August 18, 2022

The Most Market-Valuable Skills for Software Engineers

By Casey Higgins

Recently we saw a post on Hacker News from a software engineer asking:

“Besides coding, what’s the most market-valuable skill to acquire? Thinking more ‘hard skills’ rather than ‘soft skills’, since those are what get people in the door for new opportunities.”

It’s true that many companies assess a candidate’s coding ability before anything else. But as the OP points out, there are other skills that can be just as important for software engineers — especially those at the senior level who are expected to wear many hats and juggle multiple responsibilities.

Here are three software engineer skills we think are essential based on our experience working with hundreds of companies:

  1. Debugging
  2. Systems design and architecture
  3. Technical collaboration

We’ll take a closer look at each of these important skills below.

3 key software development skills


Software developers encounter bugs. A lot of them. It’s an inevitable part of the job.

The key to being a great developer isn’t necessarily avoiding bugs altogether (which is impossible), but rather, knowing how to efficiently debug them when they do occur. This involves quickly identifying the root cause of the problem and putting a fix in place that will prevent it from happening again in the future.

Some tips to help make your life easier:

  • Make sure you have a clear understanding of the code base and the system as a whole. This will help you narrow down the search space when trying to find the source of a bug.
  • Write tests. Unit tests, integration tests, regression tests — whatever you can do to exercise the code and catch bugs before they make it into production.
  • Keep track of bugs. When you encounter a bug, document it (including steps to reproduce) so that you can reference it later.

Another way to hone your debugging skills is to use tools like GDB, LLDB, or WinDbg. These are interactive debuggers that can be attached to a running process and examine its state.

Systems design

If you’re already focused on coding, the next piece is systems design.

“The more senior the job, the more likely it is that part of the interview process involves moving boxes and arrows around to design a scalable, reliable system,” says Woven Founder/CEO Wes Winham Winler.

The ability to design a system isn’t just about understanding the individual components and how they fit together. It’s also about being able to think at a high level about trade-offs, performance, security, etc.

And while there’s no one right answer to any given design question, the ability to articulate your thought process and reasoning is just as important as the actual solution you come up with.

This book is a great place to start: Systems Design Interview — An Insider’s Guide: Vol. 2.

Technical collaboration

This skill is particularly important for senior devs who are responsible for mentoring junior engineers and working with other teams to get things done.

Being a great collaborator means being able to communicate effectively (written and verbal), being able to work through conflict, and having a genuine interest in helping others succeed.

It also requires a certain amount of emotional intelligence — the ability to read people and adapt your communication style accordingly.

Platforms like Github and Slack have made it easier than ever for developers to collaborate on code. Make sure you’re familiar with the tools your team is using and that you’re comfortable using them to work with others.

Essential human skills

Let’s circle back to the Hacker News post. One commenter said:

“I disagree about discounting ‘soft skills’. As a hiring manager I look for people who can demonstrate the ability to solve problems with code… but equally important is the ability to understand the problem and communicate it from/to lay persons.”

In addition to the technical skills we’ve already covered, there are several human skills that will help you succeed as a developer:

  • The ability to learn new things quickly. The world of technology is constantly changing. To keep up, you need to be able to move fast and adapt to change.
  • The ability to work well under pressure. There will be times when you’re up against a tight deadline or dealing with a critical bug. Staying calm and focused under pressure is crucial.
  • The ability to work well with others. As we mentioned before, being a great collaborator is important. But even if you’re working on a project by yourself, you’ll still need to communicate with others (e.g., stakeholders, product managers, etc.) to get the job done.

Check out our blog post about the 10 essential human skills for software engineers for more on this topic.

Final thoughts

Today’s market rewards being good at job searching and interviewing. These skills make a bigger impact on compensation than actual engineering value.

That’s because the process of job hunting is a market in itself. It’s one where the demand for engineering talent far exceeds the supply and where employers are willing to pay a premium for experienced candidates.

So what can you do as a software engineer?

Get better at interviewing.

Practice talking not only about your technical abilities, but also articulating the business value of your work and what it means for the company you’re interviewing with. You need to tell a story that makes the interviewer understand how you think and how you would approach problems at their company.

If you can learn to sell yourself in an interview, you’ll be able to showcase your range of skills and command a higher salary.

Good luck!

Hey dev 👋 Looking for a new engineering role? You can take our work sim once and get matched with several top companies hiring now. Sign up for Woven Match today.