Three skills developers need in a time of constant change

Developers need a blend of technology, business and soft-skills

The evolution of technologies like JavaScript and Rails 5, and megatrends like the Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality, Back-End-as-a-Service, and now Cognitive Applications means developers have a tonne to stay on top of. The only constant is change.

But while there’s a big focus on developers with complex technical abilities, true differentiation in the developer community lies in individuals having a blend of technology, business and soft-skills. Together they create the ideal skills for career advancement.

Advanced skills do not only refer to complex technical capabilities such as coding and programming. It also incorporates a skill set that underpins digital competencies such as problem-solving and critical thinking. In reality, it is these skills that are highly values in the changing world of work.

A 2015 report from the Foundation of Young Australians (FYA), titled The New Work Order, forecasted at least 50 per cent of workers will need the advanced skills to configure and build digital systems.

As Australian jobs and business moves toward hiring app developers, we need to be clear on what skills are necessary for a role that will have increased importance.

Business competencies

According to FYA’s The New Work Order report, 90 per cent of workers will need at least the digital skills to communicate and find information to perform their roles.

Such skills are ultimately augmented when married with an understanding of business objectives. This will become ever more important in the era of Cognitive Applications – apps which learn business characteristics and behaviour from data and leverage it for competitive advantage.

Cognitive apps connect to all the data, whether from systems of record or the Internet of Things and support all types of user interactions - web and mobile today, chatbots, voice, virtual reality and tactile interfaces of tomorrow.

Synthesizing information from all data, cognitive apps produce revenue generating recommendations proactively in real time. So understanding the customer and business rationale behind a development project of this kind is paramount to the realisation of the benefits that sit at the heart of business success.

It’s no wonder then that hiring organisations consider business skills an important parameter to distinguish between a good and a great app developer.

Always ask the ‘why?’

The truth for many developers is that digital skills tend to be cut off from the most important question that fuels customer, and consequently business success – why.

Ensuring developers understand the why behind customer needs, how customers will use an app and what it will deliver for the business empowers the developer to critically challenge their contribution. It means they will consider whether their efforts are ultimately furthering the business case, delivering competitive advantage and helping grow the revenue impact of a development project, or if they are a costly diversion.

Any skilled app developer can develop applications, but a great app developer is the one who also understands the customer and business significance of the software application.

Collaboration is paramount

Whether it’s explaining information clearly to co-workers, persuading others with a presentation, or writing coherent documentation, the efficacy of a developer’s communication style matters.

The NBN and Regional Australia Institute have recognised this by producing an online toolkit available at to enable school children to get a head start on honing hard skills and soft-skills for the future of work.

Similarly, collaboration skills are increasingly vital. Star developers will engage regularly with other team members but also other stakeholders within the business to develop an understanding of the overall project goals and each contributor’s aims and benefits to deliver the best possible project outcome for customers and the business. Employers want employees who can work effectively as an agile part of a team, which means sometimes being a leader, sometimes being a good follower, monitoring progress, meeting deadlines and working with others across the organisation to achieve a common goal.

For app developers who have their sights set on serious career progression, now is the time for an honest assessment of their broader capabilities. Hiring firms today assume technical aptitude as a given. Business acumen and soft skills are not. It is these abilities that ensure differentiation and positively influence job offers and promotions. If career advancement is the goal, the day of the mere coder is dead.

Mark Armstrong is vice president and managing director EMEA, Progress

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