Sure, you can write brilliant code and out-geek the sharpest of nerds, but is that enough to get you hired or promoted? Is it enough to bring you the big money you deserve? Nope. But here are the skills that will take you straight to the “top earner” rankings.
You’ve spent hours honing your programming skills. You would pit your wits against another developer any day of the week. Hooah!
Well, except for the fact that some pretty sharp developers on other shores will work for cheaper pay. And that’s true for developers outside of the U.S. too. A developer in India is likely to see the work go to a cheaper developer in China who will in turn lose work to cheaper labor in Vietnam or South America and so the whole sordid tale goes on. Or does it? Actually that model is breaking and not a moment too soon, eh?
But technical skill alone isn’t sufficient. Someone else can always be found at a cheaper price. To score and reap the big bucks, the key is in understanding and owning the differentiators between two equally skilled developers. In other words: Here’s how to be better than anyone you might compete with, on the job or when you’re looking for one.
Obviously, some part of it is understanding which technical skills are high in demand and where the high-paying developer jobs are forming. In IBM's recent global Tech Trends Survey, 2,000 IT professionals shared their thoughts on the technologies expected to gain popularity over the next five years.
"According to the results, mobile and cloud computing will become the leading technologies for software application development and IT delivery, and there will be a greater need for developers to create applications for handheld devices and tablet PCs,” says Alice Chou, director at IBM developerWorks. “As a result, IT professionals will need to acquire a combination of disruptive technologies and industry-specific skills to drive their careers and business growth."
But it doesn’t help to be buzzword compliant unless you can also demonstrate the ability to do your job – superlatively. These five top skills and attributes are what you need to land the gig, win the job, or get the promotion.
1. Blazing Wetware
"An ideal developer candidate is also a critical thinker,” says Oleg Fridman, co-founder and Director of Technology at ONOSYS, a company developing mobile and online ordering systems for restaurant chains. “They are able to find relationships between like objects and break concepts down to their simplest forms. They are also capable of learning and absorbing new information quickly and processing that knowledge to apply it to current projects."
Developers also look for strong business acumen. “Understanding the business models associated with the company they work for and/or the project they are creating is huge!” says Thomas Hall, president of Hall Internet Marketing. “This will help them feed the decision making process for the project manager and project stakeholders. If they understand marketing and specifically online marketing, they will be much more valuable.”
2. Purveyor of Big
The dirty little secret is that most developers, even the highly skilled ones, have teeny tiny visions for their work. “Too many times a developer will come up with a quick solution for a small problem, overlooking the larger picture – what happens when things scale?” says Scott Stouffer, co-founder and president of SeoEngine.com. “With technology advancing infrastructure (think ‘Cloud’), enterprise software is now constrained only by the minds that develop and deploy the software. The bottleneck has become the mind.”
Attributes employers like SeoEngine look for in developers, he says, are large-scale production deployments, with experience in cloud-based technology, deployment scripting, and knowledge of lower-tier scaling requirements all the way down to the database level. Developers should be able to answer on the frontend what happens when the data becomes too large and how to scale-out using a combination of application server software and application code.
3. Fearlessness in the Flesh
Just to be clear: fearless is the guy that chooses fight over flight; it isn’t the dude that rages online or swaggers at the water cooler. The ‘tude is one of first-adopter of highly calculated risks. “Great developers take risks to be great,” says Katherine Duffy, Certified Human Resources Professional and Digital Engagement Manager at Rypple.com, a fast moving, agile development startup. “Each person on our team needs to be able to operate independently and take leadership. You can’t be a leader if you fear failure, so for our team being fearless is a key skill.”
4. Heart of a Writer
Top-paid developers can speak more than code fluently. “Written and verbal communication skills are another challenge for some developers and a great differentiator when it comes down to choosing the right fit,” says Hall. “The best communicators will always get the nod.”
One way to showcase your great communication skills is in the use of social media. “Taking a few additional minutes to add in information that will help create a distinction between oneself and others with similar expertise can – and does – make a difference,” says Agata Furman, head of recruitment for Luxoft Poland, a global outsourcing provider. Indeed, you should have an updated profile on LinkedIn; outsourcers such as Luxoft Poland are now leveraging the cloud to hire developers anywhere and LinkedIn is the first place they look to find new talent. They also pore over other social media so make sure your posts stand out but in a professional way. So much for the twitpic of the office Christmas party after the open bar ran dry.
“Do not limit yourself to conversations with peers only. The power of networking, even on a global scale, is imperative for today’s professional,” explains Furman. “For large companies in particular, operations can span numerous locations around the world. Stay apprised of the latest technology-related trends impacting other geographies that could impact business.”
5. Immaculate Conception
From conception to deployment, the best developers aim for perfection. Sloppy work puts you at the bottom of the hiring pile. “Does our QA team always expect a particular developer to miss easy bugs?” says Jason King, president of Accella, a development and design firm. He looks for those who are on top of details. “ The QA process should be about catching bugs that are not easily identified, not about checking to make sure the app doesn’t crash when I click on a button from the home screen.”
Other differentiators are more specific to certain development teams, so do your homework before applying. “In our office, foosball is a key for any new hire; winning the monthly tournament is a big deal and delivers instant cred,” said one developer.
Of course, the old standbys apply across the board: good personal hygiene, people schmoozing skills, and excellence in sucking-up techniques. But by and large, the skills that earn you the big money can be summed up in one neat little bumper-sticker: “Be First. Be Fast. Be Right.”