Potential vs delivery

Dear new developer,

Early in your career you are judged on potential. Frankly, this is because when you are young in your career, you don’t have much of a track record, so there’s not much else to judge you on.

This means that you can take more risks early in your career. You can shift around and explore different niches, whether technology or business size or domain. Each time you shift, you’ll bring over some relevant experience, but you’ll also be high potential and indicate a willingness to learn.

Companies have to train you on their process and their technology stack, and don’t necessarily expect you to ship on day one.

The older you get, however, the less you are judged on your potential, and the more you are judged on your ability to deliver. This is typically done by looking at your past accomplishments, as what you’ve done in the past is treated as a harbinger of the future.

While there still is spin up time (and the bigger the company, the longer the period; I worked at a large software company where people were surprised I shipped code in the first week) there’s an expectation that you slot in and pick things up more quickly when you are a more senior developer.

As you gain more experience, you have more human capital and are expected to deploy that capital on behalf of your employer.

Does that mean that once you’re a senior developer you can’t switch domains, tech stacks or company size? Absolutely not. But it does mean that you’ll have a harder time doing so and you’ll need to convince the hiring managers that your skill sets apply to the new venture. (There’s an entire book about doing this called What Color is Your Parachute.) You can always press the reset button and re-enter as a junior developer, if you can afford it, and if you can convince the hiring manager that you won’t leave the job as soon as you can find another one.

Take risks early.

Sincerely,

Dan

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