If you really want to succeed in your career—and at life in general—you need more than technical skills.
Being a really good programmer will only take you so far.
If you truly want to reach the top of your game, you have to have soft skills.
But, how do you know what soft skills you are lacking and which ones you need to work on?
I decided to put together a small quiz you can use to self-assess yourself in terms of soft skills and decide what areas you might want to work on.
I’ve broken up the questions into the same seven sections you can find in my book on soft skills, Soft Skills: The Software Developer’s Life Manual.
So, honestly evaluate yourself with the list below.
Give yourself 1 point for each “yes” answer (0 for a “no”) and add them up to get your score below.
Having a goal is important. Without a clearly defined goal, you are like a boat drifting in the ocean, floating in whichever direction the currents take you.
If you really want to get somewhere in life, you need to have goal.
You don’t have to know where you’ll be in five years, but you should at least have an idea, and you certainly should know where you want to be in a year’s timeframe.
People skills are one of most important soft skills you can acquire, because even though you might be writing code all day, your real job—everyone’s real job—is to deal with people.
The better you are at dealing with people, the easier your life will be and the further you will go.
It’s especially important to learn how to influence people and get along with those who often have different viewpoints than yourself.
If you lack skills in this area, I highly recommend checking out How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie. It’s a book I read at least once a year.
These are critical career skills that you should not be without.
If you don’t know how to negotiate a job offer, check out “How to Negotiate Your Salary.”
A professional takes their job seriously and holds themselves to a higher level of accountability.
A professional can be relied on to do the right thing and make good judgment calls on their own. An amateur has to be told what to do.
Being a professional is difficult and sometimes a bit uncomfortable. It’s much easier to be an amateur.
If you are struggling with this one, check out one of my all time favorite books, The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, or read the chapter on being a professional in my book, Soft Skills: The Software Developer’s Life Manual.
Until you figure this one out, you’ll always be limited in your career.
I had a major breakthrough in my career when I learned to stop being religious about technology.
Most software developers just take the first job they get or whichever job pays the most. They don’t consider the long term consequences of their choices and really plan their careers.
Do you know what kind of software developer you want to be?
Do you know what kind of company you want to work for?
Have you even given it any thought?
It’s really important to specialize. Being a jack-of-all-trades just doesn’t cut it in today’s highly competitive, highly specialized technical environment.
A catch-all “surgeon” or “doctor” doesn’t have as much success today, nor does a “programmer.”
You should pick a clear specialty that makes you stand out and gives someone a undisputed reason to hire you specifically, or you’ll be just another commodity.
Make no mistake, you are a business. Whether you work for someone else or not, you are responsible for your personal brand and your career.
If you choose not to have your own personal brand, you’ll be choosing to let the world and other people define you instead of you defining yourself.
To be successful in this highly entrepreneurial world, you need to stand out and have a clear message. You need a personal brand.
If you haven’t done this one yet, there is no better time to start than now.
Sign up for my totally free 3-week email course, which will take you step-by-step through the process of creating your own blog and teach you how to make it successful.
Creating this blog was one of the most significant choices that impacted my career.
If you aren’t willing to put yourself out there and be a little bit uncomfortable, you might as well just give up now. Unless you are willing to look a little foolish, you’ll never achieve anything great in life.
Some of the most embarrassing things I have done in my life have been the most beneficial.
Most people never get out of their comfort zone, so they never grow. Don’t let that be you.
If a shark stops swimming, it dies.
If a programmer stops learning, their career dies.
If you want to keep growing and moving up the ladder, you need to keep learning.
Your education doesn’t end after high school or college. It’s up to you to take charge and be responsible for your continued education.
Be a life-long student. Learn how to learn.
Mentors are great and so are really good teachers, but if you really want to succeed in life, you need to learn the art of self-education.
If you don’t know how to learn on your own, I’ve put together a video course that teaches you my exact process for learning entire programming languages in a single week, and more.
Check it out here: 10 Steps to Learn.
If you aren’t sharing what you are learning, you are only achieving a surface level of understanding. To reach a really deep level of understanding you need to communicate what you have learned to others.
You should be able to teach yourself, but it doesn’t mean you can’t gain value from the experiences and wisdom of others who have either gone through what you are going through or helped others along the way.
A good coach or mentor is a valuable asset. (I offer coaching services here, but I’m usually booked out.)
You should always have someone you are looking up to who can guide you on your way.
If you can be right only 55% of the time, you should trade stocks on Wall Street. Within a week you’ll be ridiculously rich.
If you can’t be right even 55% of the time, it means you are wrong a lot—we all are.
It’s okay though. Being wrong isn’t bad. But being wrong and adamantly insisting you are right and never learning from your mistakes is.
This is a tough skill to develop.
I’m one of the most productive people I know and I still struggle with this skill.
Procrastination will kill you if you let it.
Most people don’t decide that they’ll never write that book. Instead, they decide that they’ll start on it tomorrow.
Procrastination is also called “laziness,” but you can beat it.
How does that saying go?
“If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”
So true. Once I started actually planning out my weeks and days, I got a lot more done—and you will too.
If you’ve never tracked your time and used some kind of planning system, I highly encourage you to give it a try.
Your habits make you.
You are the sum of your habits over time.
If you want to succeed at anything—in the long term—you need to develop good habits and break the bad ones.
This is especially important when you feel “burnt out” and you lack motivation. In those instances, good habits will carry you through to your destination.
I highly recommend the book Superhuman by Habit by Tynan for a good resource on developing habits.
It’s not enough to have a good idea. Everyone has million-dollar ideas.
Instead, you need to be the kind of person who takes definite and purposeful action.
If you waste your time hesitating and questioning yourself and never taking action, you’ll never get anywhere.
I’m surprised how many adults don’t understand how money and markets work.
You can get financial advice, but you shouldn’t be financially ignorant, or you’ll always be poor no matter how much money you make.
Take the time to educate yourself about the world of finance. You should understand how banks work, what actually happens in the stock market, and how money moves around; otherwise you’ll always be at the mercy of people who do understand these things.
It’s not enough to just save money.
Inflation and taxes will eventually rob you blind.
Instead, you need to learn how to make your money work for you.
I’ve invested in real estate and created a permanent income for myself. You don’t have to follow in my footsteps, but you do have to do something.
I highly recommend reading the short classic book, The Richest Man in Babylon by George S. Clason, for some great, timeless financial advice.
Maxing out your 401k plan and forgetting about it is not a retirement plan.
There is no guarantee you’ll make a significant return on your money, and it’s really a cop-out answer to a problem you should be spending significant time thinking about.
You need to realistically assess your plan for retirement, which means understanding just how much money you need each month, how you’ll get that money, and how long it will take you to get there.
I officially retired at 33-years-old because I figured this out early and acted on my plan. You can do the same.
There is no gentle way to say this, so I’ll just say it.
If you are in debt, you are currently screwed.
You are a slave. You are not free. Your life belongs to someone else.
That doesn’t mean you have to stay that way, but you need to understand that as long as you remain in debt, you will always be in servitude to the person who owns that debt.
If you are in debt right now, getting free should be your top priority.
You don’t have to be Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime, but you should at least understand the basics of good health and nutrition if you want to live a long and happy life.
Bad health will limit you in many ways. You’ll have less confidence, you’ll have less energy, and you might even shorten your lifespan.
It doesn’t take a large amount of effort to learn the basics of diet, nutrition, and exercise, so invest in yourself.
There are huge benefits to regular exercise other than just looking good.
Regular exercise can extend your lifespan, make you more healthy overall, make you feel better, boost your confidence, give you more energy, and even help you think better.
If you aren’t doing at least some kind of exercise, get a plan together and start today.
I wrote up a guide to walking on a treadmill while working that can even allow you to multi-task and kill two birds with one stone.
No one’s perfect. We all eat unhealthily from time to time, but is unhealthy eating a habit for you or an occasional splurge?
If you don’t have a plan for eating healthy, or if you haven’t figured out how to live a healthy lifestyle, you’ll always be struggling with your weight.
It doesn’t take a huge amount of effort to plan your meals and create a workable and livable diet, but the benefits are enumerable.
Like any area of your life, without a goal, you’ll just be aimlessly drifting.
It’s important to set clear health and fitness goals so that you can actively work on achieving them and know what you need to do to get to where you want to be.
If you are struggling with fitness and just not losing weight, maybe it’s because you don’t have a plan or a clearly defined goal.
By the way, if you are interested more in fitness—especially how it relates to programmers—check out my fitness podcast for programmers called Get Up and CODE.
Your mind has a powerful influence on your body.
Don’t believe me? Just check out all the scientific evidence around the placebo effect—Dumbo’s feather.
When you understand this connection you can work toward controlling it and exerting positive changes in your life, just by changing how you think.
A great book on the subject? Psycho-Cybernetics by Dr. Maxwell Maltz.
It’s easy to blame others instead of blaming yourself for what goes wrong in your life.
Not everything is under your control, but when you take responsibility and realize what is under your control, you suddenly unlock new power to positively change your life.
Stoic philosophy, especially the works of Seneca, have much to say on this subject.
Having a positive attitude and can-do spirit are essential elements for success in life.
What we believe about ourselves and our situations form limiting beliefs which can hold us back from our true potential.
If you want to reach your goals, it’s important to develop a positive mental attitude.
Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill is a good book on this subject.
Fearing failure is like trying to swim but being afraid to get wet.
You can read all the books on swimming you want, but until you jump into the pool, you are never going to succeed.
We all fail from time to time, but what separates the winners from the losers is their ability to recognize failure as an instrumental part of success.
You learn by doing—and failing. It’s all part of the process that guides you onto the path of success.
When I look at my Facebook feed, I see a bunch of people who have let their emotions take control and guide their actions.
They are wasting their best energy by getting upset and arguing some point that really doesn’t have any true relevance in their lives.
Too many people let their emotions control them and suffer greatly as a result.
“How much more grievous are the consequences of anger than the causes of it.”
Memorize that quote and recall it whenever you feel your blood start to boil.
Adding up your score
Okay, now it’s time to see how you did.
Add up all your points and see how you scored below:
- 29-33: Soft Skills Superhero — Wow. Give yourself a pat on the back. You are either probably quite successful in life or on the fast track to get there. If you were honest with yourself and scored this high, you’ve got some wisdom you should probably be sharing with the world.
- 20-29: Soft Skills Metahuman — You’ve got a few things you can work on, but you are in pretty good shape. Gosh darn it, I bet people like you, and I can see why.
- 10-19: Soft Skills Human — This is a pretty average range, so you probably aren’t in trouble, but let’s be honest, you aren’t doing great either. If you are at the lower end of the spectrum here, you should definitely focus on your soft skills in order to gain more success in life. If you are at the higher range, you should pick a few soft skills to work on that you think will be the most beneficial to you.
- 0-9: Soft Skills Baby — Well, you at least get an extra point for being honest. Most people in this range lied and put themselves in a higher category, so there is hope for you yet. But you really need to work on them soft skills, because I guarantee your lack is holding you back in life.
So, how did you do?
If you are brave, post your result in the comments.
Need some help?
I tried to give a bunch of resources to help you with some of the soft skills I mentioned in this quiz, but if you are looking for an in-depth resource, check out my book, Soft Skills: The Software Developer’s Life Manual.
In that book, I cover all of the soft skills mentioned here and more.
Also, if you are wondering, there is a digital version of the book. When you order the print version, you get the digital version for free through a code found in the book.
You can also get the digital-only version directly from Manning, but it’s a better deal to buy the print version and get the digital one for free.