Be a mentor

This is a guest post from Akira Brand. Enjoy.

Dear New Developer,

Be a mentor.

Seriously. Find someone a little bit behind you in their journey and mentor them. All you need is an hour a week. Heck, even an hour a month. Work through exercises and projects with them. Tutor them in an Udemy class. Sign up to mentor hackathon participants. Find a code school you like and mentor their students.

You may not think you know a lot right now, but you’ll solidify what you do know in profound ways through mentoring. You’ll find every gap in your own learning that you didn’t know was there, and what’s more, be able to fill it. You’ll start to deeply understand the context behind certain problems, as well as the grander architectural and design systems that underlie all good software.

You’ll learn why things you didn’t care for or regard as important before actually are (for me it was pseudocoding), how to problem solve in a team, and build empathy for not only the end users, but for your mentee, and, for yourself.

Be a mentor. Find someone who needs a teacher and be that life changing person for them. It’ll be one of the most fulfilling segments of your career.

Good luck, and remember to breathe!

Akira

Akira is a full stack developer currently working on building a JavaScript bootcamp with Emeritus. They love to digitally nomad and are currently in Boulder, CO.

My experience with burnout

This is a guest post from Landy Simpson. Enjoy.

Dear new developer,

This year has put everyone’s mental and physical health to the test, including yours truly. There’s the ongoing pandemic, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, the 2020 American elections, the End Sars movement; the list goes on. This year, I’ve dealt with an assortment of health issues, which became incredibly hard to deal with once quarantine reduced the number of available health services. Between trying to manage my mental health, physical health and working from within these four walls formerly known as my bedroom — I’m exhausted.

No, in fact, I am BURNT OUT, and I know I’m not the only one feeling this way.

In the last two months, I noticed it became increasingly difficult to get out of bed. I thought my burnout was terrible in the summer — I had no idea what autumn would bring. On the weekends, I’ve found that I can sleep for over 12 hours and only eat a single meal. I haven’t been fully motivated to write, brainstorm content, or work on personal projects. I’m feeling frustrated because I’m not productive. I’m upset I spend most of my free time sleeping, and I’m a bit worried that my burnout affects the quality of my work at my job. But as I work through these conflicting feelings, I’m starting to realize that I shouldn’t fight them, instead, I should accept them and find ways to maneuver the storm called burnout.

During this time of year, where seasonal depression is upon us, it’s easy to spiral into self-loathing and self-pity. And despite feeling burnout, it’s also easy to force yourself into a rigid routine in the hopes of digging your way out of your slump. In coming to terms with my ongoing burnout, I’ve learned if you treat moments like this with compassion, patience, and a bit of transparency, you can overcome burnout. I started opening up discussions with my mom, my best friends, and even one of my co-workers to see what I can do to improve my situation.

It’s incredibly important to open up discussions with our family and friends about mental health because it’s also essential to recognize signs, like burnout, of declining mental health. Together, we can find ways to help each other take preventative steps, like seeking counseling, incorporating healthy physical activities, and practicing self-care and self-compassion.

I can only provide some essential tips to understand yourself better and take the first step in caring for yourself during burnout. However, if you’re dealing with any form of mental illness, please speak to a professional.

Don’t force yourself to get back into a routine.

Notice you’re going through something and treat yourself like you’d treat a friend going through a tough time. Don’t force your body or mind to adapt to a whole new routine overnight. You’ll burn out faster, and you’ll end up spiraling out of control just as quickly as you adapted the routine. Be patient with your mind and body. Incorporate one piece of your routine a week at a time. Allow yourself to adjust to the changes and don’t be too hard on yourself if you mess up once in a while. You’re only human.

Figure out why you’re feeling drained.

Put context to the feeling so you can understand the draining areas of your life. Ask yourself some questions to help reveal potential causes of your burnout. For example, do you feel reluctant to get up for work or school? Are you dissatisfied or overwhelmed with the progression of a particular goal in your life? When was the last time you spoke to a friend or family member, and do you feel alone as a result? Wherever those draining areas are, it’s important to identify them to know what you need to work on to make yourself feel better. There might not be an immediate or obvious solution, however, knowing the cause of your burnout can at least help you stay sensitive to that problem.

Reinforce your values.

It’s hard to get out of bed or feel like anything you do is worth it at the moment, but don’t lose sight of your dreams. Remind yourself of your goals to help reinforce your values. You aren’t just a couch potato or a lazy little bean. And if you are, that’s fine, but remind yourself you’re a person full of dreams and aspirations. You’re just going through a tough time right now, and that’s okay! You will get back to those dreams soon enough as long as you keep making them a priority.

Even when you adopt a routine, it’s okay to take a break or have a bad day where you can’t get out of bed. Don’t punish yourself for feeling burnt out. You’re doing so much, which is fantastic. But always remember to take care of yourself first, which leads me to my last point.

Take care of your body and mind.

These burnout periods are your body and mind’s way of saying it’s time to take a break. Follow your instincts and indulge a little. Sleep in a little longer, eat your favorite meals, talk a bit longer on the phone, binge a show, take a long bath, exercise. Do something to relieve your body and mind of all the stress that it’s going through.

Taking care of yourself can also be seeking therapy or talking to your boss about time off. Even a small getaway road trip to expose your body and mind to a new environment is a way of taking care of yourself.

We’re living in a difficult time right now, and we must be patient and mindful of our feelings. Look out for your friends and family during this time, and most importantly, stay safe.

— Landy

This was originally published here.

Landy Simpson is an Experienced Software Engineer who is skilled in front-end development. She blogs at https://simplyy.medium.com/

Fewer Applications, More Interviews: How Professional Allies Can Help You Land Your First Jr Dev Role

This is a guest post from Dagny Wise. Enjoy.

Dear New Developer,

Even when your GitHub is a work of art, your portfolio is up and running, and your resume is looking good, it can be rough to get hired as a career-changer who’s never worked as a dev before.

Before you throw your money into an endless abyss of possible certs you could get to try to stand out, try leveraging what you already got – you!

A bit about me: I left my sales job to complete a coding bootcamp. It was part of my bid to get out of sales, and work towards a role where I can bounce between tech- and non-techy stakeholders. What follows is what I’ve learned from the process of job-searching as a career-changer during a pandemic, and landing my first job offer in the hidden job market. While I’m not a developer, the methods I’ve outlined below are useful to anyone trying to land their first job in a new role.

Think about it: unemployment is quite high right now, and everyone applies online. Many qualified, experienced people are among those unemployed. But take heart – you can differentiate by making professionally-minded allies.

What’s a professional ally in this context?

A professional ally is someone who is invested in your success. They might be a friend, family, former coworkers, folks you knew in school but didn’t really talk to, or strangers you’ve never met. You’d be surprised who ends up wanting to help you!

An ally does not have to be someone with hiring power, or domain knowledge, or someone who works somewhere you want to work, or even someone currently employed.

All of these things are awesome bonuses, but anyone who wants to help you may be able to connect you to more strategic people. And anyone who genuinely wants to help you succeed is already awesome, so it’s important to think of them that way.

How do you find your allies?

1). Make a list of all the broad categories of your life where you could connect with people. For example, your schools, former workplaces, that summer camp you did for years, all of it.

2). Mentally go through everyone you remember from each of those categories, and connect with the ones you remember on LinkedIn: everyone gets a message. Something short. It can be simple, but it should be at least a little personalized.

Something like “Hey person’s name, I was looking to connect with more people from name of highschool, and I was excited to find you on here! I hope you’re doing well.

3). If they ask you how you’re doing, respond organically, but focus on your career goals. 3-4 sentences tops. Conversational.

4). If they ask follow-up questions on your little intro, demonstrating interest in what you’re doing, congrats! You now have a new ally!

Why do all of that? Because professional allies open doors for you.

They can get you referrals at companies you want to work at, significantly increasing your odds of getting an interview. They can tell you about hidden market jobs, and they can help you make more strategic allies. And the best part: when you get your position as a result, YOU have the opportunity to become one. Awesome.

What it Looks Like To Make an Ally:

After doing all of the above, I connected with George, an acquaintance from high school. I didn’t immediately see what George could help me with because he’s a contract UX Designer and my dream was to work in Product. I told him what I was pursuing anyway, and he seemed genuinely interested in helping me. Great!

I went through George’s LinkedIn contacts and I found several people working in product, and a founder of a startup that George told me was looking to grow their team. I asked George if he knew any of these LinkedIn connections well enough to feel comfortable introducing me, and gave him some names. He said he was very happy to hit up 2 out of those names, and he did!

One of the product people got back to me, a VP of Product who I’ve talked to a few times via Zoom, and I’m still in touch with. It’s amazing to have someone so experienced in the field to bounce ideas off of, get advice from, and generally have me in mind when opportunities come up.

What It Looks Like to Get a Referral

Companies LOVE referrals – it saves them money when a good employee brings in another good employee, rather than picking from a giant pile of faceless internet applicants. It increases your odds to get a referral on your application – and you can get quite a few of them by nurturing professional relationships.

For example: I didn’t know anyone who worked at this awesome EdTech startup, but I saw them always topping lists of awesome places to work, so I knew I wanted a connection there. Not knowing anyone personally who worked there, I reached out to a couple people I’ve never met who worked in Product. One got back to me, and I coordinated a 20-30 min conversation via Zoom. She was super nice, answered my prepared questions, and said yes when I asked if she’d be comfortable referring me. I sent her my resume, and got an email from the recruiter later that day to schedule a phone interview for the role we talked about!

Fun fact: You can message strangers this for free on LinkedIn by “adding a note” to your connection request – no need to pay for Premium! Just make sure to introduce yourself, mention something specific about why you want to talk to them, and make a specific ask (ex: 20-30 mins of their time for a chat about their experience at company). Some won’t get back to you, but that’s ok.

What It Looks Like to Break Into “The Hidden Job Market”

Maybe you’ve heard of the Hidden Job Market? It refers to jobs that get filled but are never posted online, and professional allies are the best way to learn about these awesome opportunities.

For example: I reached out to a founder of a start-up George told me was looking to expand their team. We’ve had several interviews, and are currently in final talks about logistics. The role is as a Product Manager. I would likely never have had access to this opportunity without George, as it was never posted online.

Make Sure To Do Right By Your Allies

Professional allies are powerful! Maybe as a job-seeker right now you don’t feel like you have a ton to offer them. That’s ok! If someone responds with interest to you, you can proceed confidently knowing that they like to help people/you.

The best thing you can do, though, is do as much of the legwork as you can to save your allies’ time. Check out their profiles before you speak with them. Offer to send the Zoom invite. Keep the conversations within the agreed upon time frame.

And of course, say thank you.

If George introduces you to Jessica and Jessica gets you a referral for an awesome job, thank both of them. It can be a couple lines on LinkedIn, via email, whatever works. Consider keeping track of the folks who help you a lot, message the recurring ones every once in a while to say hey, or update them on your search.

As you develop into the professional badass you are destined to be, you will have ample opportunity to become someone else’s ally: you are working to pay it forward.

— Dagny

Dagny Wise is a a creative problem solver excited about leveraging her background in sales along with her passion for technology to bridge the gap between technical and non-technical stakeholders and solve complex problems.

How to get a job faster

This is a guest post from Taylor Desseyn. Enjoy.

Dear new developer,

Finding a job was hard for a new developer pre-pandemic…now during a pandemic it is just as hard but add in the fact that you can’t meet anyone! It can be daunting.

Here are my thoughts on how to find a job FASTER than most other job seekers.

Put out content

Put out content (especially on LinkedIn). You’re probably asking yourself. Taylor, I’m an introvert and not a marketer, what does putting out content have to do with finding a job? The answer? Everything. The fact we all are at home and cannot network has everyone on all major social platforms more than ever.

LinkedIn especially. LinkedIn is like tik tok. You can have zero followers and still gain a ton of traction. I know a handful of developers that have documented their journey finding their first job over LinkedIn and actually have landed their job because of putting out content.

Post at least once a day. This could be about an interview you bombed, or a question you missed on an interview and ask for help, or learning a new piece of tech and asking about one part of it. You should also be liking and commenting on other peoples posts as well!

Interview yourself

Video Interviews…Selfie style. This is a big one for me and only a few developers have done it. But guess what, the few that have, landed a job and one specifically because of this tactic.

Hear me out, every first-round interview is the same. Tell me about yourself, tell me your weakness (which we all turn into a positive), and tell me your greatest strength.

Why don’t you just video it up and answer these questions yourself and put it on LinkedIn and ‘pin’ it under the featured section on LinkedIn. So, every manager that visits your profile can see you! Here’s an example.

You need real world experience; get it

Capstone/code school projects aren’t enough. Long gone are the days of having a capstone project and it being enough to land a job. You need real world work experience so, if you can afford it, start asking around if you can help build small things for people. Every church needs help with their website, a lot of entrepeneurs need help with building stuff for free.

I get it, this area is such a divisive topic but for me, the only way to separate yourself is to get real world work experience and what better way to do that then volunteer your time?

Network, but don’t ask for anything

Now you probably are asking yourself, Taylor you said “put out content”, AND I have to now network?

Yes…yes you do. You need to make sure you are having one intentional video/phone call a day with someone in your network at a company that you want to work at or someone who does what you want to do.

You shouldn’t go into any networking call with a stranger asking for something. Be interested in what they do and how they got to where they are. Then ask for another connection but don’t ask for a job. Because when you don’t ask, you immediately endear yourself to that person so down the road if they get a job opportunity they will think of you first because you were different.

The big thing is at the end of every call, ask for a referral. Try to get another connection out of every call. My 55 year old dad did this in the restaurant industry and found a job in 6 months.

It works.

Leverage a recruiter

Most recruiters don’t place junior talent but the good recruiters can give you market intel, help your resume, help your LinkedIn, and can be just a general sounding board for you as you start searching for that first job.

— Taylor

Taylor Desseyn has been recruiting for over nine years and while he recruits on every skillset within technology, his main focus is on software engineers and developers. He has met over 4,000 engineers and helped place over 450+ people in their dream jobs.

Taylor has been very active in the community – he’s been elected VP of the .NET User Group (the second largest user group in Nashville) for 3 years. He has also presented at multiple other user groups within Nashville. Taylor has also been fortunate enough to get on the speaker circuit across the southeast, having presented at code conferences such as Code on the Beach (Jacksonville), Music City Code (Nashville), and Codestock (Knoxville).

Taylor has a knack for scaling teams as well. He has helped scale teams internally at Vaco up to 3x their initial size every stop he has been. He also was chosen to present at Vaco’s Global Conference on branding/marketing. Taylor is currently leading a team of 9 recruiters and has helped scale his currently technology team from $2 million in revenue to $6+ million in revenue.

Make it open source

This is a guest post from Eddie Jaoude. Enjoy.

Dear New Developer,

I will be the first one to tell you that it is not essential to have a degree in computer science to become a developer. My own journey started with a degree in engineering and falling into code as a mix of a hobby and also by necessity in my first graduate job. I have seen so many others in the tech community follow different paths to becoming developers; such as primary school teachers and historians.

Whether you have always wanted to become a developer or whether this is a new start for you, the likelihood is that you will be looking for learning resources from blog posts, YouTube videos and online courses. There are so many resources available, many of which are free, which means that you can improve your abilities without having to leave your house – which in a Covid era is quite handy.

However I would say to you – do not fall into the trap of getting stuck in “tutorial hell”. Thirst for knowledge is a great thing – and a good developer will realise that at no point in their career will they know everything and you do need to keep learning.

This is a little like going to the gym: you’ve decided you want a six pack – your trainer has shown you where the three different ab machines are and how to use them, you have watched endless videos on the best time to train, how long for and what food you should be eating. But it won’t be until you do that first ab crunch – which lets face it, won’t be perfect, that you will embark on your journey to achieving that six pack.

So my advice to you is – pause the video tutorial and build something. Apply what you have been learning and let go of the idea that it will be perfect. What is perfect today can be improved by your experiences tomorrow, the day after, in a year’s time and so on.

My second piece of advice – which is perhaps the one I am most passionate about as it forms the whole ethos of how I work: make it open source. I don’t want to assume that you know what open source is. It took me a few years into my career to find out about it. I was using open source tools in my day job and thinking how great it was that there were so many valuable free available tools out there that anyone could use. I was also beginning to network more and everyone kept talking about open source, which got me interested in finding out more about this community which works publicly and transparently to resolve software problems. I didn’t want to just take, I wanted to give back.

As a new developer you might be worried that you are not yet at a stage where you can give back and contribute. There is a misconception that you only have something to teach when you have reached a level of seniority in your career. But everyone has a voice. Don’t think that just because you are at the start of your career that all you should be doing is asking questions and seeking help. You do not want to be a drain on the community; at first you will get the help you need, but soon community members will see you are just there to get a quick fix to your problem and then drop off the face of the earth until you hit another stumbling block.

Beginning to get involved is not always easy – it might feel like you are entering an old fashioned boardroom meeting full of senior colleagues and you are under immense pressure to say something…anything at all… which really just contributes to you feeling anxious and insecure about your abilities and in a worse case, can stop you from taking that step.

So start small. Github in my view is a fantastic (and essential) way to start your journey into open source. Firstly, find a good repository:

  • Go to the Issues section which lists your issues, clear the search box;
  • Add the search parameter for the label “good first issue” and consider including a language;
  • This will list all issues which will match this criteria and from there have a look at the repositories and see which ones seem interesting to you.
  • Check the closed Pull Requests that have not been merged: it is completely acceptable for a project maintainer not to accept pull requests – but were these rejected in a friendly and constructive manner?
  • When making a contribution, focus on adding value (don’t just suggest a change for the sake of it) and being respectful towards the project maintainer’s time;
  • Bonus tip: check the insights tab on the repository to see if the project is inclusive for things like code of conduct.

You might ask – “But why should I make my projects open source?” Why would you not?

Is it because you hope your project will become your revenue stream and you do not want to share this with others? Making their project open source certainly did not hinder Red Hat when it was sold for £34 billion.

Is it because you lack the confidence and do not want to feel exposed? How else will you learn if you do not put yourself out there?

By making your project open source you widen the number of people you can learn from massively, as well as making connections which might even help further your career. When recruiting for my team I no longer spend hours quizzing a candidate about the bullet points in their CV. I go to their Github account where I can see exactly what they can do and how they interact with others.

Making your project open source is probably one of the best calling cards you can have as it showcases what you are about, not only from a technical perspective but also how you will engage with others. Whether you are looking for your first role as a developer, have secured one with a small start up or have embarked on a graduate training programme with one of the large tech companies, you need to know that no project is limited to one person only. You will need to collaborate with UI/UX, testers, product owners …the list goes on.

You may come across really well in a face to face (or virtual!) interview – exuding confidence and a team spirit. You also might not. By having an open source project your prospective employer and colleagues will be able to see how well you do with receiving and giving feedback and how you act upon this. This is a skill which needs to be learnt and open source projects are the forum to do it.

You might have a job where you work your own, or perhaps you work in a team with quite similar views and levels of seniority – these things might not be conducive to receiving and giving feedback.

By making your project open source you are interacting with people from all over the World, with different levels of seniority and most importantly different perspectives. That, New Developer, can only be a positive for your technical and personal development.

— Eddie

Eddie Jaoude is an open source advocate and believes open source is for everyone. Check out his GitHub and YouTube.

Think first about what problem this is solving and for whom

This is a guest post from Kate Catlin. Enjoy.

Dear new developer, 

Welcome to tech! Wow, I remember those days– Confusing, exciting, challenging. Nothing is certain except that you are in for a wild ride. Hold tight! 

The advice I’m writing to share with you today is this:

Before you write any code, think first about what problem this is solving and for whom.

As a little background, I’ve spent my whole career in tech. I’ve had two stints writing code (once in Android and once in Ruby) and neither lasted long. The rest of my career was a journey through Community Management, Sales, Startup Foundership, and now Product Management. While I love code, I love understanding people’s problems and figuring out how to solve those as well. That side always sucked me back in. 

Even in my roles where I wasn’t a developer, I’ve always interacted with developers. Many of them were new to the industry, just like you. The ones who have since excelled in their careers were the one who embodied the advice I just shared.

And so, every time you pick up a new Jira ticket or sit down to complete a new requirement, I suggest that you ask yourself the following questions: 

  • Who does this solve a problem for? 
  • What is the problem they’re trying to solve? 
  • How does this ticket solve it? 

There are three reasons this is going to help you out. 

First, it will keep you motivated. 

I think software development is one of the closest real-life professions to having superpowers. 

Why? Because your job is to use skills that most don’t have or understand in order to solve someone’s problem. 

Some of the problems you’ll solve may be big– Maybe you’ll work on an app that facilitates financing for renewable energy and measurably reduces climate change emissions. Some problems may be small– Imagine someone quarantining alone who misses their grandkids and has tried not to cry all day. Perhaps they have a slightly-less-frustrating time ordering a gift to send someone because you fixed a bug in a website’s UI. 

The world is a tough place to exist sometimes, especially in a pandemic. As a software developer, you get to use your powers to help make life a little easier for people. Remember that! Focusing on the problem rather than other things (like the shiny tech) will help you do so. 

Second, because you can start to push back if you see an easier way to solve that problem. 

A few months ago, I prioritized a new feature for CircleCI that would allow software developers, our users, to import Environment Variables from one project to another. I wrote up a long list of acceptance criteria involving multiple screens and checkboxes. 

The junior developer who picked up the Jira ticket for that feature was someone who regularly practiced user empathy. He paused, thought about it, and then suggested a simplified approach.

The simpler version worked! We were able to ship the feature in half the time, and it still resulted in a measurable lift to organizations adding new projects. This was good for the user, good for the developer, and good for the company. 

This is just one example of many I can name where by embracing user empathy, our team has solved more people’s problems faster. And so can you! 

Third, because it’s how you advance in an organization. 

Product thinking is so important at CircleCI, it’s a skill we specifically review our developers for during our annual review cycle. A minimum-threshold rating is necessary for a promotion. 

This is obviously not true of every organization, but in no case will the mindset not serve you well. Leaders simply need to understand why we’re building what we’re building for our users. How else could they help us achieve the future we’re working together to bring about? 

I would love to hear how a user-empathy mindset works for you. 

Everyone’s path is different, and every organization values different skills. You can find me on twitter at @Kate_Catlin, and I’d love to hear from you! 

Sincerely, 

Kate Catlin

Kate Catlin is Senior Product Manager of Growth at CircleCI.

Why and how to improve your writing skills as a software developer

This is a guest post from Allie Cooper. Enjoy.

It’s one thing to be able to write good code, but professional written communication is something else entirely. The ability to efficiently and authentically communicate using written language is an often ironically underrated skill in software development.

This is something that new developers need to get over very quickly. “Obsessions with patterns and algorithms don’t serve anyone’s mission by themselves,” explains engineer and career coach Minh Pham. “While coding might be your latest skill set, it is by no means an engineer’s only skillset. Remember that at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if your code is ugly, fancy, verbose or concise – the value you create matters. Strive to be an excellent communicator, a quality teammate, and an outstanding human.” In today’s increasingly digitized workplace, achieving these qualities means honing your professional written communication skills.

Writing is Essential to Software Development

Any veteran developer can tell you that non coding-related writing is part and parcel of the daily grind, which includes writing tons of bug reports, notes for yourself, documentation for co-workers, and other technical discussions over chat or e-mail. You might also be tasked with explaining technicalities in ways that can be easily understood by clients. And as Inc points out, all of this generates a permanent record of any and all significant ideas, incidents, and other facts pertinent to how you’ve handled the job. In software development, the way you write and communicate over work platforms defines a great majority of your work history.

While writing code defines your raw ability as a software developer, your written professional correspondence tells the story of your ability to work with others in an inherently collaborative and complex field. Today, the sudden digital migration brought on by the global health crisis has only made professional writing a more integral skill for thriving in the new and increasingly web-based workplace. This is as true for experienced developers as it is for those who are looking to pick up the skills necessary for the job, which brings us to our next point.

The Future of Coding Education is Written and Online

From basic coding courses to advanced degree programs, more and more future developers are learning essential skills through online means. And the pandemic has only increased their numbers. For instance, Code Platoon Coding Bootcamp online basic coding courses have allowed the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs to continue offering software development skills training for veterans as well as their spouses. And for safety reasons, all classes have been moved online.

Meanwhile top universities have also made this switch to training software specialists online. Maryville University’s online masters in software development is an advanced degree program that’s 100% web-based as well, with the perspective of producing future software consultants, UX designers, web developers, and DevOps engineers. And while these programs do include video conferencing classes, the majority of the work is through written communication. As natives to online work, the developers trained in these online programs are already developing the writing skills necessary to thriving amid the current digital migration.

In short, the field of software development is only getting more competitive and web-based. And while there’s no shortage of genius code writers for companies to cherry-pick from online universities and coding courses, the combination of a great coder and a great online communicator remains rare.

Practice Makes Perfect

Whether you’re already coding for a living or still learning the skill, you already have plenty of opportunities to hone your professional writing skills. Strive to be succinct and straightforward with every chat message or e-mail before hitting send. Put yourself in other people’s shoes – think about how the message you wrote will affect you if you were the one to receive it. Remember that every unnecessary word only muddles already complex conversations about technical specifications. Grammar is important, but so is writing with the perspective of being as empathic and as concise as possible – which can also allow you to develop a writing style that won’t require grammatical gymnastics. Never play to your emotions and always write with a collaborative mindset. The better you can communicate with the written word, the more value you can bring to any software development effort.

Allie Cooper is a freelance tech writer who specializes in I.T. and software development. Her mission is to help software developers further their careers. In her free time she plays online chess and sails.

Understand the use case

This is a guest post from Christie Brandao. Enjoy.

Dear new developer,

It’s easy to get wrapped up in only focusing on the deeply technical aspects of your job, especially if many parts of the stack have technologies you haven’t worked with yet. As your career progresses over time, you will be improving the quality and readability of the code you write as well as your problem-solving skills. This takes deliberate practice, but you’re already used to this! At the beginning, it’s natural for all your energy to go towards getting up to speed with the codebase and learning how everything works together. My advice is to take some time to also understand the use case.

At the core of it, your job is to be building something that will provide a positive business impact through your development skills. Ignore the urge to dive right in and start coding and instead, take some time to learn the bigger picture. Focus your energy on gathering as much information as you can to start building your foundational knowledge of this area of the product. You can start small! When asked to build upon a feature, for example, don’t just take the ticket at face value. Ask questions (to yourself or others) about how the current feature is currently working. What are the difficulties people are having using this feature? How is this going to be an improvement to the current process? Once you have a good grasp on the ticket level, it’s time to learn about the bigger forces that impact larger business decisions. You never know, maybe your fresh perspective will offer valuable insight that no one else has brought to the table.

— Christie

Christie Brandao is based in Columbus, Ohio. She is a Full Stack Serverless Web Developer for Branch, a tech-forward insurance startup focused on giving instant prices for home and auto with just a couple questions.

Interviewing at a FAANG in the Midst of COVID

This is a guest post from an anonymous FAANG engineer. Enjoy.

Dear New Developer,

In 2020, one question lurks in all of our minds: What the hell is going on? And yet, for many of us, life not only goes on, it presents exciting new opportunities. Towards the end of 2019, after six years of working as a software developer, I felt it was time to leave my second job. The familiar faces were rapidly disappearing, and I just wasn’t finding the work fulfilling anymore. I entertained a couple calls from FAANG recruiters, but I wasn’t particularly excited about any of them. I assumed I was going to find The Perfect Startup™ at which to spend the next phase of my career. I was complacent. I had endless excuses for why this wasn’t a good time and why my job wasn’t so bad. I could spend another year there.

Little did I know that the “another year” in question was going to be the craziest year the world had ever seen.

For personal reasons, I did not interview at all for the first month and a half of 2020. I even scheduled a phone screen with a FAANG, but due to a family emergency I rescheduled it and then forgot about it until the night before. Oof. I pride myself on my algorithm skills, but three years without interviewing is enough to make anyone rusty. I didn’t fail the phone screen, but I didn’t pass it either – instead, I was asked to try again. That was a wake-up call, and it made me really want to succeed at the interviews that I had previously not cared about.

My first tip, for anyone interviewing in 2020 or any other year: Grind LeetCode. I cannot understate how important it is to build muscle memory for the coding portion of your interviews. You don’t want to spend fifteen minutes thinking about whether you should use a Queue or a List (as I did), you want to spend that time solving the actual problem. Anyway, after that experience, I practiced every night (and some days) and easily passed all of my phone screens.

Less than a week later, COVID struck and my office asked me to work from home until further notice. All good, this should just make it easier for me to spend time on interviews, right? I assumed it would just be a temporary exercise for the next two weeks. Little did I know, all the companies, FAANG and other, which I was interviewing at would soon close their doors as well. I started panicking – what was to come of my on-site interviews? Well, some of the smaller companies didn’t feel comfortably hiring remotely, so those processes were dead in the water. All the FAANG companies assured me that I would get the full on-site interview experience through the magic of videoconferencing. I was not happy about this at all. I’ve always prided myself on my ability to connect with other people, so I feared that this would be lost over video. I shouldn’t have worried. All my interviewers made an extra effort to connect with me due to the circumstances, and I actually felt more comfortable than I ever had for an in-person interview. Thus, my second tip: Relax. Yes, times are extremely weird right now, but they’re weird for everyone. Have fun and enjoy the process.

I went into the interview process with a pretty good idea of which FAANG I wanted to work at. Based on what I knew of the internal culture, the company’s impact on the world, and my expected daily happiness, I had already decided where I wanted to be. However, if I didn’t receive an offer from that one, I was more than happy to work for any of the others I was interviewing at. Thus, I treated them both as practice interviews and as high-stakes challenges. Ultimately, I aced all of the interviews, received offers from all the companies, and immediately accepted the one I had been thinking about. I could not have been more thrilled. I attribute my success to two things, preparation and routine. Preparation was already mentioned in my first tip – grind those practice problems. I did over 100 problems on LeetCode in the month leading up to my interviews, and I even wrote up solutions on that website as a way to practice my ability to explain to others.

As for routine, my final tip is this: Build a stable routine. This is something we software developers struggle with even in years that are not 2020. When the lockdown first started, I felt lost. I worked until midnight because there was no reason to stop. My diet and exercise slipped. However, once I turned that around, I felt the ability to compartmentalize and plan. I set a regular bedtime and waketime. I started cooking myself meals at regular times to replace the ones from the office. I ordered a pull-up bar for my doorframe so that I could exercise any time I passed through it during the day. Once my life and health were in order, it was easy for my brain to focus on the fun part: passing those interviews.

— Anonymous

Learn in public

This is a guest post from Shawn Wang aka swyx. Enjoy.

Dear new developer,

If there’s a golden rule to learning, it’s this one.

You already know that you will never be done learning. But most people “learn in private”, and lurk. They consume content without creating any themselves. Again, that’s fine, but we’re here to talk about being in the top quintile. What you do here is to have a habit of creating learning exhaust. Write blogs and tutorials and cheatsheets. Speak at meetups and conferences. Ask and answer things on Stackoverflow or Reddit. (Avoid the walled gardens like Slack and Discourse, they’re not public.) Make Youtube videos or Twitch streams. Start a newsletter. Draw cartoons (people loooove cartoons!). Whatever your thing is, make the thing you wish you had found when you were learning. Don’t judge your results by “claps” or retweets or stars or upvotes – just talk to yourself from 3 months ago. I keep an almost-daily dev blog written for no one else but me.

Guess what? It’s not about reaching as many people as possible with your content. If you can do that, great, remember me when you’re famous. But chances are that by far the biggest beneficiary of you trying to help past you is future you. If others benefit, that’s icing.

Oh you think you’re done? Don’t stop there. Enjoyed a coding video? Reach out to the speaker/instructor and thank them, and ask questions. Make PR’s to libraries you use. Make your own libraries no one will ever use. Clone stuff you like. Teach workshops. Go to conferences and summarize what you learned. Heck, go back to your own bootcamp to tell alumni what’s worked for you. There’s always one level deeper. But at every step of the way: Document what you did and the problems you solved.

The subheading under this rule would be: Try your best to be right, but don’t worry when you’re wrong. Repeatedly. If you feel uncomfortable, or like an impostor, good. You’re pushing yourself. Don’t assume you know everything, but try your best anyway, and let the internet correct you when you are inevitably wrong. Wear your noobyness on your sleeve.

People think you suck? Good. You agree. Ask them to explain, in detail, why you suck. You want to just feel good or you want to be good? No objections, no hurt feelings. Then go away and prove them wrong. Of course, if they get abusive block them.

Did I mention that teaching is the best way to learn? Talk while you code. It can be stressful and I haven’t done it all that much but my best technical interviews have been where I ended up talking like I teach instead of desperately trying to prove myself. We’re animals, we’re attracted to confidence and can smell desperation.

At some point you’ll get some support behind you. People notice genuine learners. They’ll want to help you. Don’t tell them, but they just became your mentors. This is very important: Pick up what they put down. Think of them as offering up quests for you to complete. When they say “Anyone willing to help with ______ ______?” you’re that kid in the first row with your hand already raised. These are senior engineers, some of the most in-demand people in tech. They’ll spend time with you, 1 on 1, if you help them out (p.s. and there’s always something they want help on). You can’t pay for this stuff. They’ll teach you for free. Most people don’t see what’s right in front of them. But not you.

“With so many junior devs out there, why will they help me?”, you ask.

Because you learn in public. By teaching you they teach many. You amplify them. You have one thing they don’t: a beginner’s mind. You see how this works?

At some point people will start asking you for help because of all the stuff you put out. 80% of developers are “dark”, they don’t write or speak or participate in public tech discourse. But you do. You must be an expert, right? Don’t tell them you aren’t. Answer best as you can, and when you’re stuck or wrong pass it up to your mentors.

Eventually you run out of mentors, and just solve things on your own. You’re still putting out content though. You see how this works?

Learn in public.

— swyx

p.s. Eventually, they’ll want to pay you for your help too. A lot more than you think.

This post was originally published here.

swyx is a Senior Developer Advocate at AWS and author of The Coding Career Handbook.