I’ve been working as a professional developer for a little over 3 months now so I thought I would stop and reflect on some of the ups and downs so far.
First off, I absolutely love my company and am grateful for the opportunity to join them and glad I made this decision. Being in a supportive environment is paramount to the success of a junior developer and I certainly think I’ve found one here.
With that said, I don’t think anyone has every gone from a bootcamp (or traditional college) into a full-time development job and not experienced some challenges. Based on those challenges, here is the advice I would offer other junior developers.
1. Ask for help
I honestly hate having to ask for help. This is not a good quality in a junior developer. I have been trying to work on this in the last few months and I’m definitely improving. When I first started at my job, I would go literally hours staring at the same problem, trying to figure out what to do and not making any progress. When I know what I’m doing I work pretty efficiently, so I still got a lot done in general which kept me out of the “what is that girl even doing?!!?” radar but man…if they knew how long I avoided asking some questions…
Now I give myself a 30-45 minute limit and figure if I can’t begin to imagine a solution in that time or find one on google I go ahead and ask the question. As much as I hate it I know that wasting hours of work time staring at a problem is just not good for business or for my own personal learning and development.
2. Find a Mentor
I know this advice is given a lot and can seem obvious but this cannot be over-stated enough. For me, it really helped to have someone in our company who was specifically assigned to be my mentor. This helped alleviate my fears about asking questions since I thought “well, it’s part of his job to listen to my stupid questions.” Additionally, we have a weekly meeting that has been wonderful. Sometimes we talk about and pair on a specific problem, sometimes we just talk about work/the programming world in general. Either way it is immensely helpful to have this time to pick the brain of someone so senior.
3. Be kind to yourself
There are lots of things you won’t know. That is okay. You are not supposed to know everything now.
4. Get to know your codebase
One of the hardest thing as a junior developer is figuring out how to navigate a large codebase that others built. This is a skill that only comes with time, however when something happens that you don’t understand, take the time to seek out the cause in the codebase. Invest time in making sure you understand the general flow of the codebase. Getting to know it well in the beginning will save you tons of time in the long run.
5. Make time for outside learning
Keep learning on your own outside of work. I’ve come to find that even the most senior developers spend time outside of work building new skills. This is how they became senior and how they retain that position. If your company doesn’t offer reimbursement for technical books or conferences definitely talk to your manager and see if there’s a way to change that. You need those books!!
Those are my main pieces of advice. One more thing I’d suggest is, if possible, try to find somewhere where you won’t be the only junior developer. This kind of goes along with asking for help, but it has been a bit rough for me to get used to being the only junior developer and the first junior developer the company has hired. I did pretty well in the Iron Yard so I came into this used to feeling knowledgeable and intelligent around my peers. Now I’m surrounded by people with much more experience than me and I definitely wouldn’t say I feel knowledgeable most of the time. I heard someone at RailsConf give the advice that junior developers should be hired in pairs so they have someone of their own skill level to relate to and I can definitely imagine the benefit and appeal in that. That being said, I specifically picked this job because of the wealth of experience and knowledge my co-workers had. I wanted to be surrounded by brilliant people who I could learn a ton from. I succeeded in this goal. So I wouldn’t say this is a deal breaker as long as it’s offset by a smart and very supportive team.
The first few months of any new job are tough, but starting in a whole new career field certainly can make them tougher. Remembering these pieces of advice will help make the transition easier.