Software development is one of those areas that seems a mystery to those outside it. Coding, by definition, is another language, and by nature it excludes those who don’t understand it. So you end up with confusion as to what skills are actually needed to work in such a field. But many of the talents of a software developer are transferable into other STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields, since problem solving is the discipline’s primary purpose. As such, the most important abilities might surprise you:
1. Collaboration. Stereotypical images of lone software developers in dull offices devoid of conversation belong in the dark ages. Software engineering is a hugely collaborative effort, involving user experience designers, developers, testers, project managers, and, crucially, clients. Every piece of software is built for someone, so clients, whether internal or external to an organization, are heavily involved, ensuring the finished piece of work is a commercial success. But to achieve this, it must also be built for end users, to make their tasks easier and more enjoyable.
The concept of the “egoless programmer,” where personal factors are minimized so quality may be improved is compelling, especially since project work invariably means close-knit teamwork. This means blending the right team with the right skills. So at an individual level, collaboration skills become key, along with the self-identification of strengths and constructive feedback on the weaknesses of others for the big-picture improvement of the team overall.
2. SOLID design skills. Software developers may not be designers in the creative sense, but good technical design is at the heart of every successful software development project, so an understanding of good design principles, such as SOLID, is crucial to every developer.
SOLID is an acronym that alludes to five object-oriented design (OOD) principles, namely:
S – Single-responsibility principle (A class should have one and only one reason to change, meaning it should have only one job.)
O – Open-closed principle (Objects or entities should be open for extension but closed for modification. This simply means that a class should be easily extendable without modifying the class itself.)
L – Liskov substitution principle (Let q(x) be a property provable about objects of x of type T. Then q(y) should be provable for objects y of type S where S is a subtype of T. All this is stating is that every subclass/derived class should be substitutable for their base/parent class.)
I – Interface segregation principle (A client should never be forced to implement an interface that it doesn’t use, or clients shouldn’t be forced to depend on methods they don’t use.)
D – Dependency inversion principle (Entities must depend on abstractions not on concretions. It states that the high level module must not depend on the low level module, but they should depend on abstractions.)
Every problem is unique, but they’re all solved using similar techniques that quickly establish themselves as patterns; knowledge of these patterns allows the developer to produce well-structured and high quality code that can be maintained and extended over its life, thus giving a high return on investment for the team and the wider organisation.
3. Attention to detail. The old adage that the “devil is in the details” holds true for software, and it’s likely that inherent complexities in the code will be hidden at first view and gradually emerge as progress is made through the project. Finding these bugs, and fixing them as you go, to ensure a polished final project, requires a high level of attention to detail, not only to understand the implications of thorny issues, but also to recognize the emerging and changing nature of a solution over time.
4. Persistence/tenacity. Just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, developing complex software of high quality isn’t quick; it takes time and patience to craft code that will last. This requires a high degree of tenacity, especially in the face of inevitable issues arising, at both technical and team level. Software engineering is primarily a research and development activity with an uncertain outcome, so developers must persist in the face of uncertainty and manage other’s expectations as to what and when they will be able to deliver.
5. The ability and desire to keep learning. Technology is a fickle world. Emerging technologies are very quickly established as the norm, but also soon superseded. This is true of languages, platforms, and tooling. Technology is constantly evolving, as are software development techniques, so a culture of continuous learning must be embraced. Developers must keep pace and ideally lead some of the thinking around adoption, use, and, when necessary, rejection of different technologies. In the face of pressure to deliver from clients, this isn’t always easy, so developers must be resourceful, efficient, and ultimately passionate about their subject in order to perform to the best of their abilities throughout their career.
About the author
Scott Logic is a U.K.-based software consultancy founded by Gary Scott in 2005. Find out more about careers in software development at the firm here.
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