Before becoming a software developer, I use to work in a different industry.
Although making the change felt daunting, I was glad to discover that all my previously earned soft skills still had an important place in my new career and have even given me an advantage I did not expect.
Make a cup of your favourite warm beverage and let me explain why.
1. Soft skills are important
After months and months (or even years!) of doubt and hesitation, you may be thinking of taking a similar plunge and moving towards a role in tech.
You may very well have thought of making the career change in order to follow your life-long passion or you may be in search for better career growth and opportunities.
Many people consider trying a new career path when they’re no longer excited about going to work or are too tired of where they’re at now professionally.
It Could Very Well Be the Kind of Decision Your Future Self Will Thank You For Taking
However, changing your field of work can be one of the most daunting things you do in your life. It certainly was for me leaving a comfortable managerial role.
The knowledge required to become a software developer is after all pretty complex and could be considered one of the more difficult fields of work out there (or at least more so than the average profession).
It’s the kind of job that demands you to learn new things all the time, due to the dynamic nature of the technology industry. Sometimes familiar doubts arise, and you find yourself asking, “am I worthy of doing anything other than the job I currently hold?” or “Is it too late to start over”?
Let me draw on my own experience of making the transition to tech and help put those doubts to rest.
Firstly, before embarking on your quest, get used to the idea that your past experience in another industry is actually your biggest strength right now. Repeat that notion, say it out loud if it helps.
Leave any concerns about starting from scratch at the door.
Everything you’ve done up to this point still matters and can give you a unique edge in comparison to candidates with experience only in the software industry.
So much so that often people with less experience in software development but broad experience in another, not-so-relevant industry, tend to be favored over individuals with a lot of experience solely in the software development market.
That sound's suprising, right? But not as much as you would think.
Recently, I read an article about Project Oxygen, an internal project launched by Google to study employee well-being and the impact of managers on their teams. They crunched terabytes of hiring, firing and promotion data accumulated since the company’s inception in 1998.
The findings proved sensational.
Google concluded that of the eight most desirable qualities in their most effective managers, STEM (Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) expertise came in last.
Google adjusted their hiring processes accordingly and now no longer prioritise recruiting computer science students with top grades from elite universities.
They equally consider candidates with non-tradition tech backgrounds in the humanities, artists, and MBAs graduates. Many companies have followed suite and no longer solely value developers with technical skills (aka hard skills).
One of the biggest reasons for this is that these candidates tend to excel at their jobs thanks to all the people skills and soft skills they bring from their previous experience to their newer role.
That’s because traditionally, such skills are given lower priority compared to coding abilities and other technical skills. Many software developers, whilst excellent coders, do not invest enough time and energy in cultivating these types of skills.
Even though your tasks will predominantly involve planning, researching, code writing and such, you will be constantly interacting with clients and working within team environments. Most software developer roles require you to have effective communication skills, be adept at problem solving and be able to seamlessly work within team environments to properly fulfil your responsibilities.
Possessing a range of soft skills will make your colleagues more comfortable communicating with you and help you understand what exactly it is that’s expected from you.
Moreover, the exposure you have in other industries in the business world will be a huge asset in your new role. This will allow you to think outside of the box and offer unique perspectives that the standard software developer wouldn’t even dream of. Your experience in a different field could be complementary to certain types of businesses and clients and hence, you will be highly sought after by them.
Those of you who are from marketing or many other business backgrounds are bound to have demonstrated these very abilities to do what was required from that role. These past war scars will be what sets you apart.
2. Most Sought After Soft Skills In Software Developers
Speaking of the importance of soft skills, here are some common ones that I’ve found to be particularly beneficial and highly sought after by the tech companies.
As a real-world software developer, you will often work within a team.
Behind the success of multi-million-dollar commercial software projects are not only other developers but also graphic designers, project managers, general managers, testers, and the end-users.
Your ability to be empathetic towards your colleagues can be a solid indicator of how established your team working skills are.
When your team has a project in hand, it’s important that you’re able to put on the shoes of your team members to fully understand their ideas and perspectives.
Ensuring you participate in some of your company’s social events or making some conversation around the coffee machine that isn’t work related helps you to connect and get to know them.
This may sound cliché, but diverse viewpoints contribute to the strength of a successful team. By getting to know your colleagues, you’ll know exactly who to turn to for a given situation.
"You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you."
Dale Carnegie, American writer and lecturer in the realm of self-improvement
No one is perfect and knowing how to tolerate people’s flaws and maintain your nice-guy persona is also important. It makes you more fun to work with and your colleagues will likely return the favour creating a better work environment.
“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.”
Dr. Maya Angelou, American poet, memoirist, and civil rights activist
Many times, you will be working with people that come from various cultural backgrounds and it’s important that you are able to be considerate of their needs. If your previous experience in the business world required you to demonstrate high levels of empathy – possibly because you dealt with customer inquiries, this will come in highly useful. The basis for generating result-oriented ideas is first understanding the problems that are faced by your clients.
One way to demonstrate your empathy is by taking new recruits under your wing. That’s also a trait you could signal to your future tech recruiter by listing a line like this on your curriculum vitae:
“Mentored and onboarded new hires, nurturing their professional goals and sharing in their successes.”
2.2 Being a team player
Although it’s tempting to rock up to the office, put on your headphones, sit back and code to your favourite tracks, it’s important not to isolate yourself from your colleagues completely.
As well as being empathetic and nice to your colleagues, you need to actively bat for the team. You can demonstrate this by:
- Learn from others.
No single individual is the same and everyone has a unique perspective on something you don’t know. Actively seek out the thoughts of your colleagues and learn from them.
- Teaching others
Colleagues will appreciate you proactively helping and sharing your knowledge in a way that’s not condescending. Teaching new skills to novices can help you to refine and master those skills yourself. That’s known in popular literature as the protégé effect.
"While we teach, we learn."
Seneca, 4 BC – AD 65
A team is only as strong as their weakest member. That’s why it’s important to get everyone’s skills up to scratch and help as much as possible. Especially the team noobies.
- Criticise constructively, instead of only criticising.
This is the difference between denouncing your poor colleague and letting him know how “darn awful his code is” instead of explaining what he you think he should be doing, “your code would be better if you did X, Y and Z.”
Managing your tone is also important, no one likes a cynical moaner on the team! Respond to challenges by rallying the team seeking out collective benefits and opportunities.
2.3 Communication skills
There’s an interesting paradox today between the vast range of technological mediums to communicate at our disposal and as many argue, a decrease in our ability to communicate.
Here’s some food for thought - when was the last time you spoke on the phone without multitasking and doing something else at the same time? Image, someone with lots of gadgets struggling to communicate
Perhaps, just like in your previous job, on a daily basis you will be communicating with your superiors, clients, suppliers, and colleagues. That’s why communication often tops the list of any soft skills requirements for a job advert and for very good reason.
You have already learnt the importance of being concise and specific in both your written and verbal communication.
Writing e-mails can also be tricky as 93% of communication is non-verbal and getting the right tone and clarity of message is important. It is useful skill knowing how to break your main points down into digestible bite-size chunks rather than rambling in an e-mail.
If you have already flexed your communication skills, chances are that you display confidence and have the ability to listen well. Speaking with assertion tells other colleagues and your clients that you know what you are doing and makes it easier for them to trust you with their assignments. Your colleagues will certainly enjoy having a talented team member around, who is not only a brilliant coder behind the computer but is also easy to talk with.
Let me tell you, that’s an rarity in this industry.
In my opinion, being a good listener is a superpower that gives you an unfair advantage over those who only know how to talk.
That’s because communication is a two-way street and being an effective and observant listener is imperative for you to be able to comprehend and fulfil other people’s needs.
2.4 Time Management
Being the most talented code writer in the office means nothing if you’re unable to deliver your work when it’s due.
Managing your time effectively means you can multitask and strategically prioritise the most important tasks. All projects have a number of stages within it, from planning to the implementation of the product and all these stages must be given ample amounts of time to be completed, plus leeway.
Furthermore, since you’re typically working with other team members, your own organisation will impact the tasks of other people reliant on you.
In a previous role as a project manager, I would need to manage several projects at once. I quickly learnt that saying “yes” to everyone’s requests made it impossible for me to meet all their expectations.
It’s human nature to want to try to please everyone and some are more susceptible to that weakness than others, I know I certainly am! Sometimes you need to put a check on your best intentions and when the work starts to pile up, take a step back, breath and communicate your workload.
Missing deadlines is a way one ticket to putting you on the radar of your managers, and not in a good way.
If you’ve dealt with tight non-negotiable deadlines in your previous role, you’re going to have no problem applying those same sacred principles to delivering your tech assignments in a way that pure developers are often unprepared for.
Software development sadly doesn’t consist of receiving some intricately explained task and magicking up the appropriate code. Nae! You need to research your problem and then leverage all your creativity to decide on how to tackle it.
The clue is in my blog’s very own name – Creatively Code. Coding and creativity go hand in hand.
That’s because although researching your problem online or on platforms like stackoverflow will present an array of solutions you still need think critically and creatively in order to assess the solution that works best for you.
You may be tasked with squeezing every last drop of performance from your hardware and you better find the most unorthodox approach to do it, you may even need to improvise. That’s what I personally love about coding – it’s all problem solving.
It's additionally important not to take everything you hear as Gospel truth. Being adventurous, open-minded and able to ask questions without caring about making mistakes is what generates the best ideas and spurs the innovation that bring results and benefits the team.
That is what distinguishes creative people from everyone else — that includes programmers, entrepreneurs, writers, lawyers, politicians and just about every successful person from every profession around.
As well as being creatively, your willingness to adjust to challenges at a whim will also help you to overcome them. Recruiters are looking for developers who can handle unexpected changes in the development environment and more.
For example, being a developer is a lifelong endeavour and throughout your career you will need to regularly update your skills in order to stay relevant. Other changes that you might have seen already include:
- The project you’re working on gets cancelled
- Suddenly needing to take on extra responsibilities
- Stepping in for absent colleagues
- A change in working hours
- Switching teams
- Relocation to a new office
If you’ve found yourself needing to make such adjustment, make sure to flag it on your CV.
Taking responsibility of your mistakes is really important in your development and growth as a software developer.
You’re always going to make mistakes and whilst some are more impactful than others, it’s natural to want to avoid confronting any fallout with your colleagues.
But taking ownership of them not only exhibits confidence but is also what being accountable and reliable is all about. You really don’t want to deal with a worse fall out later on!
It’s not fun being criticised, being able to take on board constructive criticism exhibits in my opinion strength of character. Demonstrating a willingness to learn will do well for you in the tech industry where deep knowledge and expertise is required.
Although, this trait is much sought after, it’s not always the easiest to highlight on your CV without creating too many additional questions. Try to reference a positive interaction with a colleague and how it inspired a positive impact on your work. Be fairly specific, for example:
“Took on board colleague feedback to spearhead a 10% wastage reduction in our internal processes.”
Things have gone wrong. Badly. And there’s no time to consult anyone, how confident are you able to take decisive action on your own?
This is where you engage your critical thinking, creativity and adjustability with an added dosage of common sense in order to take a firm decision.
Sound judgement is also applicable in other industry-agnostic scenarios, such as knowing what company and personal information should be discussed in meetings with clients.
Some people, displaying some rather poor judgement, have even lost their jobs over a Facebook or Twitter post. In other words, judgement is all about thinking before acting! You quickly learn the ropes working in the real world grasping what’s acceptable and what isn’t.
Ensure you highlight skills such as critical thinking and decisiveness on your CV, try to mention challenging scenarios that necessitated some laying down of boss-like assertiveness.
3. Final notes
As a manager sometimes performing interviews for developers with non-tech traditional backgrounds, I’m going to be looking for existing skills on their resume’ that emphasise the qualities above.
So show people like me what soft-skills you’ve had to use to achieve your greatest work-related achievements and tell me how you plan to bring them over to this organisation.
Highlighting this will place you in another galaxy compared to the competition. That’s how much in demand soft skills are.
Every company has it’s own internal culture and energy, they’ll be looking foremost at personality and character traits in common to all their department to ensure that a new hire is a good fit in the overall organisation.
This is especially the case at a company like Google – Googly specifically looks for Googliness in it’s employees, which it describes as “a mashup of passion and drive that’s hard to define but easy to spot” ref: https://www.thinkwithgoogle.com/marketing-resources/missions-that-matter/
Although it’s true that some folk seem to have a particular affinity to soft skills, we all possess them. If you don’t recognise them in yourself or feel that haven’t had a chance to build them up yet, consider reading some material or taking some communication courses.
Ultimately, broader skills are going to benefit you in whatever you do.
Learning to code/other tech skills might prove to be the perfect way to make the maximum use of your existing skills, while also making exciting and fulfilling changes in your career. Not to mention, the technology industry has never been more expansive, making this the best time for you to make the jump.
Another consideration is the highly dynamic nature of the IT industry. Technology will change. AI might even increasingly do more of the heavy lifting. Your soft skills are one way to future proof yourself as problem-solving skills and creativity will become even more essential in the world to come.
Now, when those doubt demons arise and you don’t feel good enough, my advice is to embrace who you are and everything you’ve done prior! You’re a complete package in your own way and those technical skills can and will be learnt.
Cover photo by Branko Stancevic on Unsplash