Main image of article Software Developer Skills: Learn These to Succeed

In thousands of organizations across virtually every industry, software developers do the vital work that helps keep systems running. Software developer skills such as programming, debugging, and ideating new features ensure that other employees throughout the org—from data scientists to senior executives—can continue to do their jobs. If you’re interested in a software developer career, what skills do you need to succeed?

What does a software developer do?

A software developer’s job can vary wildly depending on their specific company and role. For example, a junior software developer at a gaming company might be tasked with debugging, source control, and quality assurance; meanwhile, a senior software developer at a massive financial firm could find themselves architecting a massive network in partnership with network engineers, data scientists, and other stakeholders.

Whatever the particulars of a job, a software developer generally focuses on developing software and then helping maintain it throughout its lifecycle. Even if you want to concentrate on a particular aspect of software development, such as feature creation or debugging, keep in mind that becoming knowledgeable about all parts of the process can unlock a plethora of opportunities.

What are the essential software developer skills?

When it comes to essential skills, it’s helpful to examine the software developer skills that pop up most often in job postings. According to Lightcast, which analyzes millions of job postings from across the country for crucial insights, the following skills pop up most often in postings:

  • Software engineering
  • Software development
  • Java
  • SQL
  • JavaScript
  • Python
  • Microsoft C#
  • GitHub and Git

Two- and four-year degree programs tend to teach their students the abstract principles of software engineering and development, in addition to practical skills such as Python programming; that’s in contrast to bootcamps and massive online learning courses, which concentrate on teaching students practical skills as quickly as possible. Whichever educational route you choose, it’s important to grasp the why underlying the principles of modern software development and design.

Software developer job postings also highlight “soft skills” in addition to technical skills. These can include:

  • Communication skills
  • Teamwork/collaboration
  • Problem-solving
  • Troubleshooting
  • Writing
  • Planning 
  • Research

In addition, pursuing jobs in particular industries may require you to specialize. For instance, any kind of technical job in the healthcare industry (whether that’s data science, cloud computing, web development, or mobile app building) will require its practitioners to understand regulations such as HIPAA.

What do software developers earn?

According to the most recent Dice Tech Salary Report, the average tech salary increased 2.3 percent to $111,348 in 2022. Meanwhile, software developers earned an average annual salary of $115,569, with a slight year-over-year decrease of 3.8 percent.

It’s important to not read too much into that decline; software developers are very much in demand, and fluctuations in salary are often a temporary reflection of the supply for a particular role. If you’re interested in software development and want to boost your salary even further, though, it’s important to learn specialized skills that will help you stand out in a crowded field of talent.

What are some specialized software developer skills?

Let’s break down some specialized areas where software developers are using their skills to earn higher-than-average salaries:

Data science: Once dubbed the “sexiest job of the 21st century,” data science is increasingly important to organizations that want to analyze massive datasets for crucial strategic insights. Data scientists often spend years learning the necessary programming and analysis skills to do their jobs, and they frequently rely on software developers to help them accomplish their projects.  

Top data science skills that overlap with software developers include:

  • Python. This generalist language is often used in a data science context.
  • Python libraries. Key data-science libraries include numpy, matplotlib, pandas, and seaborn.
  • SQL. This language allows developers to work with relational databases, one of the key elements of data science.
  • Tableau. An important data visualization tool.
  • Power BI. This is another data visualization tool that’s created by Microsoft.
  • Jupyter Notebooks. A tool for running Python code right in the browser.

Learning at least a few data science skills can really help a software developer stand out, especially as companies prize effective data analysis more and more.

Cloud computing: Becoming familiar with the giant cloud computing platforms that undergird much of the economy—specifically, we’re talking about Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud—can give you a leg up in the job hunt. If you build software that relies on any kind of cloud compute or storage, you’ll likely end up working with at least one of these platforms.

Machine learning/A.I.: Mastering the core elements of machine learning and artificial intelligence can open up a galaxy of opportunities. However, learning how to research, design, and implement ML and A.I. models and systems can take years of work; for example, you’ll need to know machine learning algorithms and frameworks, including LLMs and MLOps.  

Cybersecurity: Cybersecurity is critical to organizations everywhere. The growing number of hackers, privacy concerns over user data, the scale of potential attacks, and increased reliance on data are among the issues that keep employers up at night. Knowing how to analyze cybersecurity-related data, automate security tasks, and identify vulnerabilities can greatly boost your worth on the open market.

Project management: It’s one thing to build a project yourself; it’s another to oversee a team doing it. Project managers can have an incredible impact on an organization’s product roadmap and strategy. Making the leap from software developer to project manager requires that you polish up your soft skills such as planning, teamwork, and organizing.

How do I include my skills on a software developer resume?

Before composing any software developer resume, consult the original job posting and note the listed skills that you’ve mastered. Those skills absolutely need to belong in your resume, especially since the automated screening software used by many companies will reject your application if they’re not included. (Don’t list any skills you haven’t mastered; chances are good that you’ll face a technical interview portion that’ll evaluate your abilities.)

In the experience section of your resume, show how you’ve used your skills to accomplish projects, overcome challenges, and ultimately help companies succeed. You should trace clear lines between your abilities and measurable outcomes; for example, “I used my iOS skills to build a mobile app ahead of schedule that boosted company mobile revenues by 25 percent.” Potential employers ultimately need to know how you can provide the biggest possible benefits to their current strategy.