By June 3, 2019

4 Questions You Should Ask Yourself to Stay Competitive in the Market

If you’ve been working in your current position for more than three years, you’re a rare breed.

It’s very common for programmers to change their jobs often and explore opportunities at different companies. While there are many reasons for leaving—low pay, lack of recognition, or conflict with management, to name a few—one is particularly relevant nowadays:

Professional development.

Many companies just can’t provide programmers with sufficient opportunities to advance their skills, learn something new, and improve their position in the labor market.

Have you asked yourself whether your current employer gives you adequate career advancement opportunities?

If you’re reading this article, chances are you’ve been thinking about how to advance your career. For you, and many other fellow programmers out there, I’ve compiled a list of questions that can help you to get a better perspective on your career and plan for the future.

Question #1: Do I Have to Develop Nontechnical Skills?

To most people out there, programmers are those individuals sitting in front of a screen and coding.

While this is partly true (let’s face it, it’s our job), one cannot really claim that programmers don’t need nontechnical (often referred to as “soft”) skills like communication, creativity, collaboration, leadership, teamwork, and empathy.

For example, programmers constantly communicate and collaborate with colleagues and other professionals and lead teams to deliver complex projects.

If you feel that you have all these skills, then you have a great chance to improve your career, but if this is not exactly the case and you’re wondering what exactly you may need to learn, listen to this:

Fifty-seven percent of senior leaders say that soft skills are more important to them than technical skills, claims LinkedIn’s Workplace Learning Report 2018. In fact, this research shows that talent developers, as well as executives, agree that training for soft skills is the most important area of talent development.

programmer career
Credit: LinkedIn

As you can see, nontechnical skills are clearly important for a lot of employers, and there’s a great chance that the significance of these skills will continue to grow (especially when considering the fact that those in AI and other technologies are taking over a lot of jobs but are in trouble with soft skills).

While you certainly need to continue advancing your technical skills, working on the nontechnical area skills like writing is also a great idea to advance your career and improve its outcome (if you’re interested in blogging as a programmer, check out Soft Skills: The Software Developer's Life Manual, a great book about blogging and personal branding from a developer-centered viewpoint).

That’s also a reason why review sites like Online Writers Rating are used by software development companies to find qualified writers to teach coders how to write emails, app descriptions, and other documentation.

For example, let’s quickly summarize how you can use the most in-demand soft skills:

Creativity

Programming is associated with math and precise concepts, so many view the profession as one that requires little imagination.

However, this couldn’t be further from the truth because creative thinking that produces new software ideas is extremely important for success in programming and creating digital products that can be used in many, often creative, ways.

For example, an algorithm created for tracking inventory in production sites could be used in other ways such as monitoring item levels in fashion stores and even hospital assets that need to be quickly located in case of an emergency.

Collaboration

Effective collaboration in the workplace is essential for the best possible project outcome whether you’re a freelancer or an office-based coder.

For example, you probably have to work with different stakeholders—entrepreneurs, managers, open source contributors, customers, developers, etc.—and it’s really great if you can collect their input and make an excellent digital product that represents the collected input from all stakeholders.

You just can’t escape this if you want to grow as a professional who knows how to handle issues like team conflicts or a failed product launch.

Improving your collaboration skills becomes even more important as your career grows and you have to manage your colleagues.

Communication

There’s a new field in online writing that has been gaining a lot of attention recently: UX writing. A UX (user experience) writer is someone who writes a copy of a digital product that guides the users—who are often laypersons—and helps them navigate around those products.

“It’s no secret that if this task was trusted to some programmers, many apps and other digital products would sound like a message error in Windows 98,” shares Aaron Cooper, a UX writer from Flash Essay.

This shows how many programmers really lack written communication skills.

Being able to communicate with different stakeholders effectively, both in writing and verbally, is becoming increasingly important for programmers, so, naturally, it’s something that you should consider learning in order to successfully advance your career.

Good options for getting your writing proofread and tested for style and clarity improvements include Essaysupply and Hemingway Editor. If you’re thinking about the new ways to use the above mentioned skills, consider teaching programming. Thinking in Java is a great first read for those who want to become an educator even if they don’t work with Java.

Problem Solving

Today, companies need programmers who can understand the roots of their problems and create effective solutions that deliver value. This is obviously not possible if you’re in for just coding.

As a programmer, you know it very well that for most problems, there will definitely be more than one solution. So, choosing the best problem-solving technique is a skill that requires some expertise.

If you focus too much on technical skills, you’re running a great risk of having a limited skillset; therefore, you’ll have fewer career advancement opportunities. That’s certainly not something that you want to experience.

Question #2: Do My Technical Skills Align With Future Demands in My Area?

Oh, this is a good one, right? Programming is developing at the speed of light, and there’s constantly something new to learn. You don't know what you might be missing until you try it out, so be open to learning new things in your area. For example, who would have thought that Python would become so widely used in artificial intelligence projects?

Whether it’s through blogs, podcasts, conferences, or online courses, try to stay updated on the latest developments.

For example, there are at least five specific trends poised to dominate web development this year: artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, mobile-friendliness, progressive web apps, and blockchain.

If you’re working in one of these areas or are interested in some of them, you should explore the opportunities to stay on top of your game.

And more importantly, if you discover that some new technology is gaining momentum in your area, remember that it’s in your best interest to learn it.

Let’s look at an example.

According to the recent HackerRank’s 2019 Developer Skills report, there’s a significant difference between the number of programmers that know React framework and hiring managers who seek this skill.

programmer career
Credit: HackerRank

As you can see, the need for developers who know React outpaces the number of programmers familiar with this skill, so it’s clear that investing in this specific framework could come in handy in 2019 and beyond.

And as recommended by Samantha Gronkowski, head of the talent acquisition department at Resumes.Expert, ”If you’ve been tracking a certain company, keep learning about their hiring needs and you’ll have a better idea of what they will need in the future.”

In other words, if you find that a company is planning an expansion or a project where they would need programmers with certain new skills, you can start learning it to be ready to apply.

Question #3: What Should Your Career Look Like Over the Next Five Years?

With many programmers focusing on other interests like travel, having a career that allows you to follow your passion is a good way to improve your well-being and productivity. For example, you can work remotely as a freelancer or even become a traveling programmer.

Let’s talk about the second option.

Have you considered changing your lifestyle by becoming a freelance programmer? Well, it’s certainly a big trend now, with some reports suggesting that more than one in three Americans are freelancing (that’s over 56 million people).

There are definitely a lot of perks associated with being a freelancer or a remote worker, so if you’re a bit tired of the office environment, consider joining the quickly-growing freelance workforce. It’s clear that more and more people choose this work arrangement over nine-to-five jobs, so you could become a part of this as well.

“Don’t think that freelancers don’t get to enjoy all career opportunities that office-based programmers do,” says Veronica Wright, CEO of Resumes Centre. “Freelancing is a legit thing these days, and there are lots of freelance job boards that provide challenging projects and impressive chances to advance a career in web development.”

In fact, there are job boards created specifically for web developers (think CodePen and JustUXJobs). Getting started is pretty easy and free, so your transition may be much smoother than you think.

Question #4: What About Salary? Are You Commanding the Right Rates Today, and Will You Be Able to Do So in The Future?

This question is obviously important, and the answer depends on the trends in the industry. For example, it’s highly likely that programmers with React knowledge can command a high hourly rate in the near future. Therefore, watching trends in your web development area is critical to answering this question.

That applies to salaries, too. For example, you can easily define your current worth and get an idea if you’re charging the right hourly rate by using online job boards.

Glassdoor offers a fantastic overview of current salaries for web developers.

programmer career

Besides, you can use the platform’s personalized salary calculator to know your worth. HackaJob also has a nice salary calculator for developers. Feel free to check it out as well.

Work Landscapes Are Changing, and so Should You

As someone who works in the web development industry, you know pretty well that the field is developing quickly. It’s hard to stay updated on the latest trends and developments.

However, this is something that you have to do to be able to grow your career in a smart way. Hopefully, the questions that I’ve discussed here will inspire you to explore ways to improve as a programmer and maximize the chances of being relevant and in-demand in the future.

Try following at least some of the above tips, and you’ll see that there’s a lot of new and exciting stuff for you to learn. Chances are you’ll find exploring your career options and learning new things very enjoyable, and the best part is that you’ll develop into a skilled programmer with a wide range of relevant skills and an awesome person to work with. Good luck!

About the author

Sylvia Giltner

Sylvia Giltner is an HR manager at Resumes Centre and freelance writer. She helps people to write the perfect resume and land a desirable job. She is also an active guest contributor. Sylvia’s writing has been featured on Forbes, Fast Company, Next Avenue, Money and more. Feel free to connect with Sylvia on LinkedIn.