9 Soft Skills Every Web Developer Should Master
There are seven core soft skills that most companies, regardless of industry, look for, and as a web development consultant you should not ignore any of them.
There are, however, two soft skills that are beneficial to all developers, not only web developers, yet are often ignored by both employer and employee - critical thinking and ego management.
As you navigate your chosen career path, it is easy to become focused on your hard skills, at the expense of your soft skills. While your hard skills show whether you are qualified for a job, your soft skills show whether you are suited for a job and workplace. And it is often your soft skills that get you hired in the first place. All companies have their own culture and energy, and to retain it they have to ensure that all new hires are a good fit.
Many hard skills are learned and improved quite quickly, but soft skills are more closely linked to personality, and changing them is difficult.
Some industries and job categories previously offered a form of shelter to people lacking certain key soft skills, but this is becoming increasingly scarce. Even freelance workers and remote employees are now seen as part of a team, with all the responsibility that comes with teamwork.
There are seven core soft skills that most companies, regardless of industry, look for, and as a web developer you should not ignore any of them. There are, however, two soft skills that are beneficial to all developers, not only web developers, yet are often ignored by both employer and employee - critical thinking and ego management.
Modern technology has resulted in us having access to a range of communication options. These include:
- In person
- Telephone or cellphone
- Online chat
- Social networks
- A variety of instant messaging apps.
Unfortunately, none of these automatically improve the communication skills we already have. If anything, one could argue that some of them worsen our ability to communicate. As a web developer, even one who works remotely, you need to be able to communicate confidently and effectively with:
- Your superiors
- Your colleagues
- Other developers
Communicating with clients can prove to be particularly tough, since you may find yourself having to explain highly technical concepts to non-technical people. And while your colleagues and peers have no trouble understanding industry jargon, don’t assume your clients will too.
Good communicators know when to be brief, and when to go into detail. They understand the difference between formal and casual language, and when to use each. And perhaps most importantly of all, they know how to accept and learn from constructive criticism of their communication style.
Listening is closely linked to communication, but the importance of it as an essential soft skill for web development consultants warrants it being discussed separately.
This soft skill is all about being both a good listener, and being able to understand and interpret what you have just heard. We are surrounded by many distractions - when last did you speak on the phone without doing something else at the same time? - so it is important to remember that there are times when we need to just listen.
Turn you back to your monitor, put away your tablet, and silence your cellphone; focus only on what is being said.
If you don’t understand something, speak up; ask the speaker to clarify, or ask questions that lead the speaker to clarify or elaborate. For particularly complex discussions that involve several instructions, it helps to sometimes repeat these instructions in your own words. Doing this shows the speaker that you have not only listened, but that you understand what is expected.
As a web developer you should be quite used to change; one needn’t look much further than how the Internet has changed in the last eight years to understand this. This helps explain why adaptability is such an important skill among web developers, and Rouan Wilsenach recently wrote a piece that explored this in the context of both employee and employer.
Change within the workplace can mean:
- Having to learn new skills
- Having to take on extra responsibilities
- Having a project you are working on cancelled
- A change in your working hours
- Relocating to a new office, or city
- Merging with, or being acquired by, another company
with any combination of these occurring in the modern workplace more frequently than ever before. If you’re a Millennial (part of the generation born between 1980 and 2000), you are probably more open to change than any other generation, but do you react to all change positively?
It is unreasonable to expect all change to be embraced by everyone, but nobody wants to work with someone who outright rejects any change. Respond to any changes in your workplace by looking for the benefits and opportunities in the change. Use these to keep yourself and your colleagues motivated and positive, even during the most trying of changes.
At some point in your career as a web developer you are definitely going to be part of a team, even if you work remotely. And nobody wants to be stuck with a team member who does not play well with others.
Teamwork is as much about social skills as it is about support. While you aren’t expected to know the lifestory of each of your colleagues, it helps to know a little bit about each person you work with. Knowing what your colleagues do, and what their strengths and weaknesses are, can benefit you when:
You serve as team leader on a new project, and are able to assign tasks to the rest of the team more efficiently, and You are having difficulty tracking or eliminating a bug in your code, and know exactly who you can turn to for help.
If you’ve never worked with a Debbie Downer or a Negative Ned, you need to consider the possibility that it is you who has filled this role. The fact that your colleagues go out of their way to avoid you, and seldom, if ever, invite you to social functions would strongly suggest that you are not nice to be around.
Earlier we discussed teamwork as an essential soft skill, and if nobody likes spending time with you, you’re definitely not good at teamwork either. Improve this skill by:
- Making a point of greeting your colleagues.
- Complaining less.
- Offering suggestions, instead of only criticizing.
- Being less cynical, and more aware of opportunities.
Having a positive attitude will not only make it easier for you to face challenges and obstacles, it will result in your colleagues being more willing to offer their help. Poet and author, Dr. Maya Angelou once wrote
I have learned people will forget what you said. People will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you make them feel.
and this is true both in life, and in the workplace.
Are you a highly principled person? Are you an honest and sincere person, with strong morals? Having a good work ethic is not only about initiative, it is also about your integrity as an individual, and an employee.
You don’t need to be involved in corporate espionage or insider trading to have your integrity questioned; regularly expressing negative sentiments about your employer or colleagues alone highlights a lack of integrity. Compound this with an absence of initiative, and you will certainly never be voted “Employee of the Month”.
Judgement can be considered an umbrella term, encompassing several connected skills - from common sense to decision making ability. Some decisions are made collaboratively, with the rest of the team or with your superior, while others are made independently. Judgement comes into play when you are faced with a situation where there isn’t time to consult with anybody else - are you confidently able to make a decision on your own? Is your decision supported by sound reasoning?
Judgement is also demonstrated when communicating with clients and colleagues - knowing what company, and personal, information can be discussed, and what to treat as confidential. Having good judgement, relating to common sense, is not an impossible skill to get, but it certainly isn’t easy. This is well illustrated by the high number of people who have expressed regret, or even lost their job, over something they posted to Facebook or Twitter. Expressed simply, judgement is all about thinking before acting.
Critical thinking has many definitions, mostly academic, and though on some levels it is about problem solving, offering this as a less academic definition is an oversimplification.
Critical thinking does not involve jumping from
Problem: I’m regularly late for work to Solution: Leave for work earlier than I currently do
but instead involves evaluating and analyzing more information before reaching a conclusion. In the above scenario this would involve looking at all the possible reasons for you being late for work, and then evaluating possible solutions for each reason. Each solution may result in new problems, so they would all need to be analyzed and assessed to see which would be the most likely to result in a positive outcome.
As a web developer you will sometimes be faced with several possible implementation methods to achieve the same outcome. Critical thinking will allow you to quickly analyze and test each method mentally, before deciding on the most efficient one.
The strength of your ego impacts on many of your soft skills, both positively and negatively. But as a web developer, it is how well you manage your ego that becomes a soft skill of its own. Regardless of how brilliantly you code, you are not a god, nor a rockstar; at best you are a D-list celebrity.
How well you manage your ego is demonstrated by:
- Your willingness, and ability, to learn from other people. There will always be someone you can learn from, and some skill you can improve. Accept any offered guidance, and actively seek out advice from your peers.
- Your willingness to teach other people. This is not about assuming that everyone can learn from you, but about being able to identify someone who is struggling with something, and helping them in a way that is neither condescending nor instructive.
- Your ability to offer constructive criticism, instead of only criticising. It is the difference between saying, “You write terrible code” and, “Your code would be better if you did X, Y and Z.” The aim of constructive criticism is to help someone, not to draw attention to how great you are.
Your ability to both offer and listen to constructive criticism is also an indication of your willingness to learn and teach. Managing your ego means you end up working with the rest of the team, instead of isolating yourself, or trying to control the team.
It is difficult, but not impossible, to demonstrate and improve your soft skills, and it helps if you see each soft skill as a collection of behaviors (which are themselves, habits). Changing any of the behaviors, or habits, will result in either an improvement or a deterioration of the related skill, and this is what you should focus on as much as you focus on improving certain of your hard skills.