Tips for Sharpening Software Developer Skills

Written by Coursera • Updated on

If you’re interested in sharpening the critical skills needed for a successful career in software development, these tips can help.

[Featured image] An aspiring software developer takes a programming class in a computer lab.

The world of technology is constantly changing, making it crucial for developers to learn and grow in their expertise. Sometimes skill sharpening is as simple as revisiting the basics. But there are times when sharpening those essential software developer skills involves learning an entirely new language.

How can you stay ahead of the game? Here are the benefits, along with the various ways of keeping your skill set sharp.

Benefits of building your software developer skills

For software developers, expanding your skill set can help you qualify for a new position or promotion, perform more efficiently in your role, or contribute value to your team. It is also one of the most fulfilling things to do as a developer. Many developers choose the profession because of their satisfaction from creating something from nothing. Learning new technologies is a way to experience that feeling again and again.

The best way to start building your skill set is to learn your language, frameworks, and tools thoroughly and gain more experience with various projects. The more existing skills you build upon, the easier acquiring new skills becomes.

How to build software developer skills

Whether you're just getting started in software development or are looking to advance within the field, you'll find a wealth of resources out there—many of them free—to fuel your learning.

1. Read, listen, watch. 

Three simple ways to stay up to date with your software developer skills are to read books and articles, listen to podcasts, and watch videos.

  • Books and articles: Books are the traditional way of learning programming concepts and languages. While different mediums have become more prevalent over the years, books still have many to offer. Highlighting, bookmarking, and including your notes are much more manageable with books than with audio or video formats. Searching for the top-recommended books in a field of interest is an excellent place to start.

  • Podcasts: There is a lot to be learned about software development from podcasts. Though you cannot see the code or what is created, this is not usually the point of development-focused podcasts. IT podcasters tend to stay up to date with the latest news around technology and teach tangential skills. They also stay alert to new tools, learning resources, and ways of attacking a problem. Though not a primary learning medium, podcasts are an excellent supplement.

  • Videos: YouTube has many talented creators that offer a breadth of knowledge about new languages, libraries, frameworks, and more, all for free. Information quality can vary, but it’s easy to tell if a video or creator will be a good fit by vetting likes and comments. It’s essential to be mindful of the publish date, as newer versions of the technology may be available. Creators will likely mention what version they are working on and often release new versions of tutorials if there is a significant change that invalidates the old video.

2. Engage with open-source projects.

It’s easy to find an open-source project using any language or framework you may be interested in learning. GitHub is an excellent place to find these. Once you’ve chosen a project, start with the README section to learn how to get the project running on your machine. Inspect the code provided and see how it applies concepts you're learning, and while understanding it all isn’t necessary, look for familiar concepts, methods, and paradigms.

Once you’re confident and well-versed with the project, look at the project's needs. If you’re on GitHub, these will be found on the "Issues" tab. Here, you’ll see a list of bugs and feature requests. Choose a need that looks manageable and get going. Even if you don't submit a pull request, there’s a lot of potential for learning. Be sure to consult the README for a style guide and code contribution guidelines.

3. Seek out a mentor.

In the development world, having a mentor is incredibly valuable. They can help you solve problems, overcome roadblocks, educate, challenge, and cheer you on. The definition of the relationship doesn’t have to be explicitly “mentor-mentee,” and it can often be beneficial to have more than one mentor. Mentorship can be as simple as a private list of people you can turn to for questions and roadblocks. Discord servers, Slack channels, Twitter, Facebook groups, local meetups, and your workplace are good places to find people for your list.

A good mentor candidate is someone who's patient and open to questions. Always return patience, and remember that people take time out of their day to give advice. If you find yourself in a position to help someone else, do so. The development community thrives on information being easily accessible.

4. Attend conferences.

Conferences bring people at the top of their field together with people eager to learn in one space. After their presentation, speakers will often open up the mic for a question and answer session. These informal sessions are invaluable for clearing up misconceptions or expanding on ideas. You can get an answer to your mental block in real time.

Listen closely to others’ questions too. They may have thought of something you hadn't considered. There are usually social times integrated into the schedule. Attending these events is a great way to build your network. You may even find your next mentor. Your company may be willing to pay for you to attend these conferences as well.

5. Learn a new programming language. 

Once you’ve mastered your first language, learning a new one is an excellent way to stay on top of ever-changing technologies. Learning new languages is like adding more arrows to your development quiver, giving you more tools to get the job done and enabling you to execute increasingly complex ideas. Not only does knowing more than one programming language make you a stronger software developer, but it could open new paths for employment opportunities in the future.

Looking to learn a new language? Consider these courses from top companies and universities on Coursera:

Python for Everybody from the University of Michigan

HTML, CSS, and JavaScript for Web Developers from Johns Hopkins

Google IT Automation with Python Professional Certificate from Google

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Read more: What Are Scripting Languages? (And Why Should I Learn One)

6. Share your software developer skills and abilities with others.

One of the best ways to learn is by teaching. If you can break a complex idea down simply enough to make sense to a beginner, you have a firm grasp of the material. Sometimes beginners may ask questions that give you insights into information relationships you hadn't previously considered.

Helping a friend or colleague level up can help you improve your software developer skills as well. They will eventually learn something you don’t know, allowing you to learn from each other.

7. Take online courses in software development.

When deciding to continue deeper into a subject, consider a well-structured course from an authoritative source.

Discuss taking courses with your workplace, as it’s possible to receive reimbursement for both the resources and your time. Many companies invest in their team members and understand the benefit of them leveling up.

Get started in software development

Did you know? Once you sign up for Coursera, you can explore more than 5,000 courses— many of which are free to audit. Build a foundation in software development with Java Programming and Software Engineering Fundamentals from Duke University, or gain the skills you need for a job in software development with the DevOps and Software Engineering or Full Stack Cloud Developer Professional Certificates from IBM.

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Java Programming and Software Engineering Fundamentals

Explore a Career as a Software Engineer. Learn the basics of programming and software development

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Html, JavaScript, Cascading Style Sheets (CCS), Java Programming, Html5, Algorithms, Problem Solving, String (Computer Science), Data Structure, Cryptography, Hash Table, Programming Principles, Interfaces, Software Design

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IBM DevOps and Software Engineering

Launch your DevOps and Software Engineering Career. Master DevOps, Agile, Scrum, CI/CD and Cloud Native with hands-on job-ready skills.

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