I switched fields 4 months ago, going from product management to front-end development. I am self-taught and I was lucky enough to find a company that gave me a chance to prove my eagerness to learn, so after spending 7 years with my previous employer, I jumped on this train called “web development”.
Image Source: @_ferh97 / Unsplash
The first days were painful. After getting to know the team and the initial work environment setup, colleagues tried to introduce me to the code base. Don’t panic if your code base looks nothing like the ones you’ve seen in the tutorials. Ours was huge and nothing made sense to me. Now I know it’s perfectly normal. Senior developers told me that even for them it takes a good amount of time to get accustomed to new projects, so it’s even harder for a junior to do so. I had to get familiar with the tools the team used: in my case those were Azure DevOps, Git Extensions and Microsoft Teams. And the technologies. Ooo, the technologies: React, Npm, Typescript and Git. I knew a bit of everything, but then again, nothing I used in my tutorials compared with the real life environment.
I must confess, I was super lucky and found an incredibly supportive team. I got help from day one and this hasn’t changed until now. I’m working with very knowledgeable people and one of the seniors is my mentor. I would like to think that this is the norm in the industry but I know that’s not the case so, again, I believe I was extremely lucky.
Some things I learned in these fours months that have passed?
1. Don’t stress. Really. I know it’s a cliche, but try not to stress. Your employer knows they hired a junior so they won’t expect you to refactor the whole code base in two weeks.
2. Take notes. Everyone works differently but I found taking notes extremely helpful, especially when it comes to simple, repetitive tasks that I knew I needed to perform in the future (e.g. steps to follow when starting my work environment, the Git flow we’re using, where I can find folders or info I need etc). At one point I had to stop taking notes because my colleagues were concerned I was actually trying to write a novel instead of code.
3. Ask when you’re not sure. It took me 3 weeks to make commits without asking my team if my changes will delete the code base. You shouldn’t have access privileges for ruining things permanently but even a wrong merge can become unpleasant if it’s not spotted on time.
4. Ask for help. Somehow related to point 3 but I’m referring more to the situation where you need help with the code. It’s great that you're trying to find solutions on your own, but after you’ve exhausted all options, your best resource is your colleagues. This saves you time and it will get the task completed faster (hopefully).
5. It’s totally o.k if you feel overwhelmed. I don’t think this feeling will ever go away and it’s especially strong in the beginning. I must admit, I had days when I wanted to quit. Days when I didn’t understand the task and I was just trying to copy code from one place to another. Sometimes I felt like crying and other times I felt like I can’t and I shouldn’t be a developer.
6. There are no stupid questions. I took me 4 days to find the stairs in our office building, because I didn’t want to ask anyone. But really, there are no stupid questions when it comes to code. Your colleagues are there to help you, so ask whatever crosses your mind, no matter how simple or ridiculous is seems to you.
7. Take breaks. It was very hard to develop this habit. After two weeks on the job my eyes were suffering pretty badly and my back wasn’t very happy about the whole sitting-for-long-periods situation. I installed Flux to protect my eyes and set alarms to remember to stand up (by now I had discovered the stairs so I usually took small breaks to go up and down a few times).
8. Ask for feedback if it’s important to calm your nerves. The first two months I felt like I’m not making any progress, even trough I was closing tickets. The feedback I received from my mentor was positive but I found it hard to believe I was learning fast enough. What helped me relax was a 1:1 meeting with my team lead in which we discussed exactly this.
9. Try not to get burned out. The temptation to study after you finish work is very strong, especially when you feel you need to catch up with your more experienced colleagues. I still watch tutorials and work on side projects on a regular basis but I am trying not to do that every day of the week. The first month I dreamt about code very often and people told me it’s not necessarily a good sign. Now I’m trying to keep the self-teaching for the weekends. Getting tired can discourage you from following this path or influence your idea of web-development in a negative way.
10. Have fun, it will only get better. I still expect too much from me, although I’ve been in the field for only 4 months. Fortunately, I have amazing colleagues that encourage me and show me the progress I made every time I doubt myself. I’m now committing without fear — especially since I found out I can reverse changes :D.
DISCLAIMER: This is the first text I have ever written on Medium and English is not my first language, so I might have done mistakes which I am more than happy to fix, if pointed out. It’s my personal experience and it doesn’t reflect everyone’s journey but if you have any questions or you think I could help you in any way, don’t hesitate to ask.