Soft skills are the personal attributes that make someone more effective at their work. They're important. In fact, they might matter more than technical skills if you're looking to make yourself indispensable to an organization. A survey of 2,500 CIOs conducted by Robert Half indicated that, while technical skills open the door for career opportunities, soft skills are essential for landing promotions and for leadership roles.
Developers tend to lean heavily on their technical skills. However, soft skills are equally important and cannot be neglected. This is the case if you work remotely too. Our decision to hire someone relies heavily on that person's soft skills. In particular, we value the 5 following ones:
When you're not physically meeting colleagues or clients, you lose much of the non-verbal communication that would otherwise occur. This reinforces the need for excellent communication skills.
However, "communication skills" is a broad term. More specifically, it means being able to express yourself confidently, clearly and precisely, whether in writing, during a presentation, or during a video conference (which we've written about in more detail here).
This is particularly important for developers, as they're the ones who have to explain something technical to non-technical people. If you're an excellent developer and you can explain why your code is important, you'll be significantly more valuable than if you're "only" an excellent developer.
Being able to communicate properly is only one part of the equation. The other part is understanding what the other person means when they're speaking. This isn't as easy as it sounds, because what people say often isn't quite what they mean.
Empathy is the ability to see things from someone else's perspective. You can put yourself into their shoes. This is fundamental in understanding what someone really wants. It will make the other person feel as if you're really listening, which they'll appreciate in return. It smooths out ripples of conflict and makes you a more approachable person.
Developers know better than anyone else that they need to keep on learning. Hardware and software evolve in a near-continuous fashion. The languages you program in today are quite likely to be far less relevant in five to ten years time. That's why you need to be willing to grow.
Which language were you #coding in three years ago?— X-Team (@xteam) May 16, 2019
This manifests itself in two ways: firstly, you need to willing to learn new technologies. When you're applying for a job, this is something you can put on your CV and mention during the interview. Which courses have you taken recently to upgrade your skills? How have you applied those new skills at work?
Secondly, it also shows in how you accept feedback. You can either take offense to feedback on your work and see it as an attack on your personal capabilities, or you can see it as an opportunity to grow. Needless to say, the latter approach is what will get you further in life. Regardless of how the feedback is given, it's important to swallow your pride and see it as an incentive to become even better than you already are.
Programming can be an arduous process. A single bug can set you back for days. Additionally, you can't deliver your software to the client until you've squashed that bug (unless it turns into a feature). As such, perseverance is an invaluable skill for developers.
Perseverance goes hand in hand with being able to get things done. After all, you persevere because you want to complete something. While almost everyone who earns a living programming eventually delivers some kind of result, the ones who persevere are often the ones who do it better and faster.
It's not because you're a remote developer that you can act as a lone wolf. At X-Team, you're part of your project's team and you're part of the wider X-Team community. You need to be able to work together with other people.
This means that you should set yourself up to be approachable and helpful. If you don't know the answer to someone's question, at least point them in the right direction or connect them to the right people. Be respectful to other people's input and be patient too. Not everything will go as fast as you'd want it to, and that's okay.
3 Book Recommendations For Soft Skills
The above has given you an idea of the types of soft skills that we look for in (prospective) X-Teamers. If you want to read more on the topic of soft skills, personal development, and emotional intelligence, I'd highly recommend the three books listed below.
How to Win Friends and Influence People (Dale Carnegie)
First published in 1936, Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People is considered to be the first personal development book, and one of the finest to this date. It's chock full of wisdom and practical advice on how to make friends easily and quickly, how to increase your influence, how to become a better speaker, and more.
Mindset (Carol S. Dweck)
Carol Dweck is a Stanford University psychologist. She has spent decades gathering research to prove that the power of our mind greatly influences success in all areas of our life. In this book, she talks about the differences between the growth mindset and the fixed mindset, and why you want to adopt a growth mindset.
Working With Emotional Intelligence (Daniel Goleman)
In this book, Daniel Goleman reinforces the idea that IQ, advanced degrees, or technical skills are not the main determinants of success at work. It's emotional intelligence. The book is a dense read, but its 300-ish pages give plenty of advice on how to improve the skills that are most likely to determine your success at work.