Follow These Tips to Start Your Career as a Junior Developer the Right Way
It’s the first day of your new job as a junior developer. You are excited because you have put a lot of effort to reach where you are now: finding your first programming job after pouring hours and hours into learning the essence of coding.
But you are also nervous because you don’t want to let down your seniors and your team. You want to prove that you are a budding programmer who has the passion and dedication to make a difference in this field. So you are nervous about putting a foot wrong on your way to proving it. And you are unsure about the correct etiquette expected from a junior developer at your workplace.
This nervousness, it’s more than normal for a junior developer just starting out. But you have to understand that no company hires a junior developer expecting them to be perfect programmers. Your company and your team expect that you will make mistakes. They expect that you’ll put more than one foot wrong. What they want is not a perfect programmer but a newbie programmer with promise and eagerness to learn.
So, how can you navigate your new workplace and work while showing your colleagues you are a promising junior developer? It’s the question I am going to answer in this chapter. These are a few tips every junior developer can follow to make an impact at your job from your first day onwards. If you follow these tips, you won’t be just putting on a front at your job. You’ll genuinely learn and improve and win over your team by showing dedication and team spirit. So, let’s get started with the first tip you should never forget.
Be proud of the work you do
Starting out as a junior developer gives you some sort of a reality check you don’t expect to receive beforehand. Before you land your junior developer job, you worked on creating complete web applications from start to finish on your own. You worked with some exciting new technologies like AI and blockchain in your projects.
So when you begin a career as a junior developer, the tasks you are assigned at first may seem smaller in comparison. You may feel as if what you are doing is not important. That your work doesn’t matter much on a large scale. And when you complete these seemingly unimportant tasks, you may not take pride in your work thinking, “What I did was not special”.
What you think couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Your team is not going to throw you into the deep end at the first chance they get without identifying your strengths and weaknesses first. So it’s normal that you are not assigned to bigger and harder tasks in the first few weeks at your job. But it doesn’t mean your work is not important. It doesn’t mean your work doesn’t have an impact. Especially, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be proud of the work you are doing.
Give your all to the smallest tasks you are working on. Follow all the best practices when writing even a few lines of code. Refactor your code often. Write testable, maintainable, reusable code. Add proper comments where necessary. And deliver beyond what is expected from you. If you follow these steps for even the smallest and simplest tasks you do, you can make a significant impact as a team member and leave a good impression on your colleagues.
Being proud of the work you do is key to giving your 100% to even the smallest task you do. You were offered this job because of the passion and promise your years of work towards becoming a programmer have shown. Even the smallest task you get is a testament to the trust your team members show in you. You’d be surprised to see how a programmer can bring down an entire system with a wrong fix to a simple bug. So they are essentially entrusting you to make changes to a high-stake system because they believe you are capable of it.
These are more than enough reasons for you to be proud of the work you do. So take pride in your work and give your 100%. And you’ll do just fine as a junior developer.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
If you are a junior developer or a developer with 10+ years of experience in the field, ask for help when you can’t figure out the solution on your own. Admitting you are unable to solve something on your own is not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of your humility and eagerness to learn.
At first, it may seem a little intimidating. You’ll be plagued with thoughts like, “What if they think what kind of a programmer I am because I can’t solve this?” But the reality is that seniors are more than happy to help junior developers learn and improve. They have been in your shoes at one point in their careers, so they understand that you can’t figure out everything on your own.
As you spend more time with your team, you’ll realize that it’s not only the junior developers who ask for help. Even seasoned programmers with years of experience ask for help from their peers to solve problems they are finding hard to solve on their own. Programming is a vast field. So, it’s OK to not know everything. But there’s a chance another developer has come across a similar problem at some point. Or they could offer you a different perspective on how to approach the problem—because, always, two pairs of eyes are better than one.
So, as a junior developer, when you are stuck on a problem and can’t figure out the solution on your own, ask your team members to help you find a solution.
When you are asking for help, it’s important to be specific about the problem you are facing. Don’t just say, “I’m stuck.” Instead, give the specifics. What you were doing just before encountering the problem. Where you are getting the error (the package, line number, etc.) What the error message is saying. The approaches you have tried for solving the problem.
When the person you are asking for help has this information, they’ll find it easier to point you in the right direction. And it’ll waste less of everyone’s time.
Think of asking for help as your last resort. Before that, try everything you can to solve it on your own. Try a few different approaches. Search Google, StackOverflow for similar problems. For open-source projects, search GitHub to see if there are any known issues.
If nothing works, go ask for help from your team.
Be a good listener and learn
For a junior developer, listening is a gold mine of knowledge. Listen, and listen well, to what others are telling you. It could be an explanation, some instructions, advice, or feedback from your peers.
Listen to what they are saying and take it all in. If you don’t understand something, ask questions until you get what they are saying 100%. Write down the most important points. Always keep a notebook in your possession. Or use a note-taking app like Evernote and Google Keep.
Listen when the talk is not directed towards you
You shouldn’t listen only to the things others directly tell you. There’s a lot you can learn if you listen to other people’s discussions. Not by eavesdropping on other people’s conversations, of course.
But a team of developers holds frequent meetings to give progress updates, assign new tasks, discuss design decisions, etc. In these meetings, listen to what other developers are saying. They may be irrelevant to the task you are working on. You may not have the slightest idea about the part of the codebase they are talking about. Still, listen.
In the beginning, when you are new to the job, you may not understand half of the things they are saying. But it’s OK. You still have to pay attention to what is being said. And note down the terms you are not familiar with. Look them up once the meeting is over and try to learn the meaning of those terms. Somehow, get a grasp on the discussed ideas.
If understanding these concepts on your own is too difficult, ask one of your team members for an explanation when they are not busy.
Communication is key
As a junior developer, you have to communicate every day with your team, managers, clients, and a myriad of other people. On these occasions, to make a good impression on those you are communicating with, you should communicate well. Communicating well does not entail talking for the longest time. For developers, nothing is more valuable than saving time. So, if you are talking for too long, it means you are wasting a lot of people’s time.
Instead, to communicate well, you should be concise and to-the-point in everything you say. Talk about only the highlights of your work or the idea. Keep the background details to yourself. Your team or managers don’t want to hear about the things that didn’t work when solving a problem or the events that led to your eureka moment.
For example, when talking in a daily progress update meeting, you can limit your update to the following points:
– The task you are working on currently.
– What you have completed so far.
– What you expect to work on today.
– Any problem you are currently. encountering
When you get your chance to talk, don’t ramble, just present these points clearly and concisely. If it helps you, write down the points you are going to talk about beforehand. And you can reference the note to stay on topic without missing any points that should be mentioned when you are talking.
If you follow these tips and communicate well whenever you get the chance to speak, others will take it as a sign of your confidence. And your self-assuredness will leave a good impression on your team members, clients, and even managers.
Get feedback as often as you can
Feedback from your seniors is important to know that you are doing your work the right way. So, whenever you can, get their feedback on not only the code you write but your work ethic and behavior as well.
Don’t wait for Code Reviews
The main platform for junior developers to receive feedback is code reviews. They are an excellent way to identify mistakes in the way you code, your design decisions, etc. But code reviews are not held as frequently as we would prefer. To schedule a code review, you have to complete the implementation of a task, and it could be a solution over 100 lines of code. When you receive feedback on your design and implementation mistakes at this stage, you have to go back and change a better part of the code you have already written. Sometimes, you’ll have to redesign and rewrite the entire code.
That kind of feedback-correction cycle is simply unproductive for a developer. Not to mention, discouraging. So, instead of waiting for code reviews, you can ask for feedback from your seniors every time you make an important coding decision. When you come up with a design for the solution, ask one of the senior developers for their opinion on the design. After you implement the basic design features, again, ask for feedback on whether you are following the best coding practices, using the correct design patterns, and approaching the problem the right way.
This will give you the confidence to continue without doubts because you know you are doing the right thing.
Feedback is not only for code
Not only matters directly related to coding, but you can also ask for feedback on how you score in other aspects as a developer. Communication skills, attitude, dedication, you can open all these aspects important to a developer for receiving feedback. Your seniors will be more than willing to give tips on what you can do differently to become a better developer and build your brand.
Take responsibility for the mistakes you make
The most dreaded moment of a junior developer’s career is the moment you make your first mistake. Especially because mistakes in programming can be costly. Even a simple mistake like accepting an input without a null check could result in a complete system crash.
What you wouldn’t know at the first few weeks of your job is that mistakes are, sometimes, inevitable. Even the developers with years of experience make mistakes that end up costing the company money, resources, and time. So, if you make a simple mistake like missing a few test cases in the code you write, it’s not the end of the world. Your seniors are not going to chew your head off for making a mistake. They will simply show you the errors in your way, and if the impact of the mistake is critical, they’ll quickly roll out a correction. And you should humbly accept the fact that you’ve somehow made a mistake and be careful not to make such a mistake again.
And you should always own your mistakes. If your seniors ask, “The system is failing because of a change made in this package, did any of you make any changes to it?”, don’t hide away in the fear of your mistake being exposed. If you admit to having made changes in the said package, it helps the team quickly go through your changes and fix whatever that has gone wrong. But if you don’t take responsibility for the mistake, the team will have to spend hours, and even days, trying to figure out where the error is, which worsens the impact of your mistake tenfold and causes everyone too much trouble than necessary.
If you take responsibility, your team will admire your honesty and deem you trustworthy.
Volunteer whenever possible
Whenever an opportunity arises to volunteer at the workplace, jump up and grab that chance with both your hands if you think you can do a meaningful contribution. If your manager or the seniors ask if there’s anyone willing to do a particular job, this is your call to raise your hand and say, “Yes, I will take it.”
Volunteering shows your eagerness to improve and take on new challenges. And your team members will be grateful for taking one more problem off their plates. Some volunteering tasks also allow you to connect with developers outside your team. So, it’s a great opportunity to grow your network. A lot of the time, volunteering tasks involve bug fixing. Though fixing bugs appear as a boring task, it allows you to familiarize yourself with different parts of the codebase. When you start working for a company with a large codebase, volunteering becomes the perfect opportunity to learn its ins and outs quicker than it would usually take.
When you offer to volunteer for a task, though, you have to be honest about your skills and limitations. If you accept a task, your seniors will rely on you to do a good job on it. So, don’t oversell yourself if it’s not a task you are confident about. But it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t volunteer if you are not 100% certain of doing a good job. Instead, give your seniors an honest account of what you are capable of doing well and what you will try to do well.
Even if you fail at completing the task, then, they will appreciate your effort and the willingness to step out of your comfort zone.
Offer Your Help to Others
Offering to help is a tactic you can use to win over your team members and learn beyond the work assigned to you.
When programming, you’ll often find yourself waiting idly until tests complete running, a build is completed, or a download/installation is finished. We tend to waste away this time surfing the web, scrolling through social media, and watching You Tube videos. But instead of wasting away hours of your time, you can channel it into something useful in helping your team.
So, if you find yourself with some free time at work, ask your teammates if any of them need help with something. Most of the time, they won’t have any task for you. Nevertheless, they’ll appreciate you for asking. If you actually get a task to help out a teammate, it’ll make your downtime more productive and meaningful. And you’ll be able to learn something new with these opportunities.
Starting your first job as a junior developer is one of the crucial steps in your journey to becoming a successful developer. In this chapter, I offered you a few tips to kick off your career on the right foot and become a team member your colleagues respect and admire.
One last time, let’s summarize the points discussed in this chapter that you should follow as a junior developer since the first day at the job.
- Be proud of the work you do no matter how simple and easy it may seem.
- Be a good listener and learn from what your seniors tell you and their discussions.
- Communicate your ideas clearly and concisely.
- Get feedback on things related to coding as well as non-programming-related aspects of a developer’s career as often as you can.
- If you make a mistake, take responsibility. Don’t try to sweep your mistakes under a rug.
- Volunteer whenever possible.
- Offer to help your colleagues when you find yourself without any work to do.
- Always be transparent
If you follow these steps, you may not only fall into the good graces of your seniors and team members, they’ll identify you as a person with the potential and passion to become a good developer. You never know what opportunities that kind of recognition could open up for you.