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James Hickey
James Hickey

Posted on • Updated on • Originally published at

How To Stand-Out Among Your Peers As A Software Developer

I started my career working for an organization that was building a platform for vehicle manufacturers to consolidate and run analytics on their sales, etc.

I started off having to use technologies and frameworks I had no experience with yet (ASP.NET, T-SQL, etc.)

For the first few months, I felt overwhelmed.

I took forever to do simple things like adding a checkbox to a web page that would get stored in the database!

Maybe you've been there too!

My First "Specialization"

After a few months, from time-to-time, I would build SQL scripts to migrate large sets of data from one vehicle manufacturer's old platform to this new one.

Think something like ALL of Mercedes-Benz USA's data (sales figures, inventory, etc.) for ALL dealerships in the United States over a period of a decade. Lots of data.

One of the core problems with migrating the data was that, for example, certain codes (for financial accounts, SKUs, etc.) in one system might look totally different in another. It might not even exist at all!

We had to extract the proper code by parsing patterns or manipulating old codes.

Now, while in college, I fell in love with regular expressions. So I was really good at them (not so much anymore! πŸ˜‚).

My colleagues - peers with over a decade in the industry - would get really surprised when they would see my scripts. I was basically just using regular expressions and SQL to manipulate these data sets. My scripts would typically take just a few SQL statements to do the job.

My colleagues, on-the-other-hand, were building individual command-line executables with C# that would first fetch some data from the database, loop through them and do some stuff and put some data back into the database.

My solutions would take a few hours or minutes to run, while theirs would take days to run.

Quickly, I became the "go-to" guy for whenever the team had encountered some really hard pieces of data to extract! All because I knew regular expressions really well!

Go figure!

How This Relates To You

So, what came out of that?





That placed me in the minds of my peers as someone who was a skilled programmer.

Sure, I was known for doing something well in a very specific situation.

But, our minds usually don't place significance on people who are good at doing the general day-to-day stuff.

The people who are remarkable at something always stick out.

Where does this lead?

When new opportunities arise to learn something new or jump onto some new projects, you'll be at the top of everyone's mind.

You'll simply be viewed as someone who can do remarkable things.

P.S. This article is originally from where you can check out more articles and resources to help accelerate your career growth!

Some Tips

Now, I'm not going to tell you to learn regular expressions πŸ˜‚.

But, for me, it started with regular expressions. Then it was front-end development. Then it was modelling business rules and system architecture.

Here's my advice: Find a gap within your team or company that could help solve some important problems your company is facing.

But you're thinking - "Easier said than done!"

Practically speaking, if you are early in your career, just keep an eye out for whenever your peers seem surprised at some skill or way of doing things you have.

This might indicate a gap that could be helpful to your organization!

For those more seasoned developers, it should be more apparent what gaps need to be filled. And, the more experienced you are, the more you should naturally drift into a position of mentoring others.

Once you are seasoned, you can use this principle and apply it to the global community - not just your internal company. Try to figure out where there is a need or where certain trends seem to be pointing.

A Few Examples

One example specifically on is:

I don't really see any other data analysts or database focused writers on - so that makes her stand-out right away. Her articles are really great too!

I'd follow her example as someone who focuses on a very specific niche that doesn't have very much competition - and creates great content. That's a fantastic way to stand-out.

Here are a few other diverse examples that are just taken off the top of my head (not all devs):

The End

Yes, it's hard.

If you can't find anything yet, then just pick something! You need to stick out!

You can always move into other areas of specialization later if you find something else too!

Dan Abramov used to be a .NET developer - now he's known as one of the top react.js developers.

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Top comments (17)

idanarye profile image
Idan Arye

Mandatory XKCD reference

jamesmh profile image
James Hickey

Sad to say, that sometimes happens... hahaha

helenanders26 profile image
Helen Anderson

Oooo it's me! Thank you James.

Such great advice to everyone, not just junior developers, to put your hand up for opportunities and learn your tool of choice really well.

It's so easy to get overwhelmed with the new technologies and tools. You never can really get caught up and know everything about everything in the tech industry so why put pressure on yourself? Get to know what makes sense to you, put equal effort into being a team player and good communicator and you'll go far.

molly profile image
Molly Struve (she/her) • Edited

Great post!!!

I did exactly this at my current company. When one of our Senior devs left there was a gap in Elasticsearch knowledge. I decided that was something I wanted to learn more about and own. 3 years later I am known as the Elasticsearch Whisperer! That specialized knowledge is also what pushed me into my Sr. dev role. If you want to reach the next level in your career, I highly recommend taking this advice πŸ€—

jamesmh profile image
James Hickey

Love it! Thanks for sharing your experience!

rhymes profile image

I am known as the Elasticsearch Whisperer!

Ah ah ah :D You definitely need to get a t-shirt with that title :D

rhymes profile image

Great post James, I've also interpreted it as an encouragement on not coming in in a room with guns blazing. Sometimes what you think you want out of something is not what you end up doing and you might enjoy even more this other thing if you don't stay fixated on yourself and your preconceived idea.

Does it make sense? It sounded deeper in my brain :D

Now, I'm not going to tell you to learn regular expressions πŸ˜‚.

You should though :) Regular expressions and SQL are legit superpowers! The great thing is, as @helenanders26 is demonstrating with ther posts, SQL and database knowledge goes on for miles.

Regular expressions are pretty much the same in every language and environment, there are small difference but they can picked up by reading a page or two each time. SQL also has a "best before" date of basically never :D

jamesmh profile image
James Hickey

Yes, there's wisdom in observing a business and trying to figure out pain points or gaps that could be filled vs. just trying to overlap all the best practices etc. I've found that out the hard way, sadly... :(

SQL is 100% a fundamental skill set that all devs should have. I find many web devs, for example, do lack a really good grasp of DB fundamentals beyond just querying. Many times, they are expected to set up a DB and optimize them - having a very basic understanding of DB concepts...

Def. a requirement for becoming a skilled "senior" web developer.

I think @helenanders26 has a potential market here for some future content directed specifically at web devs who need to improve their DB game in order to level-up in their careers... cough

helenanders26 profile image
Helen Anderson

"SQL has a 'best before' date of basically never"

This is the best quote ever :D

itr13 profile image
Mikael Klages

Nice article, getting specialized knowledge is definitely useful!

However, though specialization is good, make sure not to get locked into only doing the thing you're specialized in, so that you get to improve and learn other skills.

And though it's nice to stand out, passing on knowledge on how to do something might be worth considering, so others can work without having to wait for you, or to prevent the project from going awry if you ever go sick during an important phase.

jamesmh profile image
James Hickey

Agree. If done correctly, you should find yourself mastering one thing and then moving onto something else or finding some other gap in your business, etc.

mijustin profile image
Justin Jackson

Great post @jamesmh ! Wanted to highlight this part:

Quickly, I became the "go-to" guy for whenever the team had encountered some really hard pieces of data to extract! All because I knew regular expressions really well!

Being known as the person who helps others is one of the best ways to build a reputation.

When you commit yourself to consistently care for people, those acts of kindness add up.

I like how my buddy Jarrod puts it: "Even if you're aren't famous, you can still build trust by helping individuals one at a time."

jamesmh profile image
James Hickey

Thanks for the feedback - love it!

steelwolf180 profile image
Max Ong Zong Bao

It's awesome advice in observing our surroundings. I played around with regular expressions back in my school days.

It's really cool to use it in just a few line. I remember I was searching for my country's social security number to validate it.

Took me weeks just to figure out how to do it in php to build that regular expression but I took the most pride in it while presenting it to the class.

jamesmh profile image
James Hickey

Awesome! Great to hear people using RegEx to solve problems.

banzyme2 profile image

Good advice

jamesmh profile image
James Hickey