The needed skills part 2

A student wrote to me: “I graduate in Computer Science and work as a software developer, but most of the time I only write code. I spent four years in college learning Java programming and I can develop websites and works with Microsoft Excel. However, after a friend introduce me to your blog, I begin to wonder whether my education is adequate or not? What do I need to succeed? Please advise.”

Answer: Coding is the fundamental skills that every software workers must have. However, there are other skills that you also need to succeed in a software career such as soft-skills, and lifelong learning skills. If you only know how to code in Java and using some Microsoft tools, you are only at the “entry level” position. To advance in your software career, you need to develop additional skills.

First, you need to understand the entire software development lifecycle such as Plan-driven and Agile, not just write code. (My question is why spent four years just to write code but not something else?) The software lifecycle is the process that developers use to implement software concept into a finished product. Most works are done in a team, therefore, you must learn teamwork skills.

All software works begin with developers understanding the customer’s requirements and document them in the software specifications. To do that you need to interview customers about their needs, therefore, you need to have strong communication skills. If customers are foreigners, you need to have good foreign language skills (i.e.,English). As a member of the team, you also need to discuss with other team members about the functional requirements and estimate how long the work will take, and how much it will cost. There will be different opinions among team members on these subjects and how to work effectively require listening and negotiation skills.

Once the software requirements are completed, the next step is to create the system architecture or the overall design for how the software will be put together. This activity is often led by a software architect or the team leaders, who are responsible for the technical aspect of the project. Even you may not have a lot of experience, you should participate in this activity to learn how the software will function. During this activity, every function of a product will be considered, from the screen a user will see after they click a particular button, to how the software could later be upgraded and improved. To advance to team leader position, you must learn about software architect and design process by listening and learn how others are doing it. The next step to advance in your career from a software developer is the team leader position so this should be the area that you need to learn and be good at it.

After the architecture and design phases are done, you will start to write code to build the actual software product. During this time, your code will interact with others so you have to make sure that you constantly monitoring and testing to ensure different components work together. You also make sure that your code meets the customers’ requirements by testing all functions carefully.

After the coding phase is done, all software components will be integrated and verified in the testing phase. During this phase, issues are identified through certain tests, such as functioning test, integrated test, system test etc. to make sure the final product is working well. There is a lot to learn during the test phase as you will interact with other team members and maintain a good relationship with them. It is easy to argue and to blame somebody when things do not work well but you need to stay calm and apply your teamwork skills to ensure the harmony of the team working toward the project’s goals.

When a software project is more complex, developers often break the project delivery into several increment releases and release software to a limited number of users, and treating their use as part of the product testing of Beta testing. To get feedback from these users, you need listening skills to understand their issues and refine the way the beta software functions. In the industry, the reputation of developers is based on their ability to work well with users, customers, as well as the quality of the software products. By knowing your strengths and weaknesses and constantly learning to improve your skills, you can advance in your career.


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University