The Crucial Computer Science Skills Employers Are Craving
You’ve spent a lot of time around technology. Whether through formal training or pursuing your natural interests, you have likely developed a skill set that employers all over will value. But if Computer Science is your subject of choice and potential career direction—you might well wonder if what you have is enough.
What computer science skills matter most? What do you need to land a job in one of the many careers a degree in Computer Science can lead to? How can you demonstrate your abilities to potential employers and turn your skill set into a salary?
Whether you are considering a career in computer programming, web development, software development or one of many other careers tied to this booming field, you want to make sure what you learn will match what employers want. Keep reading to find out which computer science skills matter most to hiring managers and a few bonus skills that will really help you stand out.
The technical computer science skills employers want
We analyzed nearly 3,000,000 online job postings that sought applicants with Computer Science degrees in the last year to find out which technical skills employers were most commonly seeking.* Note that these skills aren’t pulled from listings for a specific job role—they reflect the skills identified in any job postings that are seeking candidates with a Computer Science degree. These are the desired technical skills listed:
- Software development
- Project management
- Software engineering
- Linux operating systems
- Business process analysis
- Information systems design
But hiring managers and experts in various fields assure us that technical skills, while sometimes required for a position, aren’t necessarily the green-light signal job applicants might hope for.
“I care most about an applicant’s ability to solve a problem, how they think through a task and communicate with those around them,” says Kevin Carlson, vice president of development at DataFinch Technologies. “This shows me how they'll work with the team long-term. I couldn’t care less if they can pass a pop quiz on a certain technology.”
Carlson explains that too many candidates think about meeting short-term needs and whatever is trending in the moment, when hiring is really a long-term play. In technology, constant learning is almost guaranteed, so some employers will be less concerned about which specific technical skills you have and a lot more interested in the soft skills and less-tangible traits and abilities you bring to the table.
Remember, an employer can always teach you a new process or platform—but it’s hard to teach someone to be a team player or a motivated problem-solver.
Computer science skills: Beyond technical know-how
Soft skills stand out a lot more than you might think in technical interviews. These skills can be a mixture of natural personality traits as well as aptitudes developed from experience and practice.
1. Communication and collaboration
You probably saw this one coming. It’s no secret that managers in deeply technical positions crave applicants who demonstrate interpersonal and communication skills.
For Jane Vancil, founder and CEO of IncentiLock, the search is even more specific.
“I wish more candidates came in with face-to-face communication skills,” she says. “When someone can make eye contact and not glance at an electronic device during a 30-minute discussion, it imparts a respect and sincere interest that I feel will be extended to team members.”
Vancil points out that the best applications are built upon a communication of ideas and instructions that are often difficult to put into a messaging platform, making communication skills vital. But this skill can go much deeper than talking and listening. During interviews, Vancil checks for clues to see if candidates become flustered easily. “Even if that is a yes, does the person self-regulate?” she asks.
Working well in a team is essential for almost any job, and many employers in technology are interested in seeing a true spirit of collaboration. “How many times does the person use the word ‘I’ when talking about a group project?” Vancil asks. “Giving credit to others for their contributions is a huge plus.”
Most people feel nervous in interviews and may not believe they put their best foot forward. But after the interview, you have the chance to score lots of communication points by following up with a phone call. “You will likely only get to leave a message, but it lets us get a feel for how you communicate,” Vancil says. “It’s amazing how many people will simply not talk on the phone.”
2. Writing and presenting
If you are an excellent conversationalist, you might still want to brush up on some of the more formal modes of communication. “I’d advise Computer Science students to also work on soft skills like writing and speaking,” says Mike Soylu, co-founder of Pisano. Many positions involve a responsibility to explain your work to people who don’t understand the technical side of it.
Maybe you will give a presentation to board members or stakeholders who are funding your project. Maybe you will work with marketers or project managers who need to understand what your process will be. Whatever the specifics look like, being able to effectively communicate and explain your work is a huge plus. Try challenging yourself by taking a step back from your work and describing what you’re working on to audiences of different technical abilities—if you can explain it simply, it’s a sign of mastery.
Soylu recommends finding ways to practice these skills as soon as possible. “Take part in university clubs, write a blog, take extra courses that involve giving presentations. Any candidate who can communicate clearly and show these skills will definitely attract the attention of recruiters.”
“I really appreciate a candidate when they have a good sense of self-awareness,” Carlson says. “They know what they're good at and where they need improvement.” Pairing that with a desire to learn is perfect for anyone in technology. If you don’t know where you are lacking, how can you grow? “The most interesting resumes, to me, are those that are asking for opportunities to learn,” Vancil says.
You don’t have to pretend to be the absolutely perfect, all-knowing candidate—and attempting to do so may be worse than giving an honest assessment. If you’re interviewing and not sure how to answer a hypothetical problem, acknowledge it and explain the steps you’d take to figure it out.
“I'm more than willing to give someone a chance even if they're not a perfect fit with the skills ‘wish list,’” Carlson adds.
Some tech companies are famous for their informal vibes, but no matter what you know about the place you are applying for—show the utmost professionalism. This can apply to how you dress, how you carry yourself and how you talk about your experiences.
“Refrain from using words like ‘exceptional’ about yourself unless you can prove that you are far above the curve,” Vancil advises, urging job hunters in technology to also clean up their social media. Consider how you want to be seen by employers and make sure your presence—in person and online—is professional. As appealing as it might be to thumb your nose at convention, take the time to self-evaluate your demeanor and online presence through the eyes of a stranger and ask yourself, “Would I trust this person with important work?”
The less-common computer science skills employers love to see
Now that you have a good idea of how a Computer Science applicant can meet job requirements and satisfy interviewers, let’s take a look at a few of the things our experts wish they saw more often from job applicants.
1. Code navigation
“One of the most underrated skills for programmers is what I call code navigation—being able to find your way around a project,” Soylu says. “I’ve seen many novice programmers get lost in codebases because they haven’t practiced this skill enough.”
He suggests finding a project on GitHub, downloading its code and trying to change some basic behavior. “For example, adding a built-in command that prints ‘Hello, world’ to your favorite shell program can be a nice start.”
It might seem like a relatively small thing, but being able to analyze and pick up what’s going on with existing code is an important part of programming. You’re not likely to work on an app alone and employers would love to keep handoff-related downtime to minimum.
2. An online portfolio
Having a portfolio of projects that employers can access just might tip the scales in your favor. “Websites, libraries, games or any projects candidates can provide when applying for a job is always a big differentiator,” Soylu says. “And if they are open source, that’s even better, because the recruiter will be able to assess how you code.”
Soylu says even beyond the work itself, a portfolio also demonstrates courage and the discipline to finish a project.
3. Deployment strategy
“I think a lot of applicants come out of college with a great knowledge of algorithms, languages and data structures, but most of them have never had to deploy a large-scale application in the real world,” Carlson says. “Learning how to think about development and technical architecture in a way that maps to a deployment strategy is something I rarely see.”
Carlson says the exceptions to this are when students have worked on a project outside of school and have gained experience deploying it and serving actual customers. This kind of experience makes extracurricular projects and internships valuable additions to your resume.
To get even more precise...
As you know, there’s a lot to learn in computer science. But these skills cover a wide range of computer science skills from many different careers and job postings. What if you want to get more specific?
For that, you’ll want to start digging into what employers want in the specific career you are hoping for. For a good look at some of the top roles for Computer Science majors, check out, “What Can You Do with a Computer Science Degree?”
*Burning-Glass.com (analysis of 2,957,070 job postings inferring a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science, Dec. 01, 2017 – Nov. 30, 2018).
Python is a registered trademark of The Python Software Foundation.