Software Engineer Skills: What You Need to Know to Stand Out

Software Engineer Skills: What You Need to Know to Stand Out

What skills do you need to succeed as a software engineer? That can prove a difficult question, especially when you consider all the different types of software engineers. However, an analysis of the nation’s job postings can provide some vital clues.

Before we dig into a huge dataset, let’s take a moment to acknowledge that some software engineers have very specific ideas of what they want to focus on. If you’re passionate about developing mobile software, for example, you should develop a skillset around Objective-C and Swift (which allow you to develop iOS apps) as well as Java and Kotlin (for Android apps). Your path is pretty straightforward.

If you’re more of a generalist, however, it can prove more difficult to isolate the software engineer skills you’ll need to succeed. Fortunately, we can turn to Lightcast (formerly Emsi Burning Glass), which collects and analyzes millions of job postings from across the country; we can use it to examine the skills that employers want. The platform also breaks down skills into three categories: necessary, defining, and distinguishing. 

Lightcast defines necessary skills as “specialized skills required for that job and relevant across other similar jobs.” Necessary skills are the foundation; once mastered, software engineers can use them to land a job:

Based on these skills, it’s clear that employers expect software engineers to have mastered the principles of working within teams (Scrum and project management) as well as critical parts of the software engineering workflow (debugging). There’s also a need for proficiency with the software that keeps organizations running, including Oracle, containers (Docker), Linux, and more.

The next tier is what Lightcast calls “defining skills,” which are the day-to-day software engineer skills they need to fulfill an organization’s tactical and strategic goals:

As you can see, software engineers who want to succeed should probably learn a few of the more popular programming languages, including Java, SQL, Python, and JavaScript. Mastering the principles of software engineering/development, as well as DevOps and unit testing, is also important.

After that come Lightcast’s “distinguishing skills,” which are defined as the advanced skills that software engineers can use to differentiate themselves in a crowded marketplace:

  • JavaScript Object Notation (JSON)
  • TypeScript
  • Spring Boot
  • PostgreSQL
  • GitHub
  • AWS
  • jQuery
  • Test Driven Development
  • MongoDB
  • Ruby

If software engineers truly want to set themselves apart in a crowded marketplace, they should study the platforms and languages that power organizations’ cloud operations, including Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure. Knowing your way around GitHub is always necessary, too. And pay attention to TypeScript, technically a superset of the ultra-popular and well-established JavaScript, but regarded by many as a programming language in its own right; TypeScript’s features make it much beloved by developers everywhere.

In addition to your technical skills, keep in mind that all organizations want you to have excellent “soft skills” such as empathy and communication. Soft skills allow you to effectively work in teams and communicate your ideas throughout your organization. That’s vital as you seek to grow your software engineer career.