Tech Leaders Discuss Skills And Traits That Make Developers Invaluable
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Tech Leaders Discuss Skills And Traits That Make Developers Invaluable


It’s likely that every tech leader can look back over their career and pinpoint developers they’ve led or worked with who were particularly strong assets for the team. When thinking about what such a top developer might be like, someone looking in from the outside would likely visualize a savvy, sharp-eyed coder with keen technical prowess.

But while technology knowledge and skills are indeed important assets, experienced tech leaders are likely to name other qualities they’ve observed that turn a developer into a star team player. Below, 20 members of Forbes Technology Council share some of the skills and traits they believe tech leaders should watch for when bringing on new team members. Read on to discover the sometimes surprising qualities that can make an “ordinary” developer an extraordinary member of any tech team.

1. Empathy

One developer who stood out for me had exceptional empathy, enabling them to deeply understand user needs and team dynamics. This trait fostered effective communication, innovative problem solving and a user-centric approach to development—traits that are often overlooked but are crucial for team success and product relevance. – Praveen Andapalli, Vitel Global Communications, LLC

2. Strong Decision-Making Skills

Great developers often have the ability to make the right assumptions and decisions in ambiguous product and business situations. Most developers are evaluated based on how strong their technical decisions are when they’re given a clear problem statement. Realistically, however, a tech leader or product manager will not always be around when a developer has to make critical development or design decisions. Drawing inferences by employing empathy and/or extrapolating the business context is key. – Preeti Shukla, JustFund

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3. An Understanding Of The End-User Experience

The ability to understand the end-user experience and anticipate how changes will impact customers sets a developer apart. This empathy drives more intuitive product development and fosters a collaborative team environment. Tech leaders often overlook this soft skill in favor of hard technical skills, but it’s empathy that can truly enhance a team’s capability to innovate and meet users’ needs effectively. – Saif Sultan, Volos Portfolio Solutions, Inc.

4. The Ability To Bridge Technical And Business Language

Strong communication skills and the ability to translate technical language into pure business terminology are invaluable skills for a developer. This combination enables business leaders to understand the importance of required tech investments and their potential value realization. – Muyiwa Olufon, Nike

5. Unwavering Curiosity

One surprising trait of an outstanding developer I worked with was unwavering curiosity—extending beyond just code. They constantly asked “why” and “how else,” not just focusing on the immediate task, but also on its broader context and potential improvements. This led them to develop creative solutions, uncover edge cases and inspire others to think outside the box. Curiosity fosters adaptability, innovation and problem solving—all often-overlooked developer strengths. – Jason (Jiehui) Zeng, SHOPPEDANCE INC.

6. A ‘Big Picture’ Perspective

In addition to being skilled at coding, a good developer has two key traits. The first is an ability to collaborate and see the big picture. Developers often have pieces of the puzzle; they perform better once they are able to see the big picture. The second trait is a sense of curiosity. They want to better understand how their work will impact the user, which drives better development decisions. – Karan Yadav, Trifork

7. A Commitment To Project Success

A developer who is deeply concerned about the project’s success and is highly dedicated to achieving its goals is invaluable. This attitude can create an atmosphere of involvement and interest among the whole team. As a result, you can not only meet all the goals within the set deadlines, but also ensure the success of the future development of the product. – Klaudia Zaika, Apriorit LLC

8. The Ability To Simplify Problems

Albert Einstein said, “Make things as simple as possible, but no simpler.” Some of the best developers I know simplify a problem by homing in on its essence, which brings clarity to the entire team. They have the capacity and motivation to then go into any amount of complexity and detail to solve it. This is often overlooked in typical tech interviews. – Chinmay Barve, Mixpanel

9. An Understanding Of Team Dynamics

Beyond technical skills, a developer’s ability to understand users’ needs and team dynamics significantly enhances project outcomes. Empathy fosters a collaborative environment, driving innovation and problem solving in ways that technical expertise alone cannot. I believe this trait should be a key consideration in tech leadership and recruitment strategies. – Rohit Anabheri, Sakesh Solutions LLC

10. Exceptional Communication Skills

One surprising trait in an outstanding developer I knew was exceptional communication skills. This developer not only wrote clean code, but also effectively conveyed complex technical concepts to non-tech team members. This bridging of the communication gap proved invaluable for project cohesion and success. – Vamsi Vemoori, Epochs

11. Influence

A key trait that distinguishes great developers from good developers is the ability to influence a varied group of people (including their peers and product teams) and act as force multipliers. For a software developer, the ability to write code and technical depth are table stakes. Influencing others, without authority, to make the right design decisions and driving tough trade-off calls are what drives success. – Raghuram Satyanarayana Rao, Amazon

12. Passion

Candidates who pass standard assessments—such as the Criteria Cognitive Aptitude Test and coding exercises—with flying colors aren’t necessarily “A” players. You need to find developers who not only perform on paper, but also show genuine curiosity, drive and interest in their work. Look for the sort of people who are so engaged in solving a nagging problem that they can’t just put it down at 5 p.m. – Rob Mason, Applause

13. Product-Management Skills

The best software engineers are also great product managers. They always look at the products they build through the eyes of their end users. – Brady Brim-DeForest, Formula.Monks

14. A Willingness To Listen

The best developers are willing to listen to the customer’s needs and pain points so they can form their own perspectives about the best way to code a solution. These developers are also willing to listen to colleagues so they can solve problems together rather than in silos. Any developer can code—the best can listen and collaborate. – Wendy Johansson, MiSalud Health

15. The Ability To Communicate With Varied Stakeholders

Rock-solid communication is a must. Most leaders assume that developers don’t need to have soft skills as long as they can do the work “that matters,” but that’s simply not true. Being a good developer involves communicating with peers, customers and leaders to troubleshoot issues, discover the best course of action and do it all in a way that creates a positive work environment. – Ricardo Madan, TEKsystems

16. Attention To Details That Affect Users

Customer empathy and understanding are the greatest skills that anyone developing products brings to their work. This is often overlooked in a world centered on functions and data, but the fine details of every choice made in building software can make a product better- or worse-suited to the users’ needs. Find developers who are passionate about solving problems, and you’ll make better products. – Peter Guagenti, Tabnine

17. Relationship-Management Skills

Thinking of the colleagues with whom I’ve worked over the years, the qualities that made the best developer I knew so valuable may sound like clichés, but they were essential: strong skills in communication and managing relationships with key stakeholders. He always liked to be alone in a room and code, but he was equally eager to speak with the people who used his software about both professional and personal topics. – Luboslava Uram, UniCredit

18. Customer Obsession

Sometimes, developers tend to implement a new technology “at the forefront” and ignore the end user’s technical capabilities and needs. One developer I worked with always used to ask the business about the end-user profile, demographics and technical acumen. They would then push the designers and business analysts to design features with that target end user in mind. – Ramana Bhavaraju, NCompas Business Solutions Inc.

19. Multitasking

The ability to seamlessly multitask and switch contexts is an important skill for a successful developer. Combine that with effortlessly juggling multiple projects and adapting to the ever-evolving demands of the tech landscape, and you’ve got an extremely valuable set of skills for any developer. – Ravi Bandlamudi, AtoB

20. A ‘Can Do’ Attitude

The surprising trait of an excellent developer that stood out to me was an unwavering “can do” attitude and an eagerness to learn, even in unfamiliar situations. This mindset not only showcased their remarkable adaptability, but also played a pivotal role in fostering a culture of continuous improvement within the team, ultimately leading to outstanding contributions and success. – Jo Debecker, Wipro