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Strong 'soft skills' more critical than ever for software developers

With so many so-called emerging technologies and disruptive technologies grabbing the headlines, it is becoming increasingly hard for software developers to keep up.

But the challenge goes beyond staying current with individual technologies. Developers also need strong people and communication skills - the soft skills. Information Management spoke with Jan Haderka, chief technology officer of Magnolia CMS, about his efforts to recruit software pros with strong soft skills and where the greatest challenges lie.

Information Management: Which so-called soft skills are most wanted in developers that they often seem to be lacking?

Jan Haderka: With teams and developers distributed around the world, communication skills and emotional resilience have become all the more important. While video calls have become a temporary solution, a majority of communication is still happening over online chat or emails.

The problem is that these forms of communication are well known for the possibility of miscommunication. This means misunderstanding messages and taking the wrong sentiment from what is written, which unnecessarily escalates situations and creates conflict. That’s why being a team player, emphatic and in general, skilled in communication, negotiation and conflict resolution are all critical for software developers.

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An attendee working on a laptop computer participates in the Yahoo! Inc. Mobile Developer Conference Hackathon in New York, U.S., on Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2015. The Hackathon is an opportunity for mobile developers to come together and hack around the Yahoo! Inc. Mobile Developer Suite. Photographer: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg

At the same time, these soft skills are often underestimated and undervalued by developers themselves who tend to think that what’s written in code is the only truth and everything around it is rather black and white.

IM: What are the on-the-job implications of these skills gaps for developers?

Haderka: Software delivery methods have changed over past years, moving towards more rapid and near-instant deployments. That increases not only demands on the communication skills mentioned above, but also on the ability of developers to consider multiple solutions and show flexibility when it comes to delivery.

Ideal solutions envisioned by devs are often in conflict with the demand for quick solution deliveries envisioned by customers. Devs have the capability to take products hostage to enforce their vision. So that has to be managed and avoided, while not compromising safety and maintainability of the code base.

IM: What is the role of employers in helping to develop some of these skillsets among developer staff?

Haderka: Employers need to understand that today's developer job is not only about hacking code, but also about learning. Learning on the job is more important than ever given that the technology used by devs is changing quickly.

Developers must show a willingness to continue to learn, but employers must provide the framework and funding for enabling and rewarding the continuous learning. This is both in terms of collaboration with learning institutions and also in making time available for developers to learn. This should be done by providing access to courses as well as encouraging innovation and testing of new technologies and approaches on the job.

Employers must ensure they accommodate for the time testing takes — including the inevitable failures such trials that come with it.

IM: With all of the changing and emerging technologies right now, which soft skills will be the biggest career boosts in 2019?

Haderka: There are three categories I’d like to highlight when it comes to career-boosting soft skills:
● Empathy and acting as a team player
● Negotiation and listening skills
● General overview, orientation in emerging technologies with willingness and capabilities to learn new tech (and abandon that which is becoming obsolete quickly)

As for an outlook for 2020 and beyond, the ability to reason with various artificial intelligence technologies will become an important skill for devs to hone.

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