Five important things I’ve learned as a junior developer

Junior developers have to learn so many things on the job, because they’re not taught in school. Samuel, from Spiria Montreal, shares his top five lessons:

TL;DR

Check your ego at the door
Your ego is only going to slow you down in the process of becoming a better programmer. Leave it behind.

Teamwork is essential
You won’t go far without the team. Put aside your own interests and look at the big picture.

Understand that everybody has different needs
Not everybody works and thinks the way you do. It doesn’t mean that they’re wrong, it just means that they have different needs; and what you need is to accept it.

Leave your comfort zone
Avoid being comfortable, and explore the vast stretch of the tech world. Learn something completely unrelated to your work; you never know when it’s going to come in handy.

Don’t burn yourself out
It’s not a sprint, but a marathon. Take some time for yourself and enjoy life outside of work.

Check your ego at the door

The sheer amount of knowledge required to bring a project from idea to fruition is just humongous. You need relevant skills in UI/UX, back-end, front-end, database, devops, architecture, security, and the list goes on. Should you jump on Pluralsight and try to learn it inside out? If you want to spend years doing nothing else, go ahead. Or, you could try to learn from your peers who spent many years perfecting their craft.

If you have a large ego, not only are you not going to listen and learn, but your teammates won’t be inclined to teach you anyway. You will take every correction or suggestion for improvement as a personal affront. You will end up wasting a lot of effort trying to protect something useless: your ego.

This one hit me hard. I thought I knew it all until I realized that… I didn’t. What knowledge I had was just a drop in the ocean. I realised how big and stupid my ego was when I started working with people that were far more knowledgeable than me. Letting go of your ego is easier said than done, and it’s not achieved overnight, but the benefits make it worthwhile. I recommend the book Ego is the Enemy, by Ryan Holiday. This excellent book is an easy read, and it provides insights on why your ego is of no use to you and why you should divorce yourself from it.

Teamwork is essential

Behind every great software is a great team that built it. I didn’t realize just how important teamwork was until I was thrust in a real environment, with a real project, and a real team. It’s a different dynamic from what I was used to, when my own interest came before the team’s interest.

Communicate often, ask questions when you’re not sure about something, flag issues or problems when they arise. Everybody needs to do their part in the interest of project coordination. Don’t be uncommunicative for days on end. Your decisions need to be made in the best interest of the team instead of yourself, and you need to work with the team and not against it. Remember, nobody likes a “hero” programmer who thinks he can do everybody’s work.

I am more of a lone wolf, a thinker before a speaker, an introvert. For me, communicating and being there for the team was never an issue because I didn’t need to. In my previous jobs and in school, I could just plug in my earbuds and work the way I wanted, at the pace I wanted, with the tools I wanted. Eventually, though, I had to adjust my behavior and habits, because as fun as it is to have complete freedom, achieving something great and meaningful requires more than one person. Alone, you go faster, together, you go further.

Understand that everybody has different needs

You will work with a lot of people throughout your career. Since every person is unique, your working relationship with each and every person should also be unique. That means that you should try to figure out any given person’s needs so that you can better understand why they think and act the way they do.

That doesn’t mean that you need a Ph.D. in psychology. Instead, read Interpersonal Styles, by Larry Wilson. It gives great insights on the concept of “core persona” in layman’s terms. In short, you have:

  • The analytical: data-oriented, needs clarity and objective answers.
  • The driver: goal-oriented, needs to move fast and efficiently.
  • The expressive: feeling-oriented, needs freedom and stimulating tasks.
  • The amiable: social-oriented, needs a positive atmosphere and social interactions.

The goal is not to try to please everyone all the time, but rather to show empathy when somebody might not feel impelled by their work. It’s a great tool to help you better understand your teammates and adjust your working relationship with them accordingly.

For the longest time, I didn’t understand people who constantly needed answers regarding their work. I thought, “When you don’t know, just make a decision and run with it. How hard can it be?” I always felt like they needed spoon-feeding, when in fact, they just needed clarity. They are analytical, and that’s just their nature. I worked faster than them, but my work would need revisions, while theirs would be approved upon review. I needed speed, while they needed clarity. There is no right or wrong, just different needs.

Leave your comfort zone

Don’t be afraid to try something completely new. There are so many different sectors, languages, frameworks, workflows, architectures, paradigms, and the list goes on. Even if it’s not directly related to your line of work, you should explore it. Chances are that what you learned by leaving home will benefit your work in one way or another.

Take some time each week to explore, even if it’s just a couple of hours. There is something euphoria-inducing when you learn something out of sheer curiosity. You have more time to analyze, question and dig than when you have to learn the same stuff in a hurry for a project.

No knowledge is ever wasted, and you should take full advantage of your youth to make good use of the time you have left on the clock. Time is your greatest asset. Make it work for you.

Don’t burn yourself out

It’s perfectly natural, when starting out, to want to prove yourself by working like a madman. You’re young, you’re starting your career and you want everyone to know that you’re not going to be dead weight. But how long can you keep up the pace before you’re out of fuel? A few months, if you’re lucky? After that, you’ll feel the same way you do after a sugar crash: out of motivation and concentration.

If you seek respect, this is not the way to earn it. More senior workers have seen it before, and they know that the crazy amount of story points you’re racking up now is not going to last. Don’t squander your nitrous at the start of the race; keep it for when you’re really going to need it. There are going to be times when you do need to double down, and it’s going to be a nightmare if you’ve spent all your fuel.

I am guilty of doing it. I thought that the more user stories I put out, the more valuable I would become. I tried to be the hero nobody asked for. It was short-lived. I felt great at first. I received a couple of pats on the back, a couple of mentions in meetings. And then the months passed. My motivation tanked. I had little patience and less concentration: a deadly combo. All I wanted was a break, but I couldn’t have one. I had to take many one-day breaks to stay sane.

Moral of the story: take time for yourself, exercise, get back to the hobbies you put aside because you were too busy with your crazy schedule. Travel and read. Staying happy outside of work is the best way to be happy at work.

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This entry was posted in Method and best practices
by Samuel Dubé.
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