By September 8, 2022

14 MUST-HAVE Soft Skills for Software Developers (LEVEL UP!)

Technical Skills only get you so far as a programmer.

Out of all the things and technologies I’ve learned in my software engineering career, the single thing that made me the most money, bar none, was soft skills.

They’re hard to measure – but you know ‘em when you see ‘em.

  • Being good with people. 
  • Being a powerful public speaker. 
  • Being able to hang in there when things get tough, physically and emotionally.

In short, all those things most people don’t focus on!

Great soft skills set you apart as a software developer. They open doors for you. And thus, they multiply your income potential.

They’re the most valuable thing in programming I could teach you.

Let’s dive in.

1. Goal Setting – Achieve Your Dreams As A Developer

Developer-Goal-Setting

Setting goals as a developer seems pretty obvious – right?

Yet so few programmers ever define goals for their career. 

Why?

My guess is for one of two reasons:

  1. Many software developers are afraid to commit to a long-term vision. They want to keep their options open. What if I commit to the wrong path? What if I don’t like where it takes me? Scary questions indeed.
  2. They haven’t given it much thought at all – and just follow the path that’s laid out for them. It’s more difficult to create your own path. So we just don’t do it.

But every step you take without a clear direction is a wasted step. Don’t randomly walk through life without a purpose for your career!

Take these two main actions to improve the soft skill of goal setting:

  • First, set a big, exciting far-off goal for yourself. Where do you want your career to be in 5-10 years?
  • Secondly, make small goals that take you in the direction of that bigger goal, step by step.

2. Communication & Speaking Skills – Level Up Your Career

If you think your main job as a software developer is to write code?

You better think again.

Your job as a programmer – just as in about every industry – is to deal with people.

And how do you master your relationship with people? By mastering communication.

Start practicing your communication skills at work each day:

  • Connect with a coworker. Maybe someone you haven’t talked to much in the past.
  • Explain one concept or project to someone. Try to be engaging, educational and easy to understand in your explanation.
  • Pitch a new idea to your boss. Make it sound as enticing to him as possible. 

Talk to more people (besides your computer)

I dislike the introvert vs extrovert label.

Don’t say ‘I’m shy, because I’m introverted’. The two are not connected. Stop that shit. It’s an excuse. 

Just do it. Feel the fear and do it anyway.

If you get into the habit, you’re going to become a better communicator. You'll make a ton of connections.. and you’re going to see the effects of that.

Become a Persuasive Public Speaker

Public Speaking for Programmers

Public speaking can give you authority, bring in support for your projects, and open all kinds of doors for you as a developer.

In most companies there’s chances for you as an employee to give talks or presentations to the team.

Take those opportunities! Also practice your public speaking outside of work: You can do this at code camps and local user groups. Get this soft skill dialed in and transform your programming career.

3. Attractiveness & Charisma – Switch Your Life to Easy Mode

Engage Others & Spread a Positive Attitude

If you’re:

  • able to put a smile on your coworker’s face
  • motivate them to keep going when it’s challenging
  • make them feel good about themselves

they’ll love you for it. 

As a result, people will like being around you. They’ll speak highly of you to others. And whenever they hear of a new opportunity, they’ll think of you first.

Dress Well

Well-Dressed Programmer

It’s a simple fact of nature: Dress well and everyone will treat you better. 

So take that chance and become the rare well-dressed software developer out there! A clean, cool, matching wardrobe can take you far. 

Like it or not, people like to judge by appearances. Don’t be shy – use it to your advantage!

4. Social Dynamics Awareness & People Skills – Gain Support & Avoid Pitfalls

Even if writing code is the part of your job you enjoy the most:

If you want to be a good software developer, you have to learn to deal effectively with people's psychology.

Here’s 3 secrets to become popular at work by mastering social dynamics:

1. Everyone wants to feel important

When dealing with another human being at work, start by putting yourself in their shoes. Be empathetic and try to see where they’re coming from.

People want to feel seen, heard, and appreciated. 

But they rarely ever do.

If you’re the one taking the time to do that for your coworkers – guess who they’re going to like and trust more than everybody else?

Isn’t this being manipulative

No, it’s called having empathy and actually seeing and appreciating the human you’re talking to.  

2. Never criticize & avoid arguments

Social Skills for Programmers.

Let’s be real: As a software developer or engineer, you’re often the smartest person in the room.

This doesn’t mean you should tell everyone what they could do better. Even if it’s true.

At all costs, avoid being the know-all guy. Just get your validation from doing great work! It’s a law of human nature that most are not ready for honest feedback.

If you really need to offer constructive criticism, think about how you can do it so it doesn’t lead them to resent you for it. If you can, make it sound like their own idea.

Also: When dealing with people, praise works ten times better than criticism.

The same goes for getting into arguments of any kind. In 99% of cases it doesn’t help – only makes things worse. Take the high road by avoiding those pointless arguments.

Instead, spend the time creating something valuable.

3. Think about what the other person wants

What does your boss want?

What are your coworker’s goals?

In every interaction, relate what you’re saying to how it will benefit them.

If they see how you can improve their bottom line or status, they’ll like you more and actually listen to what you have to say.

5. Negotiation Skills of a Pro – Get What You Deserve

Master the developer's soft skill of negotiation, and you’ll make a lot more hard cash in your lifetime.

Know your value

As software engineers and developers we create so much value for any company we’re working with.

If you know your work is quality: Don’t be shy to aim for top-notch pay. They’re making a large multiple of your salary with what you’re providing them.

Face the fear of rejection

If you ask for more, you have to be prepared to sometimes hear ‘no’. As humans, we feel the pain of rejection just like we do physical pain. So most people try to avoid it.

But if you stare fear in the face, and do it anyway – you get access to big potential benefits others miss out on.

Learn effective negotiation tactics

Software-Developer-Salary-Negotiation-Skills

The person with the greatest need always has the disadvantage.

So if you have several options for getting a new job or client, you can negotiate from a stronger position than if you sent in your resume with everyone else and you’re now dependent on them saying yes.

Be smart

In price negotiations, the first to name a price loses.

If you’re negotiating your salary as a programmer, for example: Get them no name the range they have in mind for this position. Now you’re at an advantage – you can price yourself accordingly.

Reputation is powerful

Also consider this: The better job you do of marketing yourself and building a reputation, the easier it will be for you to negotiate.

I’ve worked with software developers who were able to double their salaries based on nothing but building up a bit of a personal brand and online reputation.

Finally, consider reading a book or two on how to negotiate better.

6. Emotional Mastery – Keep Yourself Calm & Controlled, Always

Emotional-Mastery-Programmer

As a programmer you’re constantly battling against deadlines, confused coworkers and demanding bosses. You’re expected to do your best work while stressed to the max.

This is where emotional mastery for programmers comes in. This soft skill is a superpower.

If you can learn to stay calm in this storm of new tasks, revisions and presentations, you’ll become indispensable to those you’re working with. Which means you’ll be able to move up the career ladder more quickly.

But above all, you’ve learned to not let anything disturb your cool.

That’s priceless.

7. Responsibility – Propel Your Career

Always strive to take on higher responsibility in your work. With great responsibility comes great power. Don’t cower from responsibility. Instead seek out more of it. 

  • Volunteer for that next project. 
  • Lead that team. 
  • Give that presentation. 
  • Make that call. 

You’ll grow as a developer, as a leader, and as a person. All while opening up ample career and money-making opportunities for yourself.

8. Creativity – Unleash It & Create Opportunities

Use your creativity to write better code and have a better career.

Programming is both an art and a science. Coming up with creative solutions means you’re better at your craft. 

And when it comes to projects, strategies, and problems – if you’ve developed the soft skill of creativity, you’ll be able to find new, exciting and workable solutions for all of these.

Imagine how much more valuable this makes you in the eyes of your employer or client.

9. Productivity & Time Management – Become Stresslessly Successful

Programmer Productivity

Coding is a fun, but hard job. Your colleagues need help, bosses or clients are in your ear, deadlines loom. Pushing a programming project to completion isn’t easy.

That’s where excellent programmer productivity soft skills will save your day.

Take smart notes

Whether it be notes on your next project, code snippets you’ll need later, meetings, or ideas. Be sure to write it all down in an organized way

Know your most productive hours

Structure your day so that you’ll work when you’re at your sharpest & most energetic. For some people this is in the morning, for others in the afternoon. 

Caveat: This might only work for you if you’re a freelance developer or a remote worker who isn’t bound by a company schedule.

Schedule your week

Know exactly what you need to do at each moment. You’ll save so much brainpower because you don’t have to scramble for the next task all the time. Take some time before each new week to do all the thinking and strategizing. Then during the week you’ll only need to execute.

Live and die by the (Pomodoro) clock

Set yourself a (short) amount of time for your next task. Let yourself have a break right after. Repeat the sequence multiple times. The Pomodoro method lets you get a lot of coding done quickly without burning yourself out.

Dial in your fitness & nutrition

Getting more done as a programmer starts with improving your fitness and following a good diet. 

You’ll think more clearly, you’ll be able to concentrate for longer, and you won’t be as tired at the end of it.

10. Humble Confidence – Couple Your Self-Belief with Openness to Learn

Programmer Confidence

Sometimes it’s okay to be soft –

When allowing yourself to learn from feedback. 

Are you convinced your way is working? Then it’s good to have faith and confidence in that.

But never let that confidence become delusional. 

Even smart people can be wrong sometimes. Or they could at least do better. 

Is a credible source (a coworker you respect, a boss who’s successfully been in the game for decades) giving you feedback? It’ll do you good to at least consider it. 

If you’re able to learn from others without having it impact your self-esteem – that’s a great trait to have.

11. Teamwork – Win Together With Everyone Else

The soft skill of being not a ‘lone coder', but a team player means that you actively contribute to completing tasks, managing projects, or meeting goals. 

Teamwork lessens the time it takes to develop a project, and it also helps in generating more ideas, as more brains are immersed in the same work.

12. Writing – Become Clear in Word & Thought

Start writing (more than just code).

Start a programming blog.

It’s one of the best ways to improve your communication skills.

Writing forces you to organize your ideas. 

  • You’ll become a better communicator in general. 
  • You’ll be able to organize your thoughts better.
  • You’ll be able to talk to people more effectively.

13. Marketing Skills – Sell (Yourself) Without Shame

Marketing Yourself as a Developer

Marketing & Sales are not bad.

Learn how to sell, and how to market (yourself especially) as a developer.

You can’t look at this as a dirty thing. Don’t wait for people to find your value. It doesn’t work that way.

The person who is bold and takes action and is confident, wins. They win because they’re heard.

The world will give you what you want. But only if you ask for it – and you act accordingly. That means that if you want something, you’ve got to stand up.

It’s not about being arrogant, or being an asshole. It’s about recognizing your value. And be clear about your value!

When you’re in an interview, and they ask you: How are your C skills? If you’re confident, you don’t say, uhmm, I’m okay, pretty good I think, … you say, I don’t want to toot my own horn, but I’m pretty damn good!

14. Learning – Never Stop Leveling Up Your Life

And the last soft skill you need to succeed as a programmer (but far from the least important – in fact it’s a crucial one): 

To be willing and able to Always Keep Learning.

There’s a bunch of mistakes you can make when you want to get better to improve your career. If you want to avoid those pitfalls – and learn about the superior tactics you can use to get good as fast as possible – I invite you to check out my free email course:

About the author

John Sonmez

John Sonmez is the founder of Simple Programmer and a life coach for software developers. He is the best selling author of the book "Soft Skills: The Software Developer's Life Manual."