Software engineers are one of the hottest jobs on the market, dominating Glassdoor’s list of the 10 most in-demand jobs of 2019. The rise in Internet of Things (IoT) technology sparked a boost in demand for these professionals over the past year, with the demand for blockchain engineers alone growing by 517%, according to Hired’s 2019 State of Software Engineers report.

SEE: Tips for building a successful career as a software engineer (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Software engineers are responsible for the overall development and execution of software systems. Some of their main duties include “writing complex code, running unit tests, or checking other people’s code,” according to Jeffrey Hammond, principal analyst serving CIO professionals at Forrester. “Sometimes there are aspects of design and architecture that software engineers need to be able to learn and execute.”

When searching for software engineers, hiring managers are looking for a specific and impressive skillset, said to Anthony Gray, senior lead software engineer at Intelligent Product Solutions.

The first skill most hiring managers search for is programming language experience, said Hammond. Candidates who are familiar with multiple languages are particularly valuable, as they have the agility and experience to work with a variety of systems and meet more client needs, Hammond added.

However, language skills aren’t the only priority, Gray said. “When we look for engineers, we look for more than just people who know how to develop,” he noted. “We look for people that can actually collaborate and communicate. What good is an amazing architecture if you can’t show people how to use it? An engineering team should be a sum of its parts, and not single individuals working.”

But finding people with these skills is only half the battle for companies. The other struggle is keeping employees up to date on their skills in a rapidly-changing field. This concern is at the forefront of many developers’ minds as well, according to Hammond.

“Most software engineers have this little core of Imposter Syndrome. They always worry that they don’t know the next technology, or they can’t make the next leap, or that the technology is moving faster than they can keep up,” Hammond said.

Here are four strategies employees can use to keep their skills fresh:

1. Practice

The saying goes, practice makes perfect, and the same applies for this job. “About 70% of developers spend at least five hours a week on their own time writing code, and when you drill into that and ask why, one of the most common responses is, ‘To keep my skills sharp,'” said Hammond.

If employees are concerned about losing certain skills, or being replaced by a new hire with newer skills, then they should take it upon themselves to stay updated. Continue practicing the skills you currently have, and try out new skills you may not be as familiar with, Hammond noted.

“There is a strong drive for most developers to invest in themselves, the same way that a musician will practice: Because it makes them better, or there’s a particular piece they’re trying to learn to play or they’re practicing that piece to get better at it,” Hammond said.

2. Classes

Employees can also take a more academic approach to keeping skills up to date. Online services, like Udemy, are great resources for learning new coding languages and skills, Gray said.

With modern day technology, it’s very easy for developers to learn skills online on their own time, Hammond noted. The difficulty comes with finding the time to sit down and use those resources independently.

“When [employees] are on the job, we certainly see things like training, self-paced or classroom-based,” Hammond said. “We also see digital skill-building services. A really good one would be something like Pluralsight, which we see large enterprises making available to their developers, which provides digital training on specific technologies or topics and then measures the developer’s skill acquisition.”

3. Collaboration

Collaboration and learning from others is key to staying up to date, according to Gray. “Once you teach yourself, you become the expert and then with the rest of the team that knowledge proliferates, and everybody else becomes and expert as well,” Gray said. “That’s the collaboration aspect and that’s the communication aspect that is kind of vital to being a good software developer.”

Word of mouth is an easy and popular way new technology and ideas are spread, Hammond said. By sharing ideas with coworkers and colleagues, employees can easily find out what the next big thing is in the industry.

“Maybe we’ll find some of our other technical blogs and well read through those,” Gray added. “We’ll get updates those and just kind of keep our ear to the ground, as to what is new and coming.”

4. Experience

Perhaps the most effective way to learn new skills is just to try them. To learn about a new strategy or tool, you must use it, Gray said. Oftentimes this can be done when clients need work that involves a new technology.

“You have to be fearless. You can’t be afraid to make a false step,” Gray said. There will always be new technologies, but without trying the new tech, the organization will have no chance of progressing, he added.

“We need to always evolve,” said Hammond. “Technology evolves. If you don’t evolve with it, you’re going to be dead.

To learn about the fastest-growing skills for software engineers, check out this TechRepublic article.