10 Unexpected Skills You Need
to Succeed as a Software Engineer

See also: Project Management

Software engineers are aware that they need computer programming, coding, and software development skills, but there are other essential things they require to be successful.

If you acquire the following skills on this list, you’ll set yourself apart from other job applicants.

Software engineer working.

10 Unexpected Hard and Soft Skills Software Engineers Need

To make sure you’re well-rounded enough for certain roles, you’ll need to develop specific hard and soft skills. Many of these may seem unexpected to new software engineers or coders.

1. Financial Skills if You Want to Be Self-Employed

There are multiple types of software engineer career paths, and many of them aren’t office-bound. Many software engineers will become self-employed freelancers to generate extra income. And if you’re going solo, you need to know how to file self-employment taxes properly.

Freelancers need to understand invoicing, how to save enough money to settle up their tax burden at the end of the year, and the many ways they can apply deductions on their income. If you learn the basics of bookkeeping, you will be able to do most of your accounting yourself.

2. Communication Skills to Explain Complex Topics

Software engineers need communication skills, which can broadly be split into what, how, and when you communicate. “How” is the most critical part of the communication equation for engineers, as you need to know how to explain complex topics to non-technical stakeholders.

The ability to transfer information without precision will make you a good communicator in your field, but that can take some practice. Practice your pitching skills with a non-technical friend, or read books on the topic. For example, “Just Listen” can help develop your listening skills.

3. Collaboration for Tools and Larger Projects

On a team, communication and collaboration go hand in hand. It’s commonly thought that engineers work independently and don’t need to speak to the rest of their team to complete projects. This couldn’t be further from the truth, especially if you’re assigned to a large project.

Get familiar with tools like Invision and Google Sheets for direct collaboration, but keep in mind that most industries have a standard collaboration suite. This suite typically includes Github, an internet hosting service for software development and version control using Git.

4. Correct Error Logging and Handling

The most common programming errors, like syntax, logic, and compilation errors, happen all the time, even as a veteran. Learning to safeguard your code with different types of error logging will save you and the next person working on your code a lot of debugging-based headaches.

It’s much easier to error-log than it was in the past, thanks to programs like Logentries. It’s in your best interest to learn how to use error-logging products so you take advantage of them. At the same time, knowing how to handle errors manually is a skill employers will look for.

5. Handling Ambiguity to Tackle Project Uncertainties

Ambiguity, or uncertainty, is the only thing you can be sure of when working on a coding project. Most of the time, engineers won’t have all the answers when they start building, which can be frustrating, but it’s unfortunately common. You have to learn to adjust to virtually any situation.

In the end, handling ambiguity requires you to weigh the pros and cons of implementing a string of code. If you can make good calls most of the time, you’ll be able to get more done faster. As a rule of thumb, learn how to prioritize changes that don’t require a lot of time or money to redo.



6. Test Coverage Skills to Define Behaviors

Engineers don’t just push out a bunch of code; they also have to make sure their code can be understood by other engineers. You can do this by implementing test coverage techniques or writing your own tests to accompany coding changes, depending on the test package you’ll use.

Test coverage techniques can be used to override future changes (if the code doesn’t function) and define expected behaviors. Both functions are necessary to make your code readable. Pull requests are often left out of the test coverage process, so make sure you include them there.

7. Code Reviewing Skills to Test Other’s Code

After test coverage, code reviewing may be the most intimidating skill a coder could master. There’s no guarantee that the person before you will run a test or leave notes that clarify what to do and where to do it. Even when they do, you still need to complete a review of their code.

To review code effectively, check for readability and structure. Ask yourself if the code could be written in a more self-explanatory fashion or if the code needs to be organized better. Once you get more familiar with a particular codebase, it’ll be easier for you to find specific coding issues.

8. Initiative to Do More Than What’s Expected

Initiative is described as not needing to be told exactly what to do but doing it anyway. A coder with initiative will pick up bug tickets, take ownership of code that no one wants, create prototypes to explain complex topics, and suggest new technology the organization can use.

The best engineers won’t complain that there’s nothing to do or sit around waiting for a task. Software engineers may even keep a backlog of tasks just for this situation, so they can stay productive. Either way, you should ask for a project if you’re free to keep the work flowing.

9. How to Google Coding Questions

Learning how to appropriately use Google to fix issues in your code will make troubleshooting a breeze. Although we use search engines every day, you can use Google more effectively by inputting quotes around search queries. This means you’ll only get results for that exact phrase.

You’ll never know everything there is to know about programming, and you’re going to forget a few core principles here and there. Once you work with a software team, you’ll notice exactly how much Google is going on. By asking the right questions, you’ll get the help you need.

10. A Growth Mindset for Continuous Learning

Working in tech requires a continuous learning mindset to keep up in such a fast-paced industry. You have to build habits that ensure you’re learning new coding concepts every day, such as scheduling time to read for an hour in the morning or practicing coding languages on your own.


While the path to become a successful software engineer is different for everyone, consistency is the key to consistent growth. In the end, you really need to love coding and other computer disciplines to become a permanent part of the technology industry, no matter where you live.


About the Author


Cristina Par is a content specialist with a passion for writing articles that bridge the gap between brands and their audiences. She believes that high-quality content plus the right link building strategies can turn the tables for businesses small and large.

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