IT Skills That are Often Overlooked

It is common for software engineers to have quite a large number of skills under their belt, as the work they are required to do can be complicated and varied. The most obvious requires skills will be the ability to know at least one programming language, problem-solving skills, understanding algorithms, databases, data structures, etc.

However, there are a number of skills that will always be very useful to software engineers, but which are commonly overlooked when it comes time for a job interview, or even to be specified on a curriculum vitae. They may not seem like obvious skills to have initially, but after a period of time of working in the industry, these skills can prove to be invaluable when solving complicated problems and saving time.

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Asking the Right Questions

Knowing the right questions to ask is essential to getting tasks done quickly and efficiently, and is critical to the work of a software engineer. Before you start coding a new application, it is important to know exactly what your end goal is, if your project plan will ensure the least amount of effort to achieve it, and that the resulting work will satisfy your customers’ needs.

It is important to analyze the need for features in an application, if they are truly necessary and if you are taking the right approach when designing these features. There are times when the customer will have an idea but are unable to communicate this effectively. It is the role of the software engineer to understand what the customer means, and to explain what is technically possible to make their ideas feasible.

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Reading Code

One of the most underrated skills that are overlooked is simply the ability to read code effectively. It is important to not only understand the programming language in which you create new work, but also to analyze and find problems with code written in other programming languages.

We live in a world where developers may come and go, but the code they work on remains behind.  This explains why software engineers can spend a lot of time reading through code to uncover bugs and understand codebases.

So as a software engineer you’ll spend the majority of your time reading and trying to understand pieces of code — which most of the time is not even your own code. This is incredibly hard to do since more often than not you may not know the intent of the creator of that piece of code. It is important to figure out the intention of the original programmer, so as to avoid inadvertently adding bugs or adding unnecessary changes to the code.

It is always a good idea to document any code that you write well, so that any programmers potentially reading through your code at a later time can quickly understand your intentions and make any necessary changes without wasting time.

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Regular Expressions (Regex)

It may be surprising, but many software engineers are aware of regular expressions without having an extensive knowledge of them.  Regular expressions are simply a way of performing pattern matching on text, across multiple programming languages.

Regular expressions can be difficult to master, but there is no denying how useful and powerful they can be in a multitude of programming instances. It is possible to write a single line of regex which can perform several tasks all at once.

Some of the most common uses for regular expressions include:

  • Password pattern matching – this describes a pattern you need to follow in order to provide a valid password. An example of how to do this is:

/^(?=.*[a-z])(?=.*[A-Z])(?=.*\d)(?=.*\W).{8,}$/g

If we break this down, the regex works like this:

(?=.*[a-z]) –  match any character that is followed by a lowercase letter.

(?=.*[A-Z]) – match any character that is followed by an uppercase letter.

(?=.*\d) – match any character that is followed by a digit.

(?=.*\W) – match any character that is followed by a symbol

.{8,} – checks that the length of the match is at least 8 characters

^ and $ – ensures that only whole words are matched, partial matches are not considered.

  • Email format checking – pattern for checking that an input is a legitimate email address

/^[a-zA-Z0-9.!#$%&’*+/=?^_`{|}~-][email protected][a-zA-Z0-9-]+(?:\.[a-zA-Z0-9-]+)*$/

  • Smart character replacement – Regex can be used to automatically replace characters
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Debugging

Any changes to code can be a significant source of disruption, and as an engineer whose job it is to write code, you will probably notice that code changes don’t always go as planned. It is inevitable for bugs to occasionally sneak into the codebase at some point.

Most software engineers will spend a lot of time debugging, and it stands to reason that this is an important skill to master, regardless of the programming language being used; debugging can be a very time-consuming process if it is not done effectively.

While it might be tempting to head straight for a code debugger, it is very important to begin the debugging process with a plan in mind. It is always good to know exactly where to start looking for bugs instead of using a debugger to hope for the best. Being able to quickly identify where a bug might be in the code is a powerful skill. The better your analytical and problem-solving skills, the more accurately and precisely you can solve these bugs.

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Programming Tools

The ability to create your own tools and code library is one of the things that separates a great software engineer from a merely average one. Creating your own reusable tools can make you highly productive in that you don’t waste time recreating commonly used code.

Tooling is probably the biggest difference between a software engineer who does x amount of coding versus 2x. Or maybe even 3x. The tools that you could be making can vary from doing simple to more advanced tasks. For example, you could write a script that automatically checks your code for simple errors before each commit. This way, you don’t have to make a new commit every time you misplace a comma.

Usually, these tools can be made in a script with languages like Python, Bash, or PHP. There are other options available as well, but it has to be some kind of scripting language that can be used well on the command line.

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