The importance of soft skills among developers
Knowledge of the latest technologies, languages, and tools is essential for software developers to do their work well. Equally important, however, are soft skills, particularly in the world of custom software development, given that technical people don’t work in silos. After all, they work with all sorts of people, across organizations, to fully understand the business requirements of what they’re building. Knowing how to build relationships and communicate with other professionals whose expertise isn’t necessarily technical is paramount, every single day.
As Dzmitry Fiodarau, a department manager in our office in Warsaw, notes, “Software developers need to possess a strong foundation of technical skills. However, it is the mastery of soft skills that truly sets exceptional developers apart.”
Software development is a fast-moving business that involves diverse teams and complex projects, which means that developers need to be comfortable articulating complex concepts within complex organizational structures. The best team members in that environment are good communicators who can convey ideas to all stakeholders; that sets the stage for agreement on priorities and effective collaboration. If developers don’t fully understand what the client needs and can’t clearly articulate how they will achieve project goals, as well as their progress toward those goals, that can reflect badly on the entire dev team (not to mention the entire company!).
Key to that transparent esprit de corps are people who keep an open mind when it comes to dealing with diverse temperaments and personalities. Andrey Prohorenko, director and head of Delivery in our office in Vilnius, Lithuania, says that in terms of both internal and client-facing communications, “Software engineers need to be able to interact with different types of people in order to achieve ultimate effectiveness."
Another aspect of effective communication is being fully present and prepared for conversations: listening to understand rather than listening to respond or direct. Yuliya Pshaulotskaya, lead business analyst in our Vilnius office, believes that effective communicators focus on “active listening, clear expression, and mutual understanding.”
Just like we consider verbal communication to be a means of clear expression of ideas and keeping everyone in the loop about a project's status, being an active listener who is proactive and curious about project details and agreements fosters collaboration and facilitates successful outcomes at work.
Presentation and documentation skills
Developers often need to pitch their ideas and report on work in progress to clients, managers, and team members — a responsibility that makes presentation skills essential to collaboration and stakeholder engagement. (This can be particularly true at large, mature enterprises, where high-stakes presentations to large groups of stakeholders are more common.)
An effective deck, for example, helps to present a summarized business idea or plan and set client expectations, but it’s also key to winning new business. Fedar Piashko, a Vention team manager with expertise in AI, says that he has prioritized communication and presentation dexterity as the foundation for all of his soft skills: “Without quality communication with clients, it wouldn’t be possible for me to secure new projects.”
Of course, clear presentations and decks aren’t the only means of communication that need to be well-executed; so do emails, reports, and technical specifications.
Empathy and emotional intelligence
The ability to communicate the right message at the right time — to detect nuance and respond with nuance — is part and parcel to empathy and emotional intelligence. It’s also of paramount importance to the emotional intelligence, empathy, and even diplomacy that our industry demands, no matter if you’re communicating with clients or colleagues, in verbal or written form.
“Developers rarely work in isolation,” says Olga Siomkina, Vention’s head of HR in Lithuania. “Emotional intelligence enables them to understand others' perspectives, empathize with their challenges, and express themselves in a way that fosters understanding and cooperation.”
By nurturing empathy and emotional intelligence, software engineers can build relationships based on mutual understanding and open communication within the teams and with the clients.
Another benefit? Devs who operate with empathy can better understand and address end-user expectations, needs, and interests, which means they’re primed to build engaging, user-friendly apps.
Adaptability and flexibility
Then there’s the ability to be open to changing an approach mid-stream. IT moves at lightning speed, so devs need to adapt to changing tools, technologies, and methodologies. Comfort with uncertainty is key to coping with changing circumstances, client requirements, and yes, setbacks.
Andrey Prohorenko values devs who embrace working with unfamiliar technologies and complicated implementations in addition to overall problem-solving.
“There are situations when you need to think not about what newfangled technology needs to be fastened to the customer’s project, but about how to solve the customer’s problem as efficiently as possible in terms of quality and costs,” he says.
Adaptable devs, he says, can adjust timelines and accommodate modifications clients request: “If you’re flexible, you’ll be able to find a compromise that involves an ability to negotiate and change your level of contribution to a task depending on many factors generated by customers, investors, budgets, and technical limitations that may arise at any time.”
All the skills listed above roll up into one macro skill: a thirst for knowledge. Those developers who embrace the mindset of lifelong learning and actively seek to expand their expertise tend to stay ahead in their careers.
Software development is a dynamic industry that can change the moment a new technology rolls out or a company makes a splash with an innovative product, but a genuine interest in continuously learning new things, be it new tech, frameworks, programming languages, industry trends, or new work methods, never becomes obsolete.