In this post, I will describe the basic skills you need to become a successful programmer in today’s market. You will need a number of skills in addition to good coding skills in order to become a valued member of a software development team. Once you have landed your first job, you will find that much of your day is spent in team meetings with the development team and meetings. These meetings are with the customers to help define requirements and then testing your product. To be a complete member of the team you will need the following skills:
- Anticipate customer needs
- Ability to adapt to change, and
- Good coding skills
Programming is a “Team” sport. Working within a team is a critical factor to success in your career. Many of the projects involve large teams of people which makes communications more difficult. To assist with this communication, you will need to be able to quickly and effectively report bugs and issues to the project management team. In addition, you will need to be able to interact with customers to help fix any bugs that are found in the system.
Work on most projects is completed off of formally written specifications. Because of this, you will need to be able to interpret these specifications and turn them into working code. Many times there are questions and issues that need to be resolved with the customers before they can be coded. You will need to be able to quickly resolve these questions with customers in order to keep your project on time and within budget.
Development efforts are expensive and time-consuming efforts. In order to keep these projects on track, you may be asked to help prepare progress reports. These reports are usually prepared weekly and are used to help find potential problems and resolve them quickly and effectively. To help prepare these reports you will need to be able to write up project details from a development perspective and communicate these to the project management team.
Many software systems are critical to a company’s daily operations. Because of this, fixing bugs and issues often become very high priority items for programmers working on these systems. Because of the critical nature of some of these systems, you may find that you are working with high levels of management within the company. This level of management wants a very quick and complete update on the status of these systems. You will need to be able to juggle multiple priorities and quickly and effectively communicate the status to the management team. This becomes even more challenging if one of these mission-critical systems is down for any length of time.
These are just some of the examples of the communication demands that can be placed on programmers that are part of a development team. As you rise in the ranks of the development team these demands on you will increase over time. So do not overlook the importance of having good communication skills.
Another skill you will need is the ability to solve complex problems. IT projects are often large and complex. Supporting and fixing these systems will require you to help fix difficult problems. If these problems happen to the production system, you will have to troubleshoot and fix problems on the fly. Time may be at a premium if the problem you are trying to fix is causing a service outage. These problems may also be project related problems such as the project being behind schedule or over budget. Unfortunately, many of these problems may happen at difficult times and may require you to work on weekends or holidays. You should be prepared that becoming a software developer will require you to work long hours at certain times during a project. That may be the downside, but generally, developers are well compensated for their time.
All software development projects have customers, even if they are internal to a company. Anticipating customer needs by the development team is critical to a project’s success. Many times development efforts are funded by customers so keeping them happy will be necessary to keep the project funding in place. Many times customers have difficulty in defining software requirements since they are generally non-technical personnel and do not have software development experience. In addition, customer needs will change over time so they will need assistance from the development team in order to be successful. Delivering great customer service is important to your career!
Fixing problems in complex software systems can be a long and frustrating process. Because of this, you will need the ability to be persistent and look at all problems from many different angles. In most cases, difficult problems are assigned to the most senior developer on the project due to the problem-solving problems that he/she has learned over time. In some cases, problems may need multiple approaches to solve particularly difficult issues. Developers who can consistently fix complex problems are rewarded!
Adapt to Change
The change in the IT and software development business is constant and rapid and therefore requires you to be able to adapt to change. Customer needs will change over time and your software will need to be able to adapt to that change. If you are working on a software product, you will need to be able to adapt to a changing market. Software companies that are not able to adapt to change will find themselves quickly out of business.
In addition, software development tools and techniques are constantly evolving. You will need to update your development skills over time to reflect these changes. Successful developers need to be able to embrace a lifetime of learning and continuing education. Fortunately, once you learn one programming language, learning another one is an easier process.
Last but not least you will need good coding skills. Programmers need the ability to turn requirements and ideas into working code. This will require you to have a good command of a selected programming language. In addition, you will need to be able to turn out code efficiently enough to meet the demands of project schedules and budgets. This may require you to work extra hours in order to meet project deadlines. It is not uncommon for software development teams to work long hours as release dates are coming near.
In addition to writing code, you must also be able to master the use of a number of software development tools. The primary tool you must master is the use of a debugger from within your development environment. The debugger allows programmers to ensure that programs are functioning properly and efficiently.
Computer programs are complex pieces of logic. Your code must be understood by other programmers who will maintain your code over time. This means your code must be well structured and documented. In addition, you may be asked to participate in code reviews. This is where a team of programmers routinely reviews code as a group to help ensure all quality standards for the project are met. Other programmers will review your code for logic and completeness. They may also suggest alternative methods to improve the code. This process takes some time to become comfortable with and is often difficult for those programmers that have never participated in a code review.
In summary, becoming a successful programmer requires mastering a number of skills. When first starting out most people assume that writing code will be the only skill that is needed. Software development is a team activity and communicating and interacting with the team is critical to the success of your team and also the success of your career as a developer.
If you would like to lean more about becomming a programmer, check out my book on Amazon: