work on their soft skills with as much dedication as their technical competencies maximize their learning and professional growth.

We hope our approach to doing our best work is useful to other developers out there, whether you're just starting out or you're a seasoned veteran. If you're interested in working somewhere with plenty of opportunities to learn and grow, consider joining our team!

  1. Carol Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (New York: Ballantine Books, 2016). 

"10 Non-Technical Skills Every Developer Needs" by Adriana Campoy and Victoria Burghi is licensed under CC BY SA. Source code examples are licensed under MIT.

Photo by Marvin Meyer.

Categorized under people & culture.

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