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Essential Soft Skills Every Developer Needs To Master

Blue Mantis

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We sat down with Blue Mantis php developer, Matt Hall, to discuss what essential skills every developer needs (alongside their technical knowledge) in order to be a success in the industry.

Matt! Thanks for chatting. So you recently attended a Leeds Digital Festival talk where the topic of soft-skills was discussed, what were the main takeaways you got from the event in terms of the most useful dev 'soft skills' to have?

The talk was around how we have a large focus on hard skills in both education and in the workplace, but no focus on the highly valuable soft skills. Whilst having knowledge is important to get your foot into an industry, the large, successful companies look for soft skills the most - and research seems to back this up. Harvard University, the Carnegie Foundation and Stanford Research Center all concluded that 85% of job success comes from having well developed soft and people skills, with only 15% of job success coming from technical skills and knowledge (the ‘hard’ skills).

The talk mainly explored seven key soft skill areas:

  • The ability to coach

  • The ability to empower

  • Having an interest in others

  • Having an insight into others

  • Having empathy

  • The power of critical thinking

What other soft skills would you add to the must-have list, based on your own experience?

The main skill I would say is important (particularly for a job in the tech sector) is not necessarily the knowledge to do something, but the ability to find out how to do something. This is probably on the edge between hard skills and soft skills however.

Softer skills that are must haves to me would be to be dependable, curious, and to treat each person in a team the same.

So, how can developers grow their soft-skills in these areas?

The suggested way in the talk was to rate yourself honestly in the different people skills and self-management skills, to gain an insight into what you might need to improve. Have a critical review of your ability to actively listen to others, articulate ideas, motivate teammates, solicit feedback, deal with diverse perspectives, deal with difficult personalities & situations, and negotiate.

It’s also worth using the ABCD Trust model, where you can rate yourself in the different categories: Able, Connected, Believable, and Dependable. A lot of developers will build trust with their ability to do the task at hand, but building on the other categories could help their career development significantly.

What are the benefits of building these soft-skills now, for both developers and digital agencies?

The talk explained how a company that focuses on trust will see an increase of productivity in its members. Higher productivity means getting the work done more timely - which of course is great for profitability. If we look to the ABCD model again, a company that is not connected (doesn’t listen or communicate), is not believable (doesn’t act with integrity), or is not dependable (isn’t consistent and responsive) will cause distrust and discontent.

How can digital agencies or employers support developers on their soft-skill growth?

A company should seek to analyse their soft-skills and feedback the same with their employees.

They should analyse team competencies such as their ability to set measurable goals, make assignments clear, establish accountability across the team and run meetings effectively.

Agencies should also look at how open and honest communication is within the company, and ensure innovation is encouraged (even provide them with creative down time to drive this) and at the very least, engage in team building activities - ones which everyone will enjoy!


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