What Separates Average Coders from Outstanding Developers

Great developers are more of a commodity than ever before. The problem is the workforce is swimming with average, run-of-the-mill coders, but outstanding developers are few and far between. To be a valuable long-term member of a team, developers must have more than just coding skills. There are several additional qualities crucial to making up a well-rounded developer — someone who can creatively solve problems and collaborate with others well, not just execute tasks. On top of practical coding knowledge, outstanding developers must have:

Problem-Solving Skills

Problem-solving is the most important foundational skill that all great software developers have in common. Many accelerated training programs focus on the relatively simple skill of teaching a person to write code in a single language in a short amount of time. What these programs are missing, however, is the complex and fundamental skill of creative problem-solving. If a developer is not exposed to complex issues for the first time until after they enter the workforce, the programmer’s real-world projects will likely be unsuccessful, costing the employer money, time, and client relationships.

“Problems present themselves at different, unexpected points in the technology stack used in a complex software project. A developer needs experience to solve those complex, emergent problems.”

Innovation in the software world operates in a state of continual growth. A school or boot camp that teaches a specific language doesn’t help students learn to think outside of the box and come up with creative solutions when new problems arise. Developers must understand how to look holistically at a real-world problem and find an implementable solution for it. Real-world problems require project planning, another skill very few new developers are taught. Schools teach students how to stop and go, rather than how to step back, look at the problem, and then design a solution, and are therefor doing the future employers of these students a disservice. The first step to solving any issue is to look carefully at the problem. Significant delays in project timelines are caused by this inability to plan, resulting in very real consequences of delayed results and financial losses. The software development industry is too fast-paced to allow for these bottlenecks.

An additional challenge exists in the project process. Even experienced developers have the tendency to quickly start on the parts of a project that they understand and to first focus on issues similar to those they’ve worked on before. In doing so, developers avoid the parts of the project that are unclear or unknown, causing future schedule slips and rework, sometimes of an entire project.

Communication Skills

Development is often perceived as one person coding alone on a computer, so it can be tempting for programs to neglect the need for cross-departmental communication training. But communication is an important skill for any great developer. While it may not be commonly associated with this field, effective communication is essential to a successful and high-performing developer. Programs that do address communication often do so in a silo-oriented way, within the development team.

This leads to bottlenecks and strained relationships within companies, as others in the organization do not understand the need for the time or budget required by the developers. A developer with the best ideas and no ability to communicate them cannot succeed.

“You may have ingenious ideas for the success of the software you’re working on, but the truth is that good ideas aren’t enough in themselves. You need to be able to communicate your idea in a way that will help them to see your viewpoint and inspire them.”

From keeping timelines and keeping up team morale to effectively communicating processes and issues to higher-ups, communication is an integral part of a developer’s success. While a developer’s direct management structure might have some knowledge of the requirements for a programmer’s work, it is important to possess the ability to explain the work to those in other fields, customers, or company presidents.

“…if you can’t stand face to face with the VP of Finance and explain to them that your development process justifies the budget it’s using, then your career will be unable to progress.”

Software development is a “cooperative game of invention and communication.” The more often a project’s progress is communicated, the more productive the project can be. Better development team communication leads to better performance, and therefore, a better final product. Good communication is a highly important skill in the development world, as it leads to stronger relationships, the best possible utilization of each team member’s talents, and ultimately saves everyone time and money.


The availability of mentors in the development field is key to programmer and team success. When new employees enter the workforce without a trusted network of experienced developers to lean on, their work suffers as they flounder through problems alone, costing their employers time and money.

Time-Management Skills

Effective time management is a crucial skill required for successful developers. The ability to work within tight timelines and meet a specific deadline are not typically taught in most classes and boot camps. While deadlines are usually built in to coding education, they don’t teach students how to gauge the amount of time required for each step in a coding project and to develop their own realistic deadlines for themselves.

Learn more about the industry shortage of outstanding developers and how Cook Systems is providing the solution in our free e-book, Beyond the Code.

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