Black graduation cap, leather notebook and diploma on a laptop, symbolising software graduates.
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What are the most important skills for software graduates?

23 Oct 2020

Taking your first steps into the software industry? Here are some of the skills you’ll need, from confidence to coding.

Click here to view the Graduates Month series.

Preparing for interviews can be a daunting first step into the working world for software graduates. At this early stage of your career, you may not have much workplace experience. So, what do you tell potential employers? Why should they hire you?

It’s important to remember that your interviewers will know you’re a graduate. They’ll be aware that you’re fresh out of college and have plenty of learning to do. For that reason, many companies will be just as interested in your potential and attitude as they are in the hard skills you’ve developed.

A great way of selling yourself is by showcasing your soft skills. As well as your tech knowledge, attributes such as confidence, a willingness to learn and enthusiasm are also essential.

These are the softer skills that are often easy to overlook, so you might need to spend more time thinking about them. Remember that group assignment you did in first year? That’s a perfect example of communication and teamwork. What about the final-year project you worked on? This can be a great way to discuss your motivation, curiosity and ability to work to deadlines.

Remind yourself that interviewers won’t just assume you have these skills. Just as you would in an exam, you need to make it clear by telling them. And never downplay your soft abilities. After all, there’ll be plenty of opportunities to learn technical skills on the job. Employers today are invested in educating and training their staff. If a hiring team sees that you lack the required expertise but you are open to learning, they could very well give you a chance.

Advice from a recent graduate

Ian Quain graduated six months ago from Athlone Institute of Technology. Before going into his final year, he did an internship with Liberty IT. This made him eager to return to the company after he finished college.

Quain told that during the recruitment process for his internship, he noticed that all the successful applicants had skills in three broad areas. All were passionate about tech, but they were also confident in themselves and were good communicators.

He returned to the company as a graduate three months ago and was promoted last month to a software engineer. During the promotion process, he explained, he was commended for “having the confidence to speak up and share his opinion” and showing his passion for the tech he was working on.

“If you’re a graduate seeking a job, then I think you’d benefit greatly from those same three skills. Firstly, be passionate. I don’t mean that you need to think of code in your every waking moment, but you should relish the challenge of solving a complex problem when you are in work.

“Be confident. You’ve just graduated. That means you have the skills. It’s okay not to know something but don’t be afraid to speak out and ask questions. That’s how we all grow.

“Finally, communicate. Whether it’s speaking to people about how their kids are getting on with all the remote learning, how we’re all disappointed for Stephen Kenny and the lads, or talking in depth about a challenge you’re facing in the codebase, good communication is key.”

A passion for purpose

At Aon’s Centre for Innovation and Analytics (ACIA), the team is looking for graduates who are passionate about purposeful work.

“We need colleagues who can deliver value to clients,” ACIA told us. “During our recruitment process, we constantly look for candidates who have a meaningful impact and contribution, whether that is in your work experience to date, academic life or contribution to your community.

“We also recognise that teamwork and collaboration are crucial to success and, as such, detailed examples of working well with others will stand out.”

Anthony Dunne works in application development at ACIA. His advice was to “go broad” when you’re starting your career in software. On the technical side, he explained that getting experience in as many languages and patterns as you can is a good first step.

“Over the years you will naturally find the areas that most appeal to you, and you can become an expert in that field,” he said. “Microsoft has some guided learning paths and, of course, sites like Pluralsight and Udemy have some great content for both new and more experienced developers.”

Tips from data professionals

Data scientist Dylan Butler and data analyst Beatrice Russell also work at ACIA. They recently told us that the soft skills they use in their roles include patience and having an open mind.

Butler explained that “taking time to truly dissect the problem at hand” is a key skill. You should continuously ask yourself why you’re doing something and how it contributes to solving a bigger problem, he said. “I recommend coupling this with an understanding of statistics and a knowledge of Python to form a strong arsenal to combat most problems.”

Russell added that “having an open mind, taking the initiative to continuously develop your technical skills and industry knowledge, and a healthy restlessness until you get to the bottom of the problem” are essential.

“As a data analyst, you’d want a good data-wrangling tool to merge and transform datasets and carry out the analytics and modelling, and a strong visualisation tool to build dashboards and tell a story,” Russell said.

Lisa Ardill
By Lisa Ardill

Lisa Ardill joined Silicon Republic as senior careers reporter in July 2019. She has a BA in neuroscience and a master’s degree in science communication. She is also a semi-published poet and a big fan of doggos. Lisa briefly served as Careers Editor at Silicon Republic before leaving the company in June 2021.

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