key software skills

Essential Software Developer Skills

Updated By Staff Writer on March 29, 2021

Becoming a software developer means you could work on everything from the back-end development of phone apps to contributing to Triple-A games. Whether if you are planning to work out of your home or from a high-end corporate office, you need to have both technical and soft skills as a software developer to succeed in this exciting career.

Software Developer Technical Skills

This list of technical skills for software developers includes the abilities and knowledge needed to perform their basic job duties. For some companies and job openings, elements on this list might be just the bare minimum to even apply for a position.

Programming Languages

A key software developer skill is knowing at least one programming language. Most people choose to go with Java or JavaScript because it is easier to learn and provides some powerful tools. From there, you should learn languages like C++, HTML/CSS, SQL, Python, PHP, Ruby, or Go. No matter where you choose to start, you should choose to learn a language now.

When it comes to programming languages, the more of them you know, the more job opportunities will be available to you. However, not all languages are created equal. Some esoteric programming languages like Chef or Shakespeare are interesting to look at, but completely unrealistic to do any real programming.

Scripting Language

Scripting is different from programming. Programming creates a new executable file, whereas scripting is interpreted with an existing component or module. A scripting language lets you automate tasks inside of a program and is less code-intensive than a traditional programming language. A junior software developer should have the skill of knowing at least one scripting language like Python or Perl in addition to any other programming language.

Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC)

SDLC is the process of taking software from just an idea to a distributed and functioning code. If you’re going to work as a developer, you should know each step in this process as well as your role in each one.

Text Editors

Every software developer, from those who are just starting to seasoned veterans, uses text editors. Text editors like Notepad, Atom, or Sublime Text are essential tools of your daily life and your responsibilities because they are able to modify and edit plaintext. You should know your text editor, as well as the keyboard shortcuts that are built into the program, so you don’t waste time.

Operating Systems

The fundamentals and mechanisms of an operating system can affect how software runs. A software developer should know the basics of an operating system so they can tackle problems like memory usage, slow run times, blocking issues, tools conflicting issues, and more.

Linux, Windows, and Mac are the most common machine operating systems, but it is becoming more and more essential for software developers to also have a fundamental understanding of Android and iOS systems for mobile development.

Version Control

Also known as source control, this is the process and management of storing completed drafts and versions of code. In programming, it’s necessary to revert, merge, or otherwise access previous versions of the same code. Version control gives you that ability. Software developers should have the skills in using either Git or Github.

Data Structures and Algorithms

Another essential software developer skill is knowing data structure and algorithms. There are often loopholes or alternate paths you can take when becoming a software developer to make things a bit easier, but there’s no way around this one. It will come up in any serious programming job interview, and without it, you won’t be able to write a real-world application.

Data structures are how you organize data, while algorithms are the steps it takes to solve a problem. By being able to master data structures, you can make your program run more efficiently because data is easier to access and manage. Through a mastery of algorithms, you can further optimize a program by taking fewer steps to solve the same problem. Knowing the basics of data structure and algorithms is only the start. As a software developer, you should continually be trying to improve your mastery of these concepts.


Database management is an essential part of being a software developer. You should know how to store records and create, insert, update, delete, and duplicate within databases. SQL is the most popular database among developers, so you should be proficient in at least the basic SQL queries. If you are going to work in certain fields where you are expected to do more work in databases, you might also want to consider learning database management in Oracle, PostgreSQL, MongoDB, Cassandra, or Redis.


Testing ensures that a program or code can run without any errors. As a software developer, you need to be able to run a test and check for bugs to make sure software is ready to be released to a consumer. There are a lot of individual programs and testing options to choose from, but a software developer should have a working knowledge of at least three types of testing methods: unit testing, integration testing, and system testing.

Software Developer Soft Skills

Being a software developer is more than technical knowledge; you also need soft skills. These skills help you work with others and can improve your chances for hiring and promotion. Even if you work alone and want to start your own business, soft skills are still necessary as they can help you gain and retain clients.

Time Management

Deadlines in software development are laws you should never break. As a software developer, you are not the only member of the team. If you don’t meet your deadline, this causes a domino effect on the rest of the team and the program. You have to be aware of your deadline, how much time you need to work on it, and then manage your time appropriately.

Attention to Detail

When it comes to software programming and development, the smallest details matter. Something as small as a line break or a missed figure can lead to an error you have to identify, locate, and fix. Being sloppy or lazy with code is not an option, and will only cost you more time and energy trying to clean up after yourself.


Working on a team and understanding your role and how to fill it is essential as a software developer. You have to be confident in your skills to do your job and trust others enough to let them do theirs.

Being on a team also means you need to be able to communicate. This will help you get help when you need it, establish clear expectations, and help others when they need your expertise.


Software development takes time and it is riddled with errors, bugs, patches, and countless versions in development before it is released to the consumer, which will usually lead to even more patches and versions. You have to be patient and understanding of the time it takes to create software.


No one is perfect. But the goal for your program is to be as close to perfect as possible, which means you will get (sometimes very harsh) criticism. You need to be able to accept both criticism and praise humbly and continue on with your work regardless.

Do You Have to Be Good at Math to Be a Programmer?

Asking if you have to be good at math to be a programmer is like asking if you have to know how to spell to be a good writer. While having a mastery of math can help, there’s more to programming than just crunching numbers and solving equations.

You do need to have a mathematical mindset to properly perform most programming tasks. Math teaches more than just numbers; it can show you a new way of thinking. For example, algebra isn’t only about graphing lines and solving for X; it’s there to show you how numbers behave and interact with each other. For that reason, you don’t need to be a master of mathematical formulas, but you do need a developed, logical thought process.

There are some programming positions that absolutely require you to have a strong working knowledge of math. If you’re doing something like creating a 3D graphics engine, a mastery of advanced mathematics is required.

What Software Developer Skills Are in Demand?

The needs of the market are continually changing, which can lead to you learning a useless programming language or process if you’re not careful. This change can make it difficult to determine what skills a software developer needs that are in demand. Rather than trying to specialize and have a unique niche to fill in software development, it’s better to first focus on gaining a general level of mastery. Learning a generally accepted language like JavaScript or C++ is a universal starting point and is in more demand than becoming a specialist.

Earn Your Degree at Independence University

To help you get started with your career as a software developer, you can earn your degree at Independence University. Our Software and Mobile Applications Development program covers the basics of software development and can help you strengthen your skill set for when you start looking for a job. We provide resources for students focusing on mobile application development and help you learn how you can become a software developer.