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Here are five pieces of advice to help developers retain their cutting edge and stay relevant in this competitive industry, no matter their location or company.
Within the software development community, there's a commonly accepted rule of thumb that people should learn one new programming language per year. However, if developers want to get ahead they need to keep building on their entire skillset throughout their career, not just pick up a new language now and then.
The first step towards updating your skills is knowing which programming language is best suited to enhance your software development career. Start by researching the most commonly used programming languages in the area you want to work in, then dedicate yourself to mastering it.
Remember that the programming languages you choose to learn should be relevant to the work you want to do. For instance, having an in-depth knowledge of C++ is great to build an understanding of programming in general, but C++ alone won't get you very far in iOS app development. Also, don't forget that the fundamentals are still essential, whatever you choose to study.
It's also important to focus on developing interpersonal skills (often referred to as soft skills, which doesn't do them justice); skills such as communication, leadership, growth mindset, emotional intelligence, and many more. Because, while it's true that technical skills are important and necessary to do your job successfully, software is built by people and the skills needed to work with other people are sometimes more important than learning a new language.
In either case, be sure to find multiple sources of information or learning opportunities. For example, sign up for free online classes and take advantage of any training opportunities at your work, but also ask to shadow someone with the skill or skills you want to develop; or read lots of books and articles, but also give yourself the opportunity to practice what you learn by working on a pro-bono project.
More companies are starting to look for developers who possess a wide area of knowledge across multiple topics but can also specialize in a specific area.
For instance, a developer might have broad expertise in several commonly used programming languages, but by mastering one programming language or skill, while retaining their knowledge of other areas, they can stand out against their peers. This approach to skills development is sometimes called T-shaped expertise.
Shaping your knowledge in this way gives you more job options to choose from and signals to employers that you're more than a one-trick pony. It allows you to build your skills in ways that companies would find valuable, and the solid, wide base of knowledge that you've developed helps you transition more smoothly to different areas, increasing your value again.
Whether you plan to become a technical specialist or go down the management path, you will always have to work closely with other human beings. Collaboration skills involve learning how to communicate well with others and learning how to work within different project management frameworks.
Employers are increasingly looking for the elusive "fit" when recruiting. They're not only looking at candidates' skills, they're also evaluating whether the team would want to spend 40 hours a week with that person. Possessing good collaboration skills will definitely help you in this regard.
Companies are adopting newer, more iterative ways of working as they seek to better engage with users and build products that better suit their needs. All of these modern approaches to software development require significant collaboration and communication skills.
On top of that, remote work is on the rise, especially for developers, so familiarity with virtual collaboration is also a big plus.
[Relevant Reading! How to Resolve Conflicts in Remote Software Development Teams]
It's no longer necessary to have two degrees, a full team, and a big budget to build something good. Find a problem that makes you think or something you've been yearning to solve at the local level, and make a side-project out of it. It doesn't have to be big, it can be as small as a simple command-line interface to help you pick what to have for lunch, or a random name generator based on your favorite show.
You can also try your hand at coding challenges like Advent of Code or Kaggle's Titanic Challenge, or participate in hackathons. Not only will you learn a lot from these events, but you'll also have an interesting practical accomplishment to mention on your CV. It will also show prospective employers that you're capable of thinking through problems and formulating solutions.
And who knows? If you pursue it even further, it might turn out to be more than just a fun side-project.
Although in-person networking isn't really a good option in 2020, there are now a lot of opportunities to participate in online events and connect with people you admire in your field.
Connecting with your peers will help you understand the direction the industry is moving in, and what you need to learn next to keep abreast of new developments.
Finding a good mentor will also help you grow immensely as a professional, so don't hesitate to reach out to people you admire and ask for feedback on whatever you're working on. Remember, social media platforms like LinkedIn and online portfolios also matter, so maintain a good online presence and update your profile pages regularly to make a better impression.
Growing in your profession can take many different forms, but most importantly, it should be something you never stop doing.
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