It’s not only about coding anymore.
Developers need to know how to talk, too.
When I co-launched a web software company I knew that at some point we were going to hire developers. In the beginning we managed to code on our own since both of my business partners are skilled full stack developers. But as the business grew the need to multiply our team was more than obvious.
What mattered to us were not only the tech skills and agile approach to coding but also… communication skills. Yes, you have read that right. Hard test-proven skills are one thing. How we evaluate them in our company is a material for another post. One thing is for sure, you can’t avoid being asked about your previous projects, tools and methodologies.
So why to look for communication skills in developers? Because even programmers need to communicate their ideas, concerns and eventually (when they become senior developers or earlier) teach/mentor other developers.
Let me name the three instances where coding and communication go hand in hand.
- If they are a part of a team. When you hire developers they usually work in a team. If they were to be lone wolves you would probably co-operate with freelancers instead. But in a team one works with more and less advanced colleagues and the ability to explain the algorithms and processes behind the code is crucial for all team members to know what they’re doing. As a consequence you have a more focused team who develop the code and the product faster and more confidently.
- If they talk to clients. I wish for all software companies to have clients who always know what they want and can explain it in the easiest way possible. One of our clients makes YouTube videos every time they want to introduce major changes to their application. But for most projects we have working chatrooms with our clients and the communication is mostly written. Our developers’ goal is always to understand the purpose of the change and apply the change itself. With a team open to communication with our clients (whether oral or written) we raise engagement of the developers and satisfaction of our customers.
- If your team consists of both technical and non-technical employees. Writing an application has a lot in common with writing a story. When the language, punctuation and the outline are proper, the message is clear for anyone who reads it.
That’s why more and more companies encourage developers to write blog posts, give presentations or lightning talks. Fortunately, there are plenty of opportunities for developers to master their communication skills and be understood by the whole team (and eventually by the whole world). Let’s start with two.
- Toastmasters meetings — regular and highly efficient way to improve communication and leadership skills. Joining Toastmasters people learn how to build productive teams, give constructive criticism and listen better. This approach gives benefits also to developers. Being a part of your company they become active teachers and support for younger colleagues. No wonder that more than 6000 companies all over the world keep their in-house Toastmasters clubs.
- Local meetups — regular events for coders. There are usually a couple of longer presentations (15–20 minutes) and very short insights (3–5 minutes). Contributing as a presenter you can introduce your company, solutions that work or ideas that improved your development process. For AngularJS meetups, you can see ng-poznan for example.
There is a saying by Jan L. A. van de Snepscheut that “In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. But, in practice, there is.”. Just theoretically developers sit quietly behind their desks gazing at monitors and avoid talking to anyone. In practice they are team members, mentors, teachers and the first line of technical support for your clients. Their communication skills are a valuable asset of your company resulting in greater team spirit and better relationships with your clients. And when your clients know they can count on every single member of your team they’re more willing to recommend your company. It just works.