4 Skills All Developers Need To Have In This AI Age


1. Soft Skills

AI technology handles data and computation well. It can do math faster than any human and analyze vast amounts of data on the fly.

What it can’t do, however, is be personable or persuade clients to adopt certain technology, sell, market, lead, etc.

Soft skills, in addition to your programming knowledge, are crucial in this new AI age. They are the key to your adaptability and versatility, setting you apart from AI technology that lacks these human-centric abilities.

Why?

Because many of us developers aren’t personable. We want to write code off in the corner somewhere, by ourselves, and be left alone.

The problem is that AI can do that as well.

So, it’s imperative that you spend time reading some books and learn how to become a better communicator, adapt to different environments, display leadership, and work well with other people and teams.

Your future depends on it.

Here are four books that I recommend. I have read these and can attribute the content within them to much of my own success (especially the first two):

How To Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie (a classic that everyone should read)

Soft Skills by John Sonmez (specifically for programmers and really helps you form a helpful mindset around how you view your own skills that you “sell” to employers)

Principles: Life and Work (overall life principles you should know and consider over the years)

Think Faster, Talk Smarter by Matt Abrahams (learn how to speak effectively when put on the spot, which is we’re honest, we all fall short in)


2. Generalist Developer Skills

One thing many developers miss, especially those without formal degrees, is the intricacies of what’s actually going on underneath their code. Many of us learned web development, maybe Javascript and a bit of PHP or C#, but we have no clue what happens when we run the code we write.

How does memory work? How do you actually write efficient algorithms, and what if there IS NO efficient algorithm to solve your challenge (yes, this is a thing (NP-complete problems))? What is the difference between a linked list and a simple array, and when would you use one over the other?

Or, let’s take a step back. How do you develop a mature foundation for solving problems? How can you become good at reading documentation such that you can solve anything with a little research?

By demonstrating your prowess as a generalist developer, you showcase your versatility and problem-solving capabilities. This is highly valued in the AI age, where the ability to learn quickly and adapt to new technologies is paramount.

In this new age, where much of what is being done is new, the need for generalists who know the fundamentals of programming, thinking, and problem-solving will be needed.

So, how do you become this generalist?

Well, you need a good grasp on the fundamentals of programming and the technology that lives “under the hood.”

For this, I recommend Aditya Bhargava’s “Grokking Algorithms” book as a great starting point. Work through the entire book and you’ll come out the other side a much more confident developer.

Second, I would learn to start pseudocoding in your day-to-day activities. Pseudocoding is just writing in plain words how you would solve a problem (or, in our case, an algorithm). If you can pseudocode the solution to daily challenges, then the only next step is to transfer that into a programming language. And that will, in turn, help you become better at reading documentation.


3. Specialist Developer Skills

What? Specialization? Didn’t you just tell us to generalize?

I did. You need both.

According to IT Pro Today, from a recent article on 6/13/24,

“The current labor market favors developers with specialized skills, particularly in areas like AI and cloud computing. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), software development is one of the fastest-growing occupations. However, developers with specialized skills are seeing higher demand and compensation, sometimes reaching million-dollar packages. On the other hand, those without specialized skills are experiencing lower salaries and fewer job opportunities. The uncertain economic climate is prompting tech leaders to adopt a more strategic approach to hiring, focusing on specific roles to meet business needs. This selective hiring can lead to a talent bottleneck and an unbalanced developer team.”

You see, being a generalist is essential but in a secondary way. It’s a baseline that people can trust and know that you can do the job. So it’s almost a prerequisite these days.

But when it comes to hiring, in this specific economy, companies are being more strategic in how they do it, seeking specific specializations. Therefore, it’s crucial to master one future-proof skill and become an expert in it, enhancing your value in the job market.

When someone needs an engineer to get their company onboarded to Azure and ALSO started with Azure AI Studio, there you are an expert in both. You’ve spent months learning Azure OpenAI, how to onboard businesses, the pros and cons, and know the Assistants API well.

You not only can program. You not only know Azure and may even have a certification of some level, but you specialize in the AI portion of Azure and can take any company out there further and deeper inward.

Or perhaps you know Kubernetes well. And not only do you know it well but you have a background in cybersecurity. You have spent the last year mastering best security practices for Kubernetes and even have gotten the Certified Kubernetes Security Specialist certification. Now, you can combine the words “Security” and the words “Kubernetes” together as your specialty.

See how your underlying baseline skills and this specific avenue of mastery make you extremely valuable in this economy.


4. AI Fundamentals

Finally, you can’t escape being up to par on the fundamentals of AI. As companies race to adopt some form of AI solution in their business, you, as a developer, will have to work with it.

So the question is, do you understand it or not?

And you don’t have to become an expert by any means.

But you can’t ignore it.

You need to learn how LLMs work and how to write detailed, effective prompts. You also need to know a little Python and be familiar with important packages like NumPy and Pandas (and, if you want to go further, Tensorflow, Scikit-learn, etc., but these are really optional).

In addition, you should aim to keep up with the major AI news and the technology that’s being used. This constant learning and staying updated will keep you engaged and at the forefront of the AI industry so that you can join in with the conversations going on.

Two newsletters that I always recommend are:

  1. The Neuron
  2. AI Tool Report

These are daily newsletters and will keep you abreast of all the major news, as well as much of the minor.


Don’t Be a Nobody With a Resume

Okay, I couldn’t resist adding one last tip. And this tip is job-related.

I can’t understand why some developers are deploying the same tactics that developers used 6 years ago.

Times have changed.

Throwing your resume, however good it looks, into a stack of 4,000 other resumes is a surefire way to get ghosted.

Stop doing this.

We are NOT in the industrial age.

Many would argue that we’ve moved into an “attention age,” and I can guarantee no one has the attention to look through even half of those resumes.

So here is one major tip:

Create and build an online presence. This is mandatory. If you don’t have a website these days, you’re nobody with a resume.

Instead, be a person who keeps popping up in people’s feeds.

There are developers who constantly pop up on my feed, growing in their craft, networking, and will find it much easier to reach out to someone in thier network when things go sour, and will even begin to attract employment looking to hire them.

Don’t believe me? Just look at this Tweet and answer whether he could even review your bio/posts/website to find you a fit for the job.

I’m confident that growing these skills over the next few years will not only help you stay relevant in this fast-paced industry, but will help you maintain a healthy career for the next few decades to come.