You've seen it on every job description:
"Ideal candidate will have exceptional analytical skills."
"Analytical skills are a must."
"If you don't have analytical skills, don't bother applying."
OK, so we haven't run across that last one (yet).
But what are analytical skills, exactly? And are they really all that important?
Simply put, analytical skills involve using logic and reasoning to solve everyday problems. With them, you can examine and break down complex information into basic parts and understand how those parts are related.
And yes, analytical skills are very important, especially for developers. The good news, though, is that most of us already have and use a few analytical skills without realizing it.
Though most of us associate the words "analytical" and "analysis" with numbers and complex math, you don't have to be a math whiz to have analytical skills. In fact, there are plenty of common activities that require analytical skills, including:
- Research (academic or in the workplace)
- Resolving customer complaints
- Finding ways to overcome obstacles to achieve a goal
- Finding the root cause of an issue
- Games and leisure activities (for example, chess, Sudoku, puzzles, and videogames)
If you've done any of these activities before — and chances are that you have — then you're already familiar with using analytical skills. But how do developers use these skills to do their jobs? In this article, we'll explore the analytical skills that developers and tech companies value the most in their teams.
3 important analytical skills for developers
Although developers should have several analytical skills, these are some of the most important.
We're listing communication first for a reason. It's the top analytical skill for any profession, including development. If you can't effectively listen and communicate, you'll have trouble with every other analytical skill.
Examples of communication skills include:
- Listening: Can you understand why something is a problem and how others are affected by it?
- Oral communication: Can you explain a concept or situation to someone in a way they understand?
- Written communication: Can you write in a way that's clear and concise?
- Presentation: Can you convey an idea or situation to an audience using oral communication, written communication, and visual aids?
Effective communication can be tricky because it's so situational. For example, let's say you developed a new app and needed to present it at a meeting. If the meeting were with fellow developers, then you'd likely have an in-depth discussion on some of the design decisions, as well as issues on coding and server communication.
But, if you're presenting that same app to the business team, you'll want to focus on what makes the app stand out from its competitors and why customers will want to download it. It's the same app, but to effectively communicate with different people, you need to highlight different aspects.
If you can master communicating with people at all levels and departments of your company, then you're guaranteed to succeed at whatever you do in your new development career.
2. Critical thinking
Next in our list of analytical skills for developers is critical thinking. Critical thinking skills are what separate the best developers from the rest of their peers. Critical thinkers ask the right questions and use patterns and trends to make informed, proactive decisions.
Examples of critical thinking skills include:
- Prioritization: Can you focus on the most relevant or important aspects of a project based on the goals?
- Deductive reasoning: Can you develop and test a hypothesis by making observations and collecting data? Can you recognize when your hypothesis isn't valid?
- Inductive reasoning: Can you develop larger patterns and theories based on specific observations?
- Comparison: Can you accurately judge two situations against each other and account for minor differences between the two?
- Troubleshooting: Can you find the cause of a problem by identifying its symptoms?
As you can see, critical thinking skills go beyond the technical work of programming. Companies love hiring people with critical thinking skills because they're better able to work independently and even proactively. That is, they're less likely to sit around and wait to be assigned a new task.
With unlimited information accessible in everyone's pocket, it seems that everyone's a researcher. But, while anyone can just type a question into a search engine, it takes a person with well-developed research skills to make the best use of all that information.
Examples of research skills include:
- Investigation: Can you come up with a research question whose answer will be helpful to the project or company?
- Data collection: Can you determine which publicly available sources are the most helpful, as well as which private sources are relevant and worth the cost?
- Accuracy checking: Can you filter out information that's outdated, inaccurate, or biased?
With so much information available on everything, research skills are becoming more and more valued by employers. Data is everything, and the most successful developers can collect data from sources beyond just the top search engine results.
How employers ask about analytical skills
It's one thing to just list them on your resume, but potential employers will want to understand more about the analytical skills you bring to the table.
Here are a few example questions an employer might ask you about your analytical skills during an interview. As part of your interview prep, you should practice answering these so you're not caught off guard.
- Talk about a time when you had to make a decision without all the information you needed or wanted. How did you come to your decision?
- Describe a particularly difficult troubleshooting experience. How did you eventually figure out the problem?
- How do you factor in pros and cons when making a decision?
- Describe a time when you needed to communicate a complex issue or concept to someone outside of your field. How did you help them understand the important points?
As a developer, your hiring process will likely include a technical interview — which involves solving a complex technical problem without any prior information. Don't panic. The idea here isn't to come up with the perfect answer but rather to understand your thought process.
Don't be shy about promoting your analytical skills
Regardless of which development career path you're pursuing, it's important to highlight as many transferrable skills as possible from your previous career. That includes analytical skills, which you can develop and master in any professional field.