Top skills for software engineers

Having these talents and technical abilities can make you more marketable to employers.

Top skills for software engineers

A whole lot of software engineers will be hired in the coming years.

Computers touch nearly every part of life. For that, you can thank software engineers. They’re the ones responsible for developing, designing, testing, writing, modifying, and debugging software based off specific requirements. Although there are plenty of full-time software engineering jobs out there, it can also be a flexible position, with contracting and freelancing opportunities commonly available. 

To keep up with the world’s ever-growing interest in new and better computer programs, a whole lot of software engineers will be hired in the coming years. If you’re hoping to excel in this industry, you will need to keep up, as well.

“The industry evolves quickly, so you have to keep your skills current,” says Anima Anandkumar, professor of computing and mathematical sciences at Caltech.

Looking to outshine the competition for any of the more than 1,000 software engineer jobs on Monster? You’ll want to focus on developing these core skills.

Computer programming and coding

Anandkumar says this is one of the fundamental soft engineering skills. “Computer programming focuses on algorithms, which have become a part of our daily lives,” she says. There are a number of computer programming languages, and job requirements can vary depending on the position you’re applying for. Coding bootcamp website Coding Dojo says the five most in-demand programming languages of 2019 are:

  • Java
  • Python
  • C#/.Net
  • Mean
  • Ruby

The good news is these skills can be acquired through online courses or tutorials that teach programming languages, says Christine Julien, software engineering professor at the University of Texas at Austin. That may explain why the coding school industry continues to grow rapidly, with student numbers rising by 52% in 2017, an annual report by third-party bootcamp resource site Course Report found.

Software development

Software development entails being able to analyze users’ needs and then design, test, and develop software to meet those needs. College students can gain experience in this area by taking relevant coursework and completing an internship at a software company. Software development skills can also be honed by working with real systems and among other high-caliber software engineers, Julien says.

Software developer jobs are projected to increase by a whopping 24% from 2016 to 2026, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports. One driving force behind this rapid job growth is the advent of new applications on smart phones and tablets. Also, more computer systems are being built into consumer electronics.

Object-oriented design (OOD)

“For the last 30 years, there has been a very strong push toward programming using object-oriented design,” says David Garlan, professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University and co-author of Software Architecture: Perspectives on an Emerging Discipline. This approach involves the process of planning a system of interacting objects for the purpose of solving a software problem.

Object-oriented design encompasses four key principles:

  • Abstraction
  • Encapsulation
  • Inheritance
  • Polymorphism

If these sound like foreign concepts to you, don’t worry—online courses through platforms like Coursera and Udemy can equip you with basic knowledge of OOD principles.

Software testing and debugging

Although many new artificial intelligence (AI) programs are focusing on automating software testing and debugging, job seekers still need these skills, Anandkumar says. Indeed, testing and debugging account for a large share of the time and cost of a software project, Julien says. “They’re also skills that become a little more like ‘art’ than generating lines of code,” she says. Software testing and debugging require you to think analytically about how a system is put together.

There are software testing and debugging classes online, but “these skills are more craft that require honing through experience,” says Julien. Translation: Testing and debugging software is generally learned on the job.

Problem solving and logical thinking

“These are skills that absolutely differentiate great software engineers from good ones,” says Julien. Software problems can arise from even the smallest of errors, and programmers spend a high percentage of their time debugging rather than writing code. Therefore, being able to not only pinpoint software problems but also use deductive reasoning to solve these issues is crucial to many software engineering jobs.

Written and verbal communication

Generally, software engineers don’t work in a vacuum—many interact with co-workers or clients. Hence, communication skills are top of mind for industry employers. “One of the important characteristics of a good software engineer is the ability to explain something technical or complex to a layperson,” says Garlan. “You don’t want someone who is going to say, ‘I fixed the problem. Don’t ask me how I did it though.’ You should always be able to clearly articulate what you do.” Communication will also serve you well when a customer has a problem with your company’s software.

One of the best ways to improve your written and verbal communication skills while on the job is to shadow a more experienced software engineer who works with clients or customers directly.

Teamwork

Interpersonal skills are crucial for software engineers, since they often work in teams. As a result, “having respect for others, having the ability to listen, having the ability to accept criticism, having the ability to empathize…those are all important skills,” Garlan says.

As far as learning how to become a better team player, “some [teamwork] skills can be taught, but others have to be learned over time on the job,” Garlan says.

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