The Code Will Never Judge You

This is a guest post from Lorna Mitchell. Enjoy.

Dear new developer,

Recently, I decided my seven-year-old niece was old enough for her first programmable device. She has done a little bit of Scratch with me, so I bought her a BBC micro:bit (a very simple programmable device, with a web editor and USB connection, some buttons and some LEDs) and showed her how to get started. Then I said to my sister (whose child this is) “the tears are all part of the software development process, so try not to worry when it happens!”. However many years down the path I am myself, coding is still a rollercoaster and there are some downs as well as some ups.

One thing that makes software development more difficult is wondering if you are really cut out for this. It’s so easy to feel like you are doing software “wrong” in some way. Spoiler: there really isn’t a right way, it’s part art as well as part science. Keep the user in mind and apply the technology the best way you know how; you’ll go far.

Some days it doesn’t feel like it’s going well and you may wonder if you will ever be really good at your chosen profession. On other days, or perhaps overlapping days, other people will think you’re not cut out for it either. Maybe you think your skill set isn’t a good fit (it is), or that you don’t really look like a software developer (you do). It is very difficult to help other humans who have already decided that they don’t quite believe in you. From extensive field testing, I have found that almost none of them ever change their mind.

In fact, this is much less important than it seems. If you don’t understand the pop culture that inspired the bot/server names, you didn’t play the same computer games or watch the same films (I’ve still never seen Star Wars), that doesn’t impact on what you can be. For minorities of all stripes, not sharing the supposedly shared culture can really make you doubt yourself. That’s a human reaction, don’t feel bad for feeling your feelings. If you want to be a person who does play those games and watch those films, then go for it.

But if you are just there to be the best software developer you can be, then let the other things go past you, and focus on the things you really do want to learn from, and share with, the crowd. I think most of what I know about text editors, information security, and leadership I learned from colleagues or conference encounters. It took me far too long to realise that software developers do look and sound like I do, and my own interests and hobbies are no less valid than anyone else’s (I also know more very technical humans with yarncraft hobbies now).

The code will never judge you. You show up, try things out, keep learning, keep iterating. That’s how software is made. It isn’t made of what other people thought you could do, it’s only made of what you did do, and for that you need to show up, and do.

— Lorna

Lorna is based in Yorkshire, UK; she is a Developer Advocate at Vonage as well as a published author and experienced conference speaker. Lorna is passionate about open source technologies and sharing knowledge, code and experiences with developers everywhere. In her spare time, Lorna blogs at https://lornajane.net.

You’re gonna be OK

This is a guest post from Jerome Hardaway. Enjoy.

Dear new developer,

So, you’re in the office, learning a million things a minute that you were never exposed to. Everyone around you seems super competent and you don’t want to take time away from them, but you have no idea what you’re doing. You feel like you should probably be a janitor instead of working on a million dollar web app. I’m here to tell you, you’re wrong.

Every person who seems competent has felt like you or still feels like you do, they are just better at hiding it. I know people who have been doing this work for years and feel silly at least once a week. Hitting your head against the tech wall is a rite of passage here and normal and whether they tell you or not, we have all been there. We have all either accidentally taken down prod, nuked the repo, felt lost, accidentally ran up the AWS bill, and just straight up sucked at this job. So long as you focus on having more good days than bad, you will be fine. More than that, you’ll do great, so relax cause we are all rooting for you.

— Jerome

Jerome Hardaway is a Developer Advocate at Quicken Loans and Executive Director at Vets Who Code, Where they help veterans get jobs in software by teaching them how to program for free.

You’re probably going to want to quit

This is a guest post from Mia de Búrca. Enjoy.

Dear new developer,

You’re probably going to want to quit.

The very qualities that make writing software appealing can also make it frustrating beyond belief. You’re headed down this path because you like to be challenged, to learn and grow. However, facing new harder problems day in, day out can take its toll on your morale. And keeping up to date, familiarising yourself with the breadth and depth of topics in this domain – it can be overwhelming. But if you’re reading this it’s likely you’ve already felt the deep satisfaction of writing code to be proud of, so I hope that by sharing my experiences, from early in my career and from a few weeks ago, you will be motivated to push through and keep enjoying the journey.

The Import

One of the first times I nearly quit was a few weeks into my first role as a dev. I was fortunate enough to land a great job at a small startup, and I was pretty awe struck by the talented and motivated people on my team. So after a while of pairing, I picked up a piece of work to try on my own. After doing some copy-pasta from other files and then tweaking I was chuffed and attempted to view the web page that would now be perfect, right?

Much to my dismay I was met with a blank page and an obscure error message. Baffled, bit by bit I undid all my changes, at each step feeling less worthy of the job, until nothing was left except one measly import statement. I could feel myself go red in the face as I still couldn’t understand what was going on. I should be able to do this, but I’m not good enough. Eventually, I turned to my mentor to admit defeat, and my panic dissolved when he said “oh yeah, this one is definitely confusing” then casually pointed out a simple syntax error. I realised that unlike him, I was not yet equipped with the necessary debugging skills, I was not yet familiar enough with the language I was working in to decode the error message. It takes time.

The Library

It has been four years since the import statement that stumped me, but just a few weeks ago, when I volunteered to update a library which was many versions behind, this seemingly trivial task wound up with me ready to quit yet again. Between a broken development environment, failing tests (was it the tests… or the code?), and still this library integration that refused to obey, I was at a loss. I should be able to do this, I should be good enough by now surely? These thoughts drove me to stubbornly dig my heels in and devote hours to diving into the library source code, reading in circles, dipping in and out of StackOverflow, getting more and more frustrated. Much time wasted I was no better off, so I went and made myself a cup of tea and called up a colleague and good friend to lament my problem. Typically, within seconds of this accidental rubber ducking session the solution to my worries became apparent.

The Lessons

And I could probably list countless other occasions. There may be many different things that leave you feeling like quitting, for me it often boils down to not feeling good enough to tackle a problem. But when you come up against a roadblock, you shouldn’t see it as a reflection on your own ability. If like me you find yourself paralysed by feelings of inadequacy, recognise that the foundation of all programming is problem solving – if there were no annoying problems, you wouldn’t have a job – and as you progress through your career you will gain more tools to solve them. Step back and remember, when it comes to tech, there is a reason to be found – sometimes it takes time, distance, or some help to see it.

These are lessons you should try to internalise, or like me you’ll relearn them throughout your career. You can’t change the fact that deeply frustrating problems are coming your way. You can only change your perspective. Put your energy into solving the problem and don’t assume that you’re not good enough. “Good enough” is an arbitrary concept, an ever moving goalpost. Give up on the notion of “good enough” and instead give yourself some time.

Sincerely,

Mia

Mia de Búrca is a Senior Software Engineer working full stack at 99designs, a company connecting creatives around the world. Originally from Ireland, Mia started out as a translator and computational linguist before landing in Melbourne, Australia and setting her eyes on a career in web development. Mia enjoys solving problems with a focus on bringing real value to users and seeks opportunities to create a supportive and empowering workplace. When not hiding from apocalyptic pandemics, Mia is also a circus performer and teacher.

Sometimes you just have to ship it

Dear new developer,

For me, there comes a point at the end of every project where I’m just sick of it. I’m sick of the project. I’m sick of the technology. I’m sick of project management system. I’m sick of the code.

Sometimes, I just want to see the whole thing burn. Or better, just ship it.

Now, I think that there are two solutions to this problem, and which one you pick depends on your timeline. The first is to take a step back. Talk to a team mate. Work on something else. Talk a walk. Take an extra half hour for lunch.

This may give you perspective to help you dive back in and add just a bit more polish. That polish, which may take the form of additional UX refinement, testing, or even wordsmithing the help messages or marketing text, can help make the project shine.

That’s what I call ‘running through the finish line’ where you want to leave it all on the field. That doesn’t mean you don’t make compromises or that you won’t revisit decisions, but it does mean that you do the best you can. Sometimes to put in that final effort, you need to take a break.

The other choice is to just ship it. This is a good option when you are up against a deadline. It also helps if you know you are a perfectionist and/or afraid of putting your work out there. Nothing is perfect and if your work never sees the light of day because you can’t accept that, the world is losing out (as are you). Finally, it can help if you take that time off, acquire that perspective and know that you’re done with this phase of the work.

I just published a book. It was released on Aug 16. I’m very proud of it, but there were times when I was just plain sick of it. I ended up taking some time away from it and that helped me make sure it was the best book it could be.

When you are working through the final bits of a project, sit back and get that perspective. And then, ship it!

Sincerely,

Dan