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Transitioning Into Your First Junior Developer Role

12 March, 2019

In a previous article, we looked at the various stages that I feel are helpful to use as a general template or framework when thinking about how a typical developer may transition throughout his/her career.

The first transition is moving from being a Coder to a Junior Developer.

Here, I'll offer some advice for those who might be facing this transition.

Also, if you personally are "beyond" this stage in your career, it still may be helpful to go over since many of these tips are still helpful in general.

Having this knowledge is also helpful when you mentor or just want to help other devs who are in this situation 😁.

Coder

A Coder is basically a hobbyist. They aren't paid professionals but enjoy coding in their free-time.

Typically, they work alone on their projects.

A Coder might have some of the following traits:

  • May know a couple programming languages well
  • Might have an in-depth knowledge of syntax
  • Is able to solve problems that arise in smaller projects

Junior Developer

This transition is marked when someone enters the field in their first paid position.

Something developers will learn quickly is that being a developer isn't all about "pumping out code".

You will be expected to take business requirements and turn them into applications and tools that solve real-world problems.

Here are various tips and advice that I have for those facing this transition:

You're On A Team Now!

Yep. That's right. People. Lots of people.

This adds a whole new dimension!

Here are some pointers around being a great team member:

Communicate Clearly

You need to be aware of what matters when you are in discussions.

For example, if you are expected to tell everyone what you are working on for the day - don't deep dive into the specifics of what you are doing.

Instead, briefly indicate what general task you are on and whether you need help:

"I'm going to fix a bug related to the main menu on our mobile app, then I'll keep working on the new feature X."

I've seen so many devs just jump right into the technical specifics of what they are working on. That's just a waste of everyone's time and energy!

Emotional Intelligence

We all have bad days.

Your teammates are people.

Treat them like they are people.

Try to encourage them when possible.

And if you do have problems, start by addressing issues one-on-one. But choose your battles wisely. If Fred is having a bad day, then it might just be best to let time take its course.

If an attitude, etc. is affecting the team as a whole or for an extended period, your managers are there to help you address issues too.

It's Too Big For My Tiny Head!

Now on to some more general areas of advice!

You will quickly find yourself working on codebases that aren't like the ones you had in school. You could fit those ones in your head.

In the real world, you will face massive codebases that are just not possible to fit in your head all-at-once 🤯.

When I started as a junior developer I was expected to start working with a database that had over 700 tables and thousands of functions and stored procedures. As someone just starting out I was really overwhelmed!

You will be overwhelmed too.

We've all been there.

It just takes time.

My advice: Write everything down before you touch code!

Figure out a strategy on "paper" first.

Break the problem down into small steps. Write down each step.

Here are some things you might want to include:

  • What database tables/columns will need to change?
  • What code files will you need to change or investigate?
  • Are there any known design patterns that address the core issue?
  • Are there any unanswered questions or ambiguous requirements?
  • etc.

Your peers will really appreciate your taking the time to break everything down.

If you do need help, they will be more-than-willing to help you.

It will just be easier for everyone involved - even seniors can't remember everything and fit it all in their heads! 🤣

Keep An Achievements Library

Keep a journal or spreadsheet of every major task that you complete. If possible, include metrics that might be relevant.

For example:

"I improved the speed of a critical SQL query by over 200%"

"Completed feature X which lead to X number of new clients for the company over the next 6 months."

"Learned about the SQL APPLY operation and used it to migrate company X's data 50% faster than before."

This will be great for you to look back at privately to see what you've accomplished. We all get down sometimes and fall into seasons when it feels like we aren't doing much good.

But, it will also help when the time comes to re-do your resume. You'll have lots of ammunition!

Learn How To Research

Einstein is quoted as saying something to the effect of "Never memorize something that you can look up."

This is the software developer's mantra!

Even senior developers have to research things every single day!

My advice: Read. Read a lot.

Read things that are a little bit beyond your comfort zone and current understanding.

That will stretch you. Eventually, you should be able to read faster and even learn to skim material quickly.

This can make the difference between a mediocre developer and a super developer.

If you can quickly find the answer to something you don't know how to do, then you will be respected as someone who can answer other people's questions quickly.

You'll become someone who "levels-up" the team they are on.

Community

One of the things I personally regret not doing sooner is getting involved in the developer community.

This will help you find jobs, make new friends, find mentors, and make you feel like you a part of something bigger than just yourself and the company you happen to work for.

Figure out who the "best" developers are for your particular field and interests.

Follow them on Twitter and start reading and commenting on their blogs!

Other things you can eventually get into:

  • Start contributing to open source projects (even just documentation!)
  • Start an open source project
  • Attend local user groups, meetups and conferences

Specialize

I already wrote about this in a previous post. Check it out!


Next in this series: Becoming An Intermediate Developer


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