Keep pushing through

Dear new developer,

One time I was working with an application framework that had poor documentation. I was trying to figure out how to use it to support a client’s project. But it wasn’t working.

I was less experienced and so had no idea why we’d chosen this application framework. I was simply tasked with making this particular feature work. Frankly, I don’t even remember what the feature was!

But I had to make it work. No one could help me (it was new to everyone). There was little documentation, I don’t recall if I filed a support ticket with the vendor, but I certainly should have. I searched the internet intensely. I ended up downloading a java decompiler to learn what I could about the framework and the class in question.

I finally solved the problem by decompiling a few classes. I found a bug in the application framework that I was able to work around. I did my job, even though I had to approach the problem from a non traditional angle.

Note what I didn’t do: I didn’t give up.

Sometimes you just have to keep pushing. Software development is hard.

By definition, the easy stuff is easy to do and therefore gets done relatively quickly. So you’ll send a lot of time on difficult things. Prepare for this and plan to work through it.

Tips for working through hard things:

  • Take breaks
  • Talk to others, whether in person or online
  • Keep thinking of different approaches
  • Remember the end goal

There are going to get hard. In technology there are ways to work smart and hard. Make sure you do both.

Sincerely,

Dan

How To Excel At Your Job As A New Developer

Dear new developer,

I think that there are only really four tasks you need to do to do a good job as a new developer.

  • Say what you are going to do, then do it. This is all about communicating what you are working on. You can do this explicitly (via face to face communication or slack) or implicitly (via moving cards on a Trello board or Jira). The important part is to keep other people (who likely will have a better idea of the big picture) in the loop. Oh, and then you actually have to do the work.
  • Ask questions. Don’t be afraid. This will help you do the work.
  • Don’t make the same mistake twice. Learn from any that you make. This will help you do the work better in the future.
  • Show up consistently. Sometimes you just have to grind. To do the work. (Is there an echo in here?)

If you can do these four things, you will stand out as a new developer. Why? It’s sad to say, but there are a lot of developers who aren’t very good. I’ve seen a few in my time. I’m not sure if they weren’t good because they were burned out, just didn’t care, didn’t have the skillset or the desire to learn, or were just in it for the money. Other times, I’ve seen developers get complacent, which is a foolish thing to do in this day and age (and a luxury that most new developers do not have). See also this comment thread on Hackernews about 20% of developers failing to be able to write fizzbuzz.

So, you don’t have to be brilliant to stand out. You do have to be good and consistent. And do the work.

Make sure you do all these, especially during the first few months, and you’ll gain a reputation as a delight to work with. This reputation will follow you for years and continue to help you.

Sincerely,

Dan