Top Software Developer Skills to Look for in a Candidate

A software developer is writing code, a hard skill all candidates for a developer job needs.

Software developers are some of the most in-demand workers in the American economy—in tech companies, small businesses, or any industry, really. So when you’re hiring a software developer, how do you know what skills to look for? Do they all need the same skills? Or can one software developer do part of the job and fill in with another whose skills mesh well with the rest of the team?

The answers to these questions can differ based on your needs. However, there are a general set of soft and hard skills all software developers should have to do their job well.

With insights from Rahil Pirani, the manager of platform strategy at Insight Global, here’s a list of eight software developer skills to look for in job candidates.

Soft Skills for a Software Developer

Before we talk about the technical skills a software developer should know, let’s talk about some of the soft skills a good candidate will have.

Problem Solving

Problem solving is the essence of a software developer’s job. “Most of the work a developer does is understanding a core issue, getting to the root, and then solving that root problem rather than the symptom,” Pirani says. “You want someone who can think about the big picture, understand the problem, break it down to its core, and find the most efficient way to solve it.”

However, Pirani notes that solving issues is “more creative than it is just scientific.” (We’ll expand on that in a moment.) Part of problem solving is “being creative in writing the most efficient code possible, because the bigger the code, the more complex it is, and the slower your systems will be.” You want someone who solves problems and is efficient about it—not either or.

Creativity and Resourcefulness

Pirani says a core question software developers should ask themselves is, “How can we find different ways to get to the same solution but not cause additional complex computing?” That’s where creativity comes in.

How can one use their skills to write the most efficient code? There is creativity in finding ways to do your work more effectively, so that you and your teammates can continuously create and manage logical code.

He also notes that software developers should use resources available to them to help implement solutions, too. If someone’s thought of a great fix to a problem, perhaps someone else has figured out a creative way to code that fix. There’s skill in looking up if another software developer has!

“If any developer says they don’t use Google to figure out problems, I don’t believe that,” Pirani says. “Almost every developer at some point in their life will go into Google and ask how to solve a problem, because someone has already solved the problem, and why would I waste my time trying to re-solve the solution?”

Your software developers should be creative—and that includes using resources to their do their job more efficiently!

Teamwork and Collaboration

Getting feedback from and giving feedback to other developers is a vital part of the job. “Being a developer on your own is the hardest thing,” Pirani says.

In the world of software development, code reviews are standard practice. Writing something doesn’t mean the developer is done. Teammates should look at the developer’s code and suggest ways to make the code more efficient. There will always be feedback going around teams, so it’s important to know both how to receive it and how to give it.

Pair programming can be an integral part of creating code, too. This requires working within a team, collaborating, bringing fresh ideas to the table, and listening. It’s an active process of recognizing that, while one may have some great ideas, someone might have a better one. And that’s okay.

If a candidate has solid teamwork and collaboration skills, they should make for a better software developer.

Communication Skills

Communication ties all of these skills together.

If you have great ideas and don’t know how to communicate them—whether through words or code—to the team, a software developer can struggle in getting their points across. And as we’ll mention soon, proper documenting is vital to the software developer’s job. Note taking and clearly defining what certain functions do is all communication. You should look for a software developer who can convey what they’ve done and what they want to do clearly.

Hard Skills for Software Developers

Here are some hard, technical skills a software developer should know.

How to Use Git or other Distributed Version Control Systems

Git is a distributed version control system used to work, edit, collaborate, and make changes to certain files. In the world of software development, it’s most often used to share and work on code.

“It allows for team collaboration and for you to get feedback on what is right and what’s a better way to do things,” Pirani says.

This ties back to the need for teamwork and collaboration within a software development team. Git is a great place for learning new processes, making code more efficient, and collaborating on projects. Knowing how to work within a distributed version control system is vital for your software developer(s).

Some other types of distributed version control systems are Mercurial and Bazaar.

Various Coding Languages

Nearly every coding language at its core is the same. They all include “the idea of variables and data, if-then statements, and for loops,” among other qualities, Pirani says.

The syntax within these languages, the spacing needed when writing, and the functions of certain tools might be different for each language, but their core end goal is the same: to output a result that is the most efficient and correct.

Software developers should “understand the core of solving a problem and know what they need to write to solve that problem (if-then statements, while loops, for loops, etc.).” Then they just need to figure how to write it. That’s where the different languages come in. If you know one language, Pirani says, there’s a good chance you can figure out other languages. Software developers should have experience using multiple types.

Some of the most popular languages for software developers are:

  • Python (Pirani says aspiring software developers should start with this language)
  • JavaScript
  • Java
  • C++
  • HTML
  • SQL

With each of these languages, “you’re asking for the same thing, and the response is still the same,” Pirani asserts. “It’s just the way you ask is different.”

Documenting Code

Imagine trying to work on fixing a car without a manual. Could you figure out how to change a tire without a manual? Probably. But could you change the spark plugs on a car you’ve never worked on before? A manual would help if you had the skills to do so.

This is why proper documenting is an important skill for a software developer. There will rarely be just one person working on code for its entire existence. Communication will be key for someone coming in at a later stage.

Your software developers must be able to clearly and concisely document what functions are within code, what certain things mean, what changes may have been made, and how they affect the overall picture. With solid documentation skills, developers can revisit code written years ago and understand today why processes were put into place and what certain values mean.

Experience with Data Structures and Algorithms

Data structures and algorithms are some of the primary things software developers produce in their work.

Software developers should be skilled at both structuring data in ways that make sense, then producing algorithms that are repeatable across code.

Think about when you’re writing a paper. Your outline helps you identify where in your paper you’re writing about a certain topic. The same goes for creating code. Skilled software developers should be able to structure their code in a way that’s easily readable for another developer who hasn’t worked in the code before.

Software developers should also have skill in implementing algorithms within code. They help ease the workload on a developer by cutting down the need to repeat large chunks of code. There are some standard, widely known algorithms that every software developer should know (as defined by Josh Harris on his Medium post). When vetting candidates, you can ask them what algorithms they’ve used and how they’ve made their coding life easier. (This can also be found through code they’ve worked with before.)


When sourcing software developer candidates, it’s important you look for these skills in your next employee. If you need help finding software developers for your company, let us know your needs!

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