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 min read
June 23, 2016

5 really useful periphery skills for developers

The webmaster days of yore aren’t coming back anytime soon, but it never hurts to go beyond the comfort of programming into the wider world. So why bother learning periphery skills?

The webmaster days of yore aren’t coming back anytime soon, but it never hurts to go beyond the comfort of programming into the wider world.

Why learn periphery skills?

Additional skills are the fast track to becoming more efficient, more employable, more useful (particularly if you’re a freelancer, contractor, or employee at a small company or startup) and more self-sufficient. In many cases, peripheral skills are easily applied to a wide range of contexts. You can even take them offline like it’s 1999.

We’ve included a mix of skills here, so hopefully there’s something you want to investigate further 🙂 If you want to talk more about this topic, catch us on Twitter!

Beyond bootstrap: Design/UI skills

It’s generally when you get towards the end of a project that you start with the excuses.

‘I’m rubbish at design,’ you explain/wail, when your code is perfect but the final product looks like Times New Roman met MTV circa 1998.

The other person in the conversation either nods sympathetically or says, ‘Go and learn it then’. We recommend the second.

No one’s expecting you to become the world’s best web designer, but even learning a few basics can make a big difference to how you approach projects.

Bonus points: The gif that keeps on giving – make your own gifs and memes.

Visual shortcuts: Photography

If you struggle with the creativity needed for web design, photography is a great alternative. As long as you know the basics of cropping and adjusting images, you can create great heroes, headers, banners, presentation slides, and much more. This is a particularly useful skill to have for technical projects and websites where stock photos are generally limited to men in suits staring thoughtfully at server racks (see also: Men Laughing Alone With Yogurt).

Photography is as simple or as complicated as you want to make it. You could take shots with a decent camera phone, or commit to learning the manual ins and outs of a DSLR. Whichever route you go down, knowing the basics of composition and what makes a good photo are a must.

The great thing about photography is that it’s a really established industry, which means there’s a clear path to follow and plenty of different options for learning. Books, videos, and physical courses mean you can pick the learning style that works best for you.

Bonus points: Develop a selection of versatile props you can use. Lego and small collectible figures are ideal, as are tech products like nice keyboards, hardware components and interesting USB sticks. If you want to take it further, go for conceptual props such as tools, clocks, and even vehicles. It’s the best reason to buy a new car and take it to the desert.

Going offline: Speaking & workshops

Unless you’re a seasoned speaker, chances are the thought of giving a talk fills you with dread. The only way to get over that is to face your fear. A lot. And always ask for genuine feedback.

Start with a small audience (local grassroots events are ideal for this as they’re always looking for speakers) and gradually work your way up as you get more comfortable. As long as you’re passionate about what you’re speaking about, you’ll forget everything except the topic at hand within the first couple of minutes.

Not happy to wing it? There are plenty of meetups, courses, groups and coaches to help you improve, or you could sit down with a friend to start with.

The great thing about speaking is that it opens up a lot of opportunities. It’s a quick, effective way to get your name out there, build authority, increase website traffic and social media followers, and even get work.

Bonus points: Set yourself a goal for each talk/event you do, and build on them. Your first goal might be to just get through it (!) – future goals may be to speak in front of a certain number of people or at a particular event, or to get clients or network.

Become a wordsmith: Technical writing

Being able to write great read mes, docs, and tutorials is vital…even if you don’t like doing it. The problem with things you don’t like is that you generally avoid them as much as possible, and so you rush over them without getting any better. The flip side of that is that you want people to want to use your code and listen to your views, and have a good experience when they do.

The answer is to make it interesting. Make it fun to read, and fun to write. How? Try some of these:

  • Incorporating gifs and memes (obviously we love practicing what we preach).
  • Integrating your favorite pop culture quotes (subheadings or analogies are perfect for this).
  • Including easter eggs.
  • Explaining using screencasts, videos, or gifs (skip back to the ‘Beyond bootstrap’ section of this post if you didn’t open the gif maker the first time around).

Step-by-step guides are the perfect way to get a lot of information across in a way that’s easy to structure as you’re writing. Just don’t try to cram too many instructions into one point. Get everything in your head down in cold hard type first, and worry about cleaning it up later; concentrate on the topic at hand rather than how ‘good’ or ‘bad’ your writing is.

Bonus points: Write a series of technical blog posts that provide definite value but keep the reader personally interested too.

Promotion: Content marketing

Never thought of your Twitter ramblings as a skill? Even if you don’t have your own company, your personal brand and career opportunities will open up massively simply from good public blog posts, code, projects, videos, podcasts, and images.

When you create something you’re proud of, develop complementary media for it too. Your repo could have a ‘How I did it’ blog post, your talk could be a podcast, your notes could be a slidedeck, the helpful links you’ve come across could be an email.

Post consistently and share great things other people have created as well as your own work. If you’re an active member of tech communities like Stack Overflow, Quora, TopCoder, programming subreddits or similar, leverage your authority there to share relevant content.

Content marketing is a skill that goes hand in hand with technical writing and speaking, and all three complement each other nicely (although if you prefer to only develop one or two of these, that’s totally fine too).

Bonus points: Know everything about Twitter cards, Facebook’s Open Graph, and Google’s mark up for content and implement them before a marketer even asks you.

What periphery skills do you think are important as a developer? What have we missed? Let us know on Twitter.

Jeremy is the Head of Marketing at Cronofy with over a decade of experience in the tech industry.

Cronofy reviews sourced by G2