IT (information technology) jobs include a broad range of specific niches -- from programmers who specialize in a specific language like Python or Java, to IT professionals who operate solely on the back-end or front-end of websites, to data scientists and many more. Obviously, with so many different types of IT jobs, there are a variety of skill sets needed to thrive in each specific role.
However, there are also some skills coders need no matter where they plan to land in the IT profession. These go beyond language-specific skills, and instead can be thought of as “soft skills” or personal qualities that are essential to succeeding, no matter what project you work on or company you work for. While some of these skills are also applicable to many careers, there are definitely some skills that are absolutely essential for coding work, specifically.
So what are the coding skills you need for a career in IT to be successful? What qualities should you work on developing, even as you progress through online coding classes and begin to master programming languages? Let’s review five essential skills every coder needs to thrive in the IT world, and some tips for how you can practice and enhance those skills as you learn and work toward your coding career.
#1: Self-Reliance And Motivation
To have any success in coding, you’ll have to overcome periods of impatience, frustration, distraction, as well as relying on external forces to solve technical problems. You’ll often work as part of a development team, with different personalities and managers who may not have ideal leadership styles. There’s often no such thing as a perfectly smooth and relaxed coding career, unfortunately.
However, you have the greatest influence on how you handle these different challenging situations when they arise. In the athletic world, coaches often call this “controlling what you can control”. You can take ownership over what you know, your technical capabilities, and how to improve them as needed. Once you’ve accepted this responsibility, the information you consume and how you apply it, (your interest, study and effort) will dictate how far you progress and whether your managers or fellow developers can trust you more and thus, let you operate independently or with less oversight.
There are some key questions you should answer before you dive into your coding career. Why do you want to code? What problem do you want to solve, or what project are you hoping to help build or improve? Knowing the answers to these questions will help you narrow down what languages you need to learn and skills you need to add to your repertoire.
#2: Master A Useful Programming Language
Python, which was originally created in the 1980s but is still widely used today, is considered one of the easiest coding languages to learn. It’s free, open source, and most often categorized as a scripting language, which means it doesn’t require an explicit compilation step. It’s also considered to be syntactically close to plain English, which makes the learning curve less steep than some other more complex languages.
Meanwhile, Ruby is similarly considered an easier language for beginners to access. Ruby is a dynamic, object-oriented scripting language used primarily to develop websites and mobile apps. Ruby was structurally designed with a focus on being easy, logical, and not requiring advanced knowledge of commands. Similarly, the popular framework Ruby on Rails was designed to expand the language’s usefulness for web development, and is used to make the framework for Twitter, Groupon and GitHub, among other tech heavyweights.
#3: Organization And Goal-Setting
While many programmers do indeed work for themselves, many more will work as part of development teams or in roles for specific tech companies. These team environments require collaboration, as many coding projects are organized with specific milestones and delivery dates to ensure the project is completed in a timely (and budget-conscious) fashion for the client’s needs.
This means that, despite the common cliche of coders working on their own hours in a dark corner of their apartment, most successful coders actually need to be experts in time management, scheduling, and goal-setting. While goals will often be created for you in the form of project milestones and deadlines, breaking down milestones into smaller “bite-sized” goals is an important step for coders to stay on task and power through periods of frustration or monotonous coding.
Likewise, staying organized if you are working on multiple projects or on small projects for multiple clients is equally essential for programmers. Juggling responsibilities can quickly overwhelm a disorganized programmer, which can lead to dissatisfied clients and bad referrals which can prevent you from getting future work. Developing a system for balancing your projects and delivering timely results to all of your teams and clients is critical for IT success.
#4: Being Open To And Incorporating Feedback
Because coding is, by its nature, a creative enterprise where you are often building something largely from scratch, some coders are defensive when they get negative feedback from a manager or client. But unless you are working independently on a project of your own design, learning to use feedback productively to add to your skill set or change the way you operate is actually an incredibly necessary part of a successful coding career.
One method that many successful coders use is to create a system for saving feedback in a single repository, to revisit after a project is completed to create learning lists for the future. Good programmers and IT professionals know that learning to code is never a finished process -- the best developers will frequently visit online forums and developer communities like GitHub and Stack Overflow to keep track of evolving languages, new tools, and best practices for handling common development problems.
If you find yourself receiving consistent criticism or feedback in specific areas, you shouldn’t simply resign yourself or throw out the feedback. Instead, use these opportunities to figure out where you should focus your learning efforts in the future, and continue to evolve as a coder, just like programming languages have evolved themselves. How do you think Python has continued to be a widely popular language for over three decades?
#5: Patience, Patience, Patience
There may be no personality skill more essential for IT professionals than patience. From being patient with trying to solve bugs or figure out the code lines needed to get around a structural problem, to being patient with the shifting needs of a client, to being patient with difficult team members or project managers, there’s never a time in a programmer’s life where you won’t need to breathe and persist through some difficulties.
While patience is not the easiest skill to simply learn or develop, embracing the importance of this quality even as you begin to learn to code is essential. Likewise, if you don’t think that you can be patient and persevere through the tough times, you might want to consider something besides coding -- because you’ll need to be patient for the rest of your IT career!