Which Soft Skills Will Help You Most
as a Software Developer?

See also: Transferable Skills

With software development currently one of the world’s most in-demand and lucrative professions, it is perhaps no surprise that millions harbour the ambition to learn to code.

For some, coding skills might be seen as another string to the bow that will make them better at their current job. Many professionals, not only those who are purely developers, can leverage coding ability. For others, learning to code is a means to becoming a professional software developer.

Learning to code and build applications, especially to a high level, is by no means an easy journey and it’s one that never really concludes. Technologies continuously evolve and appear on the scene, and software development is not like riding a bike. Coding skills that aren’t regularly practised can quickly dull.

But with time and consistent dedication, most people can learn to code to a professional level.

However, while being able to independently write code is a minimum requirement for a career in software development, soft skills are equally important. Even the best coder will make less of their career than they might have done with better soft skills. And for the majority of professional software developers who fall below the upper echelons of pure coding ability, soft skills are even more important and influential in career progression.

Michael Krusche, Founder and CEO of Munich-based IT outsourcing provider K&C goes as far as to say that many of the most talented coders to pass through the company have failed to progress beyond mid-senior technical roles due to a lack of the soft skills required for more critical leadership or management roles. And those in the most senior technical and management roles in the company who come from a coding background were not necessarily the best coders.

He comments:

“Being able to write especially clean, efficient code is a fantastic attribute for a software developer to have and it will be valued by their employer and colleagues. But unless it’s combined with soft skills like initiative, reliability, problem solving, communication, and commercial understanding, producing pretty code only takes you so far”.

“Some of our key employees working on client projects in roles like Scrum master, and in our management team, don’t come from professional coding backgrounds at all. But they are problem solvers, critical thinkers, organisers, leaders and communicators.”

“If you can combine those softer skills and qualities with coding ability and other technical competencies, that’s when someone is usually able to take their career to the highest levels.”

There’s no one route to maximising a career in the software development and IT sector and it’s full of successful people with more diverse professional backgrounds than you might imagine. But the combination of a high level of technical ability with a good range of strong soft skills is certainly the most common recipe for success in the IT sector.

The importance of soft skills in software development and IT more broadly is often overlooked by those embarking on a career as a coder or already in one. A huge variety of online resources, many of them high quality and completely free to access, have sprung up over the past decade to help anyone who wants to learn coding and other IT specialisations.

But very few of the roadmaps to becoming a professional software developer or competent coder even mention the soft skills that will maximise hard skills. We’ll touch on some of the most important here without recommending particular books or other tools that support building those skills.

Initiative, independent research, and problem-solving are among the most important soft skills for a software developer. So consider coming up with a plan of action for improving your key soft skills as an opportunity to exercise some!

5 Core Soft Skills That Will Help a Career in Software Development Reach Its Full Potential

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but these five soft skills should certainly be considered pillars to maximising the potential of your software development career.

#1 Deep work: the ability to concentrate for extended periods

It might sound obvious but being able to work on a task with deep, uninterrupted focus for 2-3 hours at a time is becoming a surprisingly rare ability. Many of us have become so used to being distracted by interruptions such as phone notifications, messenger apps open on the computer and flitting between open browser tabs etc., that we genuinely find it difficult to block everything out for at least a few hours a day of ‘deep work’.

The ability to fully focus on complicated tasks for a few hours at a time every day with absolutely no distractions can hugely boost productivity, quality of work and the learning experience of doing. The ability to avoid distraction and focus in a distracted world can give pretty much any professional a competitive edge in their career. Being able to do so will immediately put you ahead of the crowd.

#2 Self awareness

Most of us overestimate our abilities. The Dunning-Kruger effect is an innate human trait that comes from the difficulty of being able to see ourselves objectively, or how others see us. We’ve all seen how confidence can have a positive impact on a career trajectory, even, unfortunately, if it is overconfidence.

But self-assurance, rather than misplaced confidence, allied with self-awareness can be a powerful combination. We’ll probably never be able to truly see ourselves and our strengths and weaknesses completely objectively. But getting a lot closer than most do can be a real competitive edge.

Self-awareness allows us to play to our strengths and compensate for our weaknesses (or improve them). A lack of self-awareness leads to the opposite effect and at some point the illusion of bravado wears thin.

For most, self-awareness is a weakness. Don’t underestimate the potential career impact of turning it into a strength.

#3 Initiative

It’s probably fair to say most employees show less initiative than their employers would like. Waiting to be told what to do and then doing it reasonably well is the safe approach and many of us naturally gravitate to what is low risk and comfortable. Especially, as in the case of software development, if the low risk and comfortable approach also happens to be well paid. Nobody gets fired for doing what they were asked to and doing it well.

But they also don’t tend to progress their career to the potential of their abilities. Leaders and managers show initiative and make suggestions on how things could be done better. Or for new things that might be tried. And leadership doesn’t necessarily only come from those technically ‘in charge’ of projects or people. Thought leadership is just as important and also requires initiative.

#4 Problem solving and critical thinking

Related to initiative but deserving of independent mention are problem solving and critical thinking skills. Members of a team who do great work when things are going smoothly are, or should be, quietly appreciated. But those who step up and put forward sensible solutions when problems arise raise their profile and establish themselves as of particular value.

That’s especially the case when the approach to problem solving takes into account all factors, such as strategic business considerations as well as technical.

#5 Communication

Last but not least, communication skills obviously have to make any list of core soft skills that boost careers in any field, software development being no exception. Software developers with poor communications skills run the risk of being pigeon-holed into the cliché of the socially awkward, introverted coder.

A poor communicator’s technical skills may be appreciated but also run the risk of becoming what defines the individual in the eyes of peers and management, rather than their personality and broader qualities. Strong communication skills provide the platform for a software developer to showcase both their coding and other soft skills.

The achievements of good communicators are usually amplified by the social standing that confers, and failings often attract less attention and can even be seen in a positive light – “at least they tried and will learn from the experience”.

And of course, the best ideas and initiatives will fail to gain traction if others can’t be convinced of their merits and encouraged to embrace the change rather than, often the natural inclination, shy away from it.

The Skills You Need Guide to Personal Development

Further Reading from Skills You Need

The Skills You Need Guide to Personal Development

Learn how to set yourself effective personal goals and find the motivation you need to achieve them. This is the essence of personal development, a set of skills designed to help you reach your full potential, at work, in study and in your personal life.

The second edition of or bestselling eBook is ideal for anyone who wants to improve their skills and learning potential, and it is full of easy-to-follow, practical information.


This list could, of course, be extended and perhaps other managers in the IT and software development space wouldn’t pick exactly the same five core soft skills as those they see as most important to a software developer progressing their career. But all five of those covered here are certainly very influential to career development. And not just for coders. If you focus on improving all five, I can guarantee you will already be in a stronger position to progress your career in software development than 90% of your peers.

About the Author

John Adam is content marketing manager and writer specialised in the software development and IT industry. When he’s not working he enjoys hobbies he’s not very good at including soccer, squash, hiking, raising young children. A native of bonny Scotland, he has lived in Bulgaria for 15 years now.