The 5 Non-Technical Skills Any Great Developer Needs in Order to Advance

It takes more than just technical skills to move up the ranks as a software developer.

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By Jeremy Johnson

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With less than 1 percent unemployment in many technical fields and a skills gap that's widening, finding a job as a software developer may not seem like the most challenging professional hurdle. But it's also true that it still takes more than just technical skills to advance through the ranks and earn the right to lead teams, projects, and, ultimately, companies.

Unfortunately, just as there is a gap in our educational system fueling the extreme shortage of technical talent, there is also a gap in the tech world when it comes to learning the soft skills that translate into not just a "good job," but a great career in technology.

Here are five non-technical skills that employers use to differentiate good developers from great ones.

1. Intellectual curiosity

To move up the ranks, developers need to start asking questions and attack problems from new angles. Moving along with the daily grind is not enough.

Those who get ahead look at nagging problems and elegant solutions and ask themselves questions like "why does this happen?" or "why does this work?" They look at issues from multiple perspectives to find new solutions.

Intellectual curiosity drives projects and companies forward, and catapults careers. To stimulate that curiosity, read up on topics of interest. Look at the latest research. Ask questions.

Related: Want to Be a Web Developer? Here's Where the Best Opportunities Are. (Infographic)

2. Openness to new experiences

Developers who say "yes" to new things stay relevant and engaged and avoid falling into a workplace rut.

Willingness to take risks, try out new techniques, and experiment with new methods can lead to improvements and innovations. The tech industry moves fast, and those who are willing to push boundaries and jump on board with new processes and systems will be the most successful.

Taking on new roles and responsibilities can also help propel a developer's career forward.

3. Empathy for one's future self

Part of being a disciplined software developer involves being kind to other members of the team and one's future self by generating high-quality work.

Despite pressure from managers, successful developers take the time to create high-quality work. They understand that they, or someone else, will need to clean up their mess if they do a poor job. Spending extra time to complete projects right will save time and frustration in the long-run by avoiding unnecessary mistakes and corrections.

Producing consistent, quality work not only saves the developer from unwanted headaches down the road, but also establishes their reputation as attentive, thorough, and precise.

Related: Don't Build Your App for 100 Million Users

4. Disciplined habit-building

Coding is a lot like sports. Building muscle memory is essential to operate at maximum efficiency. Developers build mental-muscle memory just like athletes -- through disciplined practice.

Start building muscle memory by setting aside 20 minutes each day to code. After a month of consistent practice, coding should become easier and faster and practicing will seem less like a chore.

Over time, gradually increase the time spent in practice. Building coding habits will boost muscle memory and increase productivity.

5. Efficiency

Developers shouldn't be couch potatoes, but they do need a healthy aversion to repetitive work that can be automated.

As Larry Wall, creator of Perl programming language, writes in Programming Perl, efficiency -- or what he calls "laziness" -- is the quality that "makes you go to great effort to reduce overall energy expenditure. It makes you write labor-saving programs that other people will find useful and document what you wrote so you don't have to answer so many questions about it."

Refusing to do repetitive work will foster constant motivation to look for new ways to automate, optimize, and improve processes. Developers who focus on ways to save time and money will move to the next level.

What do you think? Which soft skills are the most important? Tell us in the comments below.

Related: 22 Quotes to Inspire Your Marketing Efforts

Jeremy Johnson

Founder and CEO, Andela; Co-Founder, 2U

Jeremy Johnson is the founder and CEO of Andela, a global talent accelerator that produces developers and connects them with top employers. He is also the co-founder and former chief strategy officer of 2U, which partners with leading colleges and universities to deliver online degree programs so students everywhere can reach their full potential.

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