5 Hugely Important Lessons I Learned From A Senior Developer

6 minute read

You can’t just do the same projects as everyone else. You have to do something different to stand out and be noticed.

I’m not much of a networking kind of guy. I was in sales for a little while and I think it ruined the concept for me. You learn (most) everyone is just out for how they can get ahead and not actually interested in building a relationship.

So when my wife told me she got the details of two guys who own a web development firm, and that I should contact them, I flinched a bit.

You see, I’ve recently decided to get serious about my career and follow my passion for coding and web development. And for someone who dislikes - in general - contact with other people, it’s a career that suits my personality well.

But, alas, the fact remains that networking and connecting with real human beings is still by far the best and quickest way to accelerate your career and achieve your goals.

So (after apologizing to my wife who was right - again…) I got in touch with these guys and they not only responded but set me up with their lead developer and hiring manager. Nice.

I met him for coffee one afternoon and as well as it being a thoroughly enjoyable experience, he imparted some serious wisdom about becoming a developer on me that I felt complelled to share.

From what skills web companies really look for in new developers to when the best time to start applying for jobs, here is what I learned from that meeting.

1) Learn about the software life cycle process

First off, he hit me with some hard truth about working in a real firm. On a typical week you will spend only 2 days coding. The other 3 days are spent in the development planning process (in their case Agile development).

This process includes meetings with the team, determining estimates, reviewing past work, and so on as the project progresses through a “sprint” (a 1-4 week period dedicated to producing a concrete outcome).

He said this can be tough for new people who come from coding all day. Instead you now have to be in meetings and planning sessions most of the time. However, learning the skills of communication, working well in a team, and thinking about the bigger business process is critical to succeeding in this type of industry.

Because at the end of the day it’s about shipping a final product, not what you would rather work on all day.

Learning this process and becoming engaged in it as a new developer is a sure-fire way to attract the right kind of attention. It’s one of the top traits he looks for in new hires.

2) To stand out build your credibility

After you graduate from college, or a coding bootcamp, or reach a certain level of skill as a self-taught developer, you will be one of (a growing) number of new developers out there. You have to stand out and be different from everyone else who has done the same projects.

So how do you go beyond being the millionth person to make a reddit clone? Here’s what he shared with me:

  • Work on open-source projects

    The best way to start is fixing easy bugs or adding documentation. He said every project needs better documentation and it is an easy way to contribute when starting out. I found a good site designed to help ‘newbies’ get started with this here: First Timers Only

  • Make your portfolio stand out with unique projects

    Your projects need to be distinct from everyone else’s and showcase what you’re capable of (other than following directions).

    The easiest way to do that? Make something you’d use. Have a special diet and need a shopping list? Create a recipe app that automatically creates a shopping list based on the menu for the week. It’s easy to stay motivated when you care about the outcome.

3) Get involved in the community

As easy as it is to stay comfortable coding by yourself and observing everything from the outside, to really become a developer you need to be involved in the development community.

It’s where all the action is. It’s where you’ll find your next job. Your next client. Your next business partner.

It’s where you can contribute to open-source projects, or create your own. It’s where you’ll market your great app idea. Basically it is what gives life to your career and projects.

Some ways he suggested someone new can get involved are:

  • Blogging about topics you’re learning about

    The best way to learn something is to teach it. It forces you to really make sure you understand a concept fully so that you can then impart that knowledge onto someone else. You don’t have to be an expert in all things web dev to teach! You simply have to be ahead of the person you are trying to teach - even if it’s just one day ahead. Because you were in their same position so recently you understand what they will struggle with and can build that into how you teach

  • Going to local meetups

    This is probably one of the best ways to get involved as the face-to-face interactions are still the best form of getting to know people and getting them to know you. He said if you stand out in those situations, hiring managers (like himself) remember you and think about you when looking for new talent, or if friends at other companies are looking too.

  • Contributing to forums/chat groups

    I’m currently involved with a couple web development Slack groups. These groups are great for people to share information, ask questions, or simply ‘hang out’ online. The key is to not just lurk, but to be active in the discussions. Don’t try to act smarter than you are. Be honest, have fun, and contribute to the conversation. People will remember you.

4) Start applying to jobs before you think you’re ready to

This one hit me hard. I hate doing things before I feel I can do them perfectly. My daughter is like this. It took her almost two years to start talking. But now… 🙄.

But by applying “early” you will learn what companies want as you interact with them. He said the fact is you can probably get a job a lot sooner than you think you can if you show you have initiative, confidence, a willingness to learn quickly, and are honest about what you do/don’t know.

At worst they say no. But they might say yes!

5) Everything you’ve done in life is experience - showcase it

I have had nothing to do with the development industry before now. I studied business in college, I worked in a cafe, an Aboriginal Art Centre, in sales, insurance… not exactly a CS degree. But he told me none of that is a negative.

In fact, it shows employers a couple things: you’ve had a job, you’ve worked in business and can understand that process, you’ve picked up skills (such as public speaking and communication) that other developers can lack, and you bring a diversity of thinking.

So even if your past has nothing to do with development don’t view it as something to hide. What he said is instead you need to craft a narrative about how each bit of your puzzle has lead you to where you are today. Highlight how those skills you picked up can be assets in a new career.

6) Be courageous

Hey you said there was only 5 things?? I did, but another thing to keep in mind is always over deliver! Now we’re at 7 things.

But in all seriousness this was the biggest takaway for me. You just have to have the courage to ask for help. I think this community is particularly generous when it comes to assisting those new to the game.

Networking is not natural to me but just like my coding skills it’s something I need to practice. And just like coding, the more you do it the easier it gets.

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