Do you have skills to be the best software engineer who leads a great team, earns more money and creates great products?
Yes, you know how to write simple and beautiful code. You have mastered more than one programming language. You are an established software engineer. But do you have the confidence to ask your clients to give you a better salary?
Programming is a high-paying job and a promising career. But do you have skills that distinguish you from the other billion software engineers who are also making beautiful products?
It is quite simple. Successful people are multi-dimensional problem solvers. That’s it. And this is true for you - the software engineer. To be a success, you need to be more than just a programmer. You need to have a list of skills to make you better.
Good developers know how to clearly communicate a complex concept to a client, or to explain the purpose of the code in terms non-technical people can understand. To advance in your career, you need to have skills that will make you a leader and a team player.
Creating software is like magic. You can make good stuff seemingly out of thin air, but that is just the beginning of the adventure. The best software engineers solve problems and make quality software that people find useful.
For the product to be a success, the users need to test it, try it, like it and buy it. And to make that happen, what you need to do is to think beyond the code. Don’t think how the magic trick is done, but think what your users feel about it.
Do you have a “particular set of skills”?
As the scary Liam Neeson said in “Taken,” you need a “particular set of skills” to succeed in your mission. As a software engineer, you have a mission to convert that first line of code into a successful product that will be used by thousands, and maybe by millions, of users.
Building a product from scratch is hard to do if you are working alone. This is why you need to learn how to manage a well-organized team of software developers to achieve your goals. You'll need to have a particular set of skills that could help you build something great. Or find out who kidnapped your daughter. Either way, you need to be well-equipped and competent to succeed.
But don’t worry. This guide is meant to show you what skills you need to develop to be a better software engineer.
What set of skills are you talking about?
The “Future of Jobs Report" says 5 million jobs would be lost due to automation - just in the U.S. - by 2025. For a software developer, that means three things: a) there is high demand for your hard programming skills, which is a good thing; b) there is a high level of competition among skillful programmers, which is a bad thing; and c) coding can be simplified and automated, which is also a good thing, leaving you with enough time to focus on learning productive skills to advance in your career.
Let’s consider this for a moment. If a robot can be programmed to do your job and you can’t offer anything else, then you are probably scared for your future. But if you are an engineer who can adapt, learn and improve his skill set, then you are in demand. Being creative has been humanity's superpower since the beginning of time, and it will continue to be so in the future.
Your hard programming skills are essential to build a career as a good software developer. But programming skills are now common; they are even taught in every school. To become the best, you need to expand your skill set to include creativity, critical thinking and problem solving. Here are some essential qualities you need to develop.
Learn to communicate your ideas clearly
Communication is essential, not just for developers but for every other professional. It is a key skill for business-savvy developers. As soon as you start writing code, you have to explain the technical complex concepts to your non-technical team members and clients. Knowing how to share a complex idea, without the programming jargon, is a skill that only the best software engineers practice. They know that if they sell a beautiful idea, it wouldn’t matter to clients how it was coded, or in what programming language. What actually matters is how that idea is executed.
Don’t presume if you understand your code that everybody else “gets it,” as well. Think about this: If you can’t explain the usefulness of your code to your marketing team members, who work beside you, then how would they sell it to your customer?
Be simple in your communication, avoid tech jargon and don’t forget the end game. The story about a software begins with the person who conceptualized and wrote the code, and you can share your story only if you know how to express and explain your idea.
There is no easy way to learn how to be a better communicator. Luckily, there are hundreds of TED videos that could give you some tips on how to present complex programming concepts to non-technical people.
Lead your team, and let others step in
You may be a good programmer or even a genius, but that will not help you reach success. What will help you is a great team. Steve Jobs had Steve Wozniak; Bill Gates worked with Paul Allen; Twitter had a team of Evan Williams, Noah Glass, Jack Dorsey and Biz Store; and Mark Zuckerberg had Dustin Moskovitz and Chris Hughes.
As you can see by the list of founders, a good team consists of members who can contribute with their own unique sets of skills. It is impossible to know everything and to be good at everything. But it is easy to be a good leader of a great team. It is crucial to have a good relationship with your team, to have them motivated to collaborate and inspired to create something of value.
To achieve productivity, leaders give their teams the freedom to be creative and motivated. They cannot achieve that by being a micro-managing egocentric boss, but a leader who cultivates a positive attitude.
Your team members need to be confident that their ideas will be heard without judgement. As a leader, you need to know when to step back and let your team members take the helm. Teamwork actually begins when you start building a group of professionals who can work together.
Team members need to have skills to complement each other, or to put this in tech terms - they need to be compatible. A good software developer is a problem solver, and the first problem that needs solving is how to create a good team that operates in a positive atmosphere.
As a leader, your job is to help your colleagues understand clearly what the big picture is. What is the long-term goal they need to have in sight when they do short-term fixes? As mentioned before, being a good communicator helps with explaining a complex concept but, when working with a team, you need to be more detailed.
You can learn about teamwork from various videos online, but to practice it you need a tool. Maybe Slack can help. It is one of the hottest startups at the moment, and a unique tool for great team communication.
Organize and prioritize important work
Stephen Wolfram, the designer of the Wolfram Alpha, once said in a speech to students: “One thing I’ve noticed, is that in almost every area, the people who go furthest are not the ones with the best technical skills, but the ones who have the best strategy for figuring out what to do.”
A good programmer becomes the best software developer only when he starts focusing on important things. Organizing your team is as important for teamwork as making hard decisions. Sometimes there is a lot to do, and the clock may be forcing your hand.
The best software engineers have climbed the ladder because they are critical thinkers. They know how to carefully analyze the situation and, based on that intelligence, they can be confident when making a hard choice. Leave unimportant things out and stick to the defined strategy that will benefit the project.
To prepare yourself to make the hard decisions, you need to have an analytical mind. This is a hard skill to gain. However, with careful organization, you can diminish losses and understand when to make the right call, when to implement certain features and when they are ready to be tested. Always have the big picture in mind, but don’t lose track of it when you start connecting the small pieces of the software puzzle.
What distinguishes a great programmer from a good one is that the former is certain his time is spent on creating something of value. The sooner you start carefully analyzing and reflecting on your work, the sooner you’ll understand what mistakes you’ve made and how much time you’ve wasted on bad projects.
Everybody fails, and everybody tries again. That shouldn’t discourage you. It should motivate you to gain the skill of insight, and to be aware of what you are good at and what you need help with.
Organization and management skills are different for each of us, there is no standardized way, which is ironic considering what you want to achieve. For example, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and Max Levchin were famous for their messy desks, while Einstein is known for this quote: “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”.
They are geniuses; should that be the right way to go? Maybe you prefer clutter, maybe you like your desk clean. In the end, it is an individual preference for how you want to organize yourself.
But when you work with your team, you need to find a way that works for everybody. You need to create a structure to guarantee that deadlines will be met, or that your team can stay focused on its priority project, instead of wasting time on useless tasks.
There are a few project management tools that could help you organize your work. Trello comes to mind because of its simplicity. It is a collaboration tool for your team, which you could use to set up your complete working strategy. It is easy to use, and the separated blocks can help you prioritize important work.
If you need something like Gantt timetables to help you prioritize deadlines, then you could use Teamweek.
Connect with the developer community
A great developer is one whose product is simple, functional and solves problems for others. An engineer who is not just a silly perfectionist, but an open-minded pragmatist. To succeed in this competitive world, full of talented professionals, you need to utilize your communication skills and start working with the community. There are rock-star programmers who are willing to help and, even if you can’t reach them, there is an awesome community of software engineers who want to collaborate, discuss code and share ideas.
Successful people have this unique trait, as well as the confidence to put their ego aside, because being stubborn can only harm your work. Ego-management is not just being less angry about constructive criticism, but having a willingness to work with others.
Contributing to other projects and teaching beginner programmers can make you a better person, more emotionally intelligent, and more aware of your own limitations. That will improve your skills for teamwork and communication, which will ultimately lead to becoming a better software engineer.
Getting feedback and rebuilding iterations is a unique process for software engineers. But to be the best, you need to gain enough experience to understand that not every good suggestion should be turned into a feature, and not every comment should be taken into consideration. You need new perspectives on your product, but only you should decide how to build your product.
There are cool communities of developers that you can talk to and share code with. There is GitHub for collaborating on open-source projects. GitHub Gist is useful for sharing and then embedding the code into any other post, maybe on the popular blogging platform Medium or on any other webpage.
Sub-Reddits about programming and coding are cool places to discuss news and code, to connect with other developers and to share tips and tricks. Stack Overflow is a great Q&A platform to get advice.
Be a real engineer, and experiment often!
The 20% rule was made famous by Google, when Larry Page introduced it as "in addition to their regular projects, Google employees are allowed to spend 20% of their time working on what they think will most benefit Google."
Why not follow this rule and dedicate 20% of your time to learning a new skill? Great developers are usually excellent self-learners who are curious about new technologies and want to talk to the right people. Spending even 10% of your time on experimenting would greatly improve your skills.
With every new piece of technology, companies release frameworks, libraries, languages, and tools to developers. For a good developer, this is a chance to gain knowledge that could only benefit him, or could help him be the first to create a new useful product that is not yet on the market.
ProductHunt is a cool site to start exploring and researching new ideas. It’s a place where other developers share experiments and new products, which will encourage you to create something new.
What's even better, is that is has a feature to discuss your new experiment with a community of developers who like your product or who have an idea for how to improve it. If voted up, you’ll know that you are doing a great thing.
Embrace the future, automate!
Yes, automated robots will dominate the world soon. But they will also free your time to be more productive. No more grinding; you can use your time for projects that have real value.
Learn when to stop working. Coding is an addictive business, and having time to reflect or to clear your mind can actually help you achieve more in a shorter time. Don't overwork it. Did you know that a tired developer writes bad code?
BoingBoing wrote an article on research that showed "programmers' stress levels were a better predictor of the quality (and thus the maintainability) of their code than the more costly process of code-review." You need to think clearly if you want to solve a problem.
Think about IFTTT as a tool that can help you automate all the boring tasks. Get an email with hottest new products on ProductHunt, or automate tracking GitHub issues in Google Calendar. There are hundreds of ways to automate your daily mundane tasks, which will free your time to work on more important issues. Code to change the world!
Syncano focuses on automating the backend processes of building applications. As a developer, you can develop web and mobile applications twice as fast, and never have to worry about managing the servers. It gives you time to be more creative, and to worry less about the grueling small tasks that surround backend assembly. You can sign up for free today right here!
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