The Chameleon Developer

I was talking to a developer friend today about developers who don’t get the importance of communication. Look through any want-ads for developers and right after the alphabet soup of technologies you have to know is the same requirement—must have “excellent written and verbal communication skills”. You’d be hard pressed to find a programmer job without those requirements.

But, expressing yourself clearly is only half of communication. The more important aspect is listening to and understanding other people. This is what separates good and great developers. And the most important skill in understanding is empathy—not only understanding someone, but being able to be them.

To be a successful developer, you have to learn more than just the software aspect of your business. Developers who understand this are more valuable and valued more. If you want to do this effectively, you have to think like a saleperson, a marketer, a CEO, your customers, the press, etc. You have to think like them because they aren’t all going to try to think like you (but if they’re going to try, by all means, help them).

Another part of empathy is thinking about how they will interpret your words. For instance, avoid rhetorical tics like “think about it” and “you’re not seeing the big picture”. Not only are they annoying, but it puts people on the defensive.

If you understand—not only what someone is saying, but why—you’ll have a much better chance of expressing yourself. So, the next time you have a communication gap with a non-developer, stop talking and ask yourself how much you even understand about them.