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How to be a successful developer: 5 tips to help your hiring prospects

There's more to coding than coding. Check out our top tips for making it as a software developer.
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Written by Owen Hughes, Senior Editor on
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Image: Maskot/Getty

Carving out a successful career as a software developer is about more than the ability to code. Programming is a multifaceted profession that requires an equally varied set of skills, habits and attributes which, if practiced, can set you up for better job prospects and more rewarding work.

The following five tips will not just help you keep your knowledge current, but also make you stand out in the eyes of recruiters, employers and colleagues -- not to mention equip you with some useful tools for navigating day-to-day work.

Know what's in demand

Knowing what employers are looking for will give you the best chance of honing your skills to the needs of the marketplace. JavaScript, CSS and HTML continue to be staples for web development, while data science languages like Python are rapidly gaining popularity as organizations seek to harness their troves of data and create exciting new machine-learning and AI applications. If you know your way around a Rust or Clojure script, you'll be more likely to be sought out by top-paying companies for your skills.

SEE: Developer jobs and programming languages: What's hot and what's next

Besides keeping your technical skills up to date, staying on top of the hiring market is also important for keeping track of the wider trends affecting the software industry, particularly as companies start to rethink their employee propositions and invest in the employee experience. By knowing your worth, and therefore what to ask for, you'll be in a much stronger position to take advantage of remote- and flexible-working options, professional development opportunities, and health and wellbeing support.

Keep your code in ship-shape

This one seems pretty obvious, but given that one of the topmost complaints of developers -- not to mention one of the biggest sources of developer burnout -- is hunting for bugs in code, the value of being able to write clean, high-quality code should not be understated.

The more time you can spend making sure your code is error-free, the less time that needs to be spent on backtracking through old submits to figure out where things have gone wrong. Or, even worse, explaining to customers, clients and co-workers why your product doesn't work as intended. Your fellow developers will also like you a lot more if they don't have to spend their precious time double or triple checking your work for issues.

Speed and quality is not an easy combo to crack, particularly given the tight deadlines and limited resources that dev teams typically work with. But having a reputation as a diligent and meticulous coder is something that will always catch the attention of recruiters.

Work on your 'soft' skills

We've already stressed the importance of robust technical skills for a career in coding, but they don't account for everything: your interpersonal skills are also a key facet of your future success. You could be a JavaScript dynamo, but this won't account for much if you're lacking in the type of 'soft' skills that employers are looking for.

Think about it from the company's perspective: if it came down to the choice between two candidates, the hiring manager is far more likely to go with the person who has a few gaps in their coding ability but is open-minded, adaptable and a great communicator, as opposed to the candidate who thinks they know everything there is to learn about JavaScript and prefers to work as a one-person team. The key is to think about the type of person you would want to work with and emulate those qualities.

Find ways to collaborate

Remote working might afford us greater flexibility and a better work-life balance, but it's undoubtedly also made collaboration more difficult. Particularly when you're working in software development, effective communication and teamwork are essential to keeping projects on track and on time, knowing who's working on what and generally making the working day more interesting.

Companies are gradually sending employees back to the office, although it's perhaps not a return to office life as we once knew it.  Developers have been particularly vocal about their desire to continue remote working indefinitely; if they are to get their wish, tech teams will have to get more creative about how they collaborate when they're not sitting across a desk from each other. This could be allocating days when teams meet up to work from the office, virtual brainstorming sessions over Zoom, Teams or Google Meet, sharing their to-do lists on platforms like Trello or Asana, or simply maintaining a healthy chat on Slack.

How you do it is really up to you, but keeping communication flowing will not just ensure you stay productive at work, but will also make work itself a lot more enjoyable.

Have a thirst for knowledge

Learning on the job is the key to any successful career, and given the fast-moving nature of the software industry, being open to new projects and programs will keep your work interesting and your skills sharp. Thanks to the rising popularity of coding bootcamps, online-learning platforms and free web resources, you no longer need to hold a computer science degree to become a programming whiz.

If you're passionate about coding, your education won't stop at the end of the workday either. YouTube, Github, Stack Overflow, W3Schools and FreeCodeCamp offer a multitude of ways you can continue to learn new skills and refine existing ones in your spare time at no extra cost. There is also a wealth of paid-for online-training platforms where you can learn new programming languages, tools and frameworks. Some of the most popular include CodeAcademy, Udemy, PluralSight and Udacity. Alternatively, you could spend your free time contributing to open-source projects like Django, Srapy, Tensorflow and the Python project.

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