via HBO screengrab

in Career

What Can I Do To Improve My Skills as a Software Developer?

via HBO screengrab

via HBO screengrab

If there’s one thing that’s constant about software, it’s that nothing is constant except change.  Becoming a proverbial dinosaur could happen within just a couple of years depending on technology shifts.  That’s why it’s important to stay current with your knowledge of new platforms, languages, and methodologies.  You should consider improving your skills as a software developer both a necessity and an edge in the software industry.

What Should You Know?

Even the most gifted coders don’t know everything; that would be impossible.  And there’s no particular language or platform every developer needs to know. It’s more a matter of your interests and needs. The first step is knowing what you need to know.  Do you have weak points?  Start there! Rather than focusing on one thing, take advantage of what the internet has to offer — blogs, forums, and sites dedicated to keeping up with the latest and greatest in the industry.  Staying involved in the industry will at least give you a leg up on what’s important, and connect you with resources to learn from.

Build Learning into Your Routine

Keeping your skills sharp and learning new material can be daunting, especially if you already work full time as a developer.  Where does one find the time?  The best way to improve your skills is to do it slowly and consistently.  Incorporate a few learning sources into your weekly routine to make it manageable, and habitual.  If you try to take on too much at one time, you may end up more stressed and give up — like people do with unrealistic diet goals.

Learn something new from books, podcasts, forums, online tutorials, or meetups with other developers.  Set actionable goals for yourself and meet learning benchmarks, but always do it in an agile manner.  Your schedule is malleable, and your learning schedule needs to adapt to fit your current capacity.  Incorporating a reasonable method of learning into your schedule keeps your learning manageable and realistic, ultimately helping you follow through.

Take Advantage of Your Company’s Resources

Plenty of companies offer courses and events to sharpen employee skills.  Beneficial to both employees and employers, training courses and supplemental learning opportunities offer a chance for employees to learn new skills that contribute to the company’s future innovations.  It may be a bit biased towards your company needs, but, if you plan to stay with the company, participating in these courses will show your employer that you are actively investing in your professional growth.  The best part is, many companies usually build these courses into the schedule, so you don’t have to feel guilty about taking time away from your work to learn.

Take Advantage of Connections, Or Make New Ones

You know what they say: never be the smartest person in the room.  There’s no better way to learn than to surround yourself with smart people, and people you want to emulate.  You might already work with someone you look up to, so don’t be afraid to ask for some tips or collaborate on a project with this person.  It’s also a great idea to find someone in your network who can help you learn, so don’t be shy: pay them a compliment about their work, and simply ask them if they may be willing to talk with you about their path and methods.

Asking for feedback from those you want to emulate is an important for your growth as well.  With a trained eye, you have a tool to find weak points in your code.  A more experienced developer will be able to show you better ways to write something, so you don’t continue writing inefficient pieces of code.

Explore Unfamiliar Realms

Diversifying is a smart way to gain scope on your work. Try participating on a project you wouldn’t normally be involved in: perhaps participating in web development if you normally work on desktop apps, or UX design.  Working on different, yet related parts of programming will open your mind, and allow you to make new connections in your own work in which you’re able to think about the end result for the user. You’ll gain footing on the ‘big picture’ and how everything ties together.  Building out with knowledge of other types of infrastructure allows you to deliver better, more attentive code as you put the pieces together.

Develop Your Soft Skills

Soft skills are so much more important than you think. Yes, even in the software industry.   Mentoring other developers, negotiating requirements, project management, program design, communicating vision, and implementing team practices are all important things for helping a team of developers more effective, not just you.  It’s easy to focus on yourself as a developer, but great software is always a team effort, you can’t overlook the skills that help you work as a leader and team member.

Contribute to Open Source Software

Open source software is a development method where source code is made public, with many contributors.  It promotes collaboration and transparency and anyone can download, use, and view the source.  Bugs are fixed, features are added, and changes made by anyone who wishes to participate.  Participating or just viewing the source code will give you a depth of understanding of how software works and allow you to take advantage of differing ways to solve a problem, languages, and frameworks.

IT Recruiting Agencies

Many recruiting agencies work with corporations and individuals directly, offering professional development courses.  IT recruiting agencies let developers use their sophisticated training equipment and sometimes experienced trainers will even do one-on-one sessions with developers.  Recruiting firms are accustomed to working with a wide range of software engineers, and developers should consider this as a way to hone in on skills they may need to advance their career.

The most important underlying skills for a developer are: the ability to solve problems, the ability to adapt to new technology, and the ability to work in teams as leaders and collaborators.  Building on top of those foundations with specific skills is part of being a developer, and it’s about finding ways to incorporate them into your career.  There’s always more to learn: it just takes thinking outside of the box.

 

  • Joseph Marden

    Develop software. Super simple stuff. You might also want to check out some programming tests. Companies use them for screening developers before they call them for an interview, so it pays to check out some of these coding tests for example.

    • Allen Temple

      Thanks, I’ll give it a shot.