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

Over-index in your first few months

Dear new developer,

It is unfortunate, but first impressions matter. And, like any other job, a developer position is in large part based on relations with other people. Therefore, it behooves you to bring your best self to work for the first few months of any job. That doesn’t mean you get to check out later, but in the first few months you should stand out. Some ways to stand out:

  • Arrive on time, or a bit early.
  • Do the extra research.
  • Take on the extra work (not too much–don’t set yourself up as a punching bag–but some).
  • Own your mistakes, but don’t beat yourself up when they happen.
  • Be unfailingly polite.
  • Don’t make the same mistake twice.
  • Ask for your manager’s time and make sure you and they are on the same page regarding goals. How often? Ask.
  • Write that extra bit of documentation to make the next hire’s onboarding easier.
  • Anything else you can think of.

Once you have the reputation of a hard, smart worker, it is hard to lose. After a few months, you can ease off, partly because you have gained the reputation, partly because you’ll actually understand the job better so will be able to do it with less effort.

When you first join an organization, everyone is excited. If you can over-index and achieve 105% or 110% of what they expected of you, the team members will continue to be excited. Consider the alternative where you only deliver 90% or 95% of what they expected. They’ll remember you as pretty good, but maybe a bit of a disappointment.

Either way, that first impression can last for years and can follow you around the organization (and beyond). Choose wisely.

Sincerely,

Dan