The demand for talented software engineers is relentless. According to an analysis by Michael Page, a specialist recruitment company, the top 5 most in-demand professions in the world are software engineers and web app developers, followed by electronics engineers, mechanical engineers, nurses, and doctors.
“Software engineering remains one of the most prosperous careers out there, with an average salary in the United States of $91,000,”
“Plus, you have the skills to start your own technology business—come up with a great idea for a software or app, build it, and you’re on your way.”
— Paul Petrone, Senior Editor, LinkedIn Learning.
Understandably, there are many aspiring software engineers, who are attracted by strong employment numbers, high salaries, and the opportunity to create—or at least work on—the next Facebook, Google, or Uber. But with more people than ever flocking to this field, coding is no longer the only one skill employers expect from new hires.
In this article, we’ll explain what other software engineer skills are important for companies today.
Adapt or perish
Today, the best software engineers bring a diverse mix of technical skills and personal qualities that allows them to work in agile environments where changes are frequent and team members are often not physically co-located.
What’s more, half of all software engineer openings are in industries outside of technology, according to a new report from Burning Glass, a job market analytics firm. The industries where the demand for software engineer skills is the highest include finance, manufacturing, and healthcare.
Only those who manage to adapt their software engineer skills to the needs of the current job market can expect to have successful careers ahead of them. The rest will be replaced by contract workers overseas, who are typically less expensive and more willing to go the extra mile to ensure a project ends in success.
If you want recruiters to be all over your LinkedIn profile like flies on honey, you need to acquire the top 5 most crucial software engineer skills today.
Top 5 software engineer skills to learn in 2019
1. Ability to learn
“The key to thriving in this field will continue to be a commitment to learning,” says Petrone, who works with industry experts in business, creative, and software engineer skills to create video courses for LinkedIn Learning, an American massive open online course website.
Every entry-level software engineer must climb a huge mountain of knowledge to catch up with experienced software engineers and work on more interesting projects. This already daunting task is made even more difficult by the fact that software engineering is constantly evolving at a rapid pace, along with all the tools and technologies used to design, develop, maintain, test, and evaluate computer software.
By the time an entry-level software engineer becomes familiar with one toolset, there will already be new, shinier tools and technologies available. To cope with this constant change, software engineers must be committed to lifelong learning and develop certain learning strategies to support it.
Perhaps the most important thing a software developer can do to stay ahead of the curve is ask questions. This may sound simple, but software engineers are sometimes terrified of being ridiculed or looked down upon, and they’re willing to go to extraordinary lengths to avoid asking a simple question to better understand a certain problem or concept.
By doing so, they inevitably set themselves back professionally and increase the likelihood of making an easily avoidable mistake and hurting the entire team. The best mentors never punish their students for asking questions. The sooner entry-level software engineers understand this, the sooner they will earn their software engineer black belt.
2. Computer programming
Computer programming is —and always will be— the most fundamental out of all software engineer skills. While the theoretical foundation of writing instructions that get executed by computers is fairly static and not influenced by trends, the same cannot be said about programming languages themselves.
Today, software engineers are expected to know a number of different programming technologies to work on everything from web to desktop and mobile applications to embedded devices.
A plumbing engineer wouldn’t design an elaborate plumbing system comprising of dozens and perhaps even hundreds of pipes, fittings, and appliances without carefully documenting each and every part of the system because it would be next to impossible to modify such a system in the future and keep it well maintained.
Considering that maintenance consumes over 70% of the total life-cycle cost of a software project, it should be obvious why the ability to write good documentation is one of the most important software engineer skills.
Hal Abelson, Jerry Sussman, and Julie Sussman, the authors of Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs, believe that programs must be written for people to read and only incidentally for machines to execute. Without formal in-code documentation, most software projects eventually become impossible to maintain, extend, and modify.
Good documentation explains exactly what a piece of code does, how it does it, and how it can be used. Software engineers should write comments as if they were writing them for future teammates—not themselves in the moment. A piece of code that seems to be perfectly self-documenting to the software engineer who wrote it will almost always seem puzzling a few days later, especially to someone new.
“Oftentimes the people making up a software development team have a very different background with a wide range of knowledge and experience. Therefore, it’s important to write down the non-obvious things and sometimes even the obvious ones. Doing it in a way that is easy to understand requires practice like any other skill you want to master,” explains Jens Eickmeyer, a Cloud Architect and Full-Stack Developer.
In this day and age, software needs to be released at a much higher rate than in the past, and the traditional waterfall model consisting of several clearly defined phases which are completed in a linear fashion feels obsolete. DevOps has stepped in its place, introducing a close collaboration between teams that historically functioned in relative siloes, namely development and operations.
According to the latest research, the percentage of companies that have fully embraced DevOps increased from 10% in 2017 to 17% in 2018, while the percentage of companies that have never heard of DevOps before decreased from 6% in 2017 to 3% in 2018.
“DevOps Engineers are in high demand as industries across the spectrum, irrespective of their size, have started adopting DevOps for effective software development,” states the Edureka 2019 Tech Career Guide. “In fact, in the next five years, the global DevOps market is expected to reach $12.85 billion according to Marketwatch. With top global organizations already or in the process of adopting DevOps, skilled professionals who can work in a DevOps team and manage DevOps tools are in high demand, now more than ever.”
For a software engineer to become a DevOps engineer, extensive knowledge of software build cycles and the ability to solve operations challenges are required. DevOps engineers can expertly navigate the cloud and take advantage of services like AWS, Azure, or Google Cloud Platform, and they are familiar with DevOps-related tools, such as Git, Jenkins, Puppet, Octopus Deploy, Docker, Kubernetes, and others.
5. Play well with others
Movies and TV shows like to portray software engineers as lone wolves working late hours in dimly lit offices, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Today, software development is a collaborative effort, and software engineers are expected to communicate with others to make sure everyone is on the same page about how the software application is to be structured.
Organizations know that poor collaboration can kill any project, and they understand that teamwork and intelligence win championships, as Michael Jordan, former professional basketball player, used to say. That’s why they consider soft skills to be of equal importance to coding skills.
“Having respect for others, having the ability to listen, having the ability to accept criticism, having the ability to empathize—those are all important skills,”
“Some [teamwork] skills can be taught, but others have to be learned over time on the job,”
— David Garlan, professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University.
One of the most crucial soft skills software engineers can learn to play well with others is active listening, which is often described as the act of mindfully hearing and attempting to comprehend the meaning of words spoken by another in a conversation or speech. Active listening is an especially important skill for software engineers working in diverse teams with varying backgrounds, experiences, and knowing where it’s not possible to rely on various social and cultural assumptions when communicating with others.
With agile as the new normal in many organizations, software engineers are expected to be proficient not only at coding but also have certain soft skills, such as adaptability, communication skills, and teamwork skills. These new requirements reflect the fact that software engineering has become far more collaborative than it was in the past. Of course, technical skills will never stop being important, which is why it’s so important for software engineers to keep developing them throughout their careers.