These are 16 actionable career tips for aspiring and early career developers plus some general advice to add context. They are based on my reflections of conversations I’ve had in my tech community on creating a successful tech career.
Network like your career depends on it. You can be the best coder but if no one knows it then your talent is almost worthless. The goal is to get noticed for your talents by helping others and finding opportunities to work in a team. Start with creating a profile on LinkedIn and connecting with those around you. Next, strive to attend online and physical events with the idea of connecting with your peers.
Carve out time daily to code or learn. A great way to stay consistent, accountable, and continue reinforcing what you have learned is to commit to GitHub daily, blog about your journey, or tweet with the hashtag #100daysofcode.
Dive into the tech community and culture. This can be done via podcasts, blogs, books, meetups, etc. If you want to be a pro basketball player, you hang out with other players, watch sports channels, etc. Apply that same method to the tech industry.
Build and deploy personal projects instead of only doing tutorials. The goal is to work with the tools you plan to use on the job and to learn from problems you will face along the way. You will learn more from finishing, packaging, deploying a project, and having an impact on others than any tutorial can teach you. The lessons learned will be used throughout your career.
Document your learning journey. One type of documentation is a debugging log of past issues you have overcome. Nothing is worse than falling for the same error again and again. Create your own software development life cycle for personal projects to refine the process. Write down a personal roadmap of skills to learn. Finally, share your journey with others.
Learn your local job market and based on that, determine what path in tech (Frontend, Backend, etc.) you want to follow. Start with learning the fundamentals of a programming language before mastering a framework.
Ensure that the projects on your resume are set up for a good conversation in the interview. A wonderful tip shared with me was to only include projects (work or personal) on your resume that you can speak extensively about. You want to be able to talk about the struggle, how you solved the problem, and the technology used.
Be intentional about seeking opportunities to have impact and working with technology. For me, this was competing in hackathons and volunteering with nonprofits to get that experience. An example is a civic hackathon where you build something for your local city that may impact lives or save money.
Preparation for an interview is just as important as the interview. Mock interviews should be your bread and butter. I specifically ask friends, family, and my tech community for soft pitches and gradually build up to harder questions. Strategize on a few talking points (experiences & projects) ready to be discussed in an interview. Finally, reflect on past interviews for how you can do better, questions that were asked, and skills to learn.
Communication is an incredible talent. Watch people who are great speakers and emulate their verbal and non-verbal communications styles. Find opportunities to talk about tech like giving tech talks, teaching small classes, and talking to others at tech meetups.
Focus on being a problem solver, not just a coder. Being a problem solver is a mindset. Junior developers focus on completing tickets with directions, mid level developers focus on what needs to be done, and senior developers focus on helping the company achieve a goal.
Practice reading and understanding other people’s code. Most developers work on code written by others and write code that others have to read eventually. This leads to the next tip of writing good documentation.
Be intentional about gaining a big picture understanding of how software/products are made, not just your contribution. Strive to understand the product you support via all tech and non-tech documentation (roadmaps, user research, etc.). Get involved in every process, planning meeting, brainstorm, etc. that helps shape the product.
Feedback is critical for growth. It’s not just being receptive to feedback, but actively seeking feedback from colleagues and your boss. Be open to sharing that you are new and learning. Most importantly, be respectful and consider that everyone around you knows something you don’t.
Update your resume as you incur achievements, projects, and responsibilities at work.
Do the things that nobody else is wanting to do. It’s going to be a steep hill to climb, but it will make you valuable and help you to become the learner that allows you to advance your career.
The quote “Success is not a solo sport” reinforces the importance of the people around you. From a tribe to journey with, mentors for guidance, and trail blazers who you follow; you are the totality of your social circle. If you want to be successful in tech, you need tech focused people around you.
Find yourself a tribe. At the tech boot camp I taught at, the students that actively surrounded themselves with others generally went further. They have people they can bounce ideas off of, help them stay motivated, and to share resources with. The benefits are endless.
In tech the saying “Take advantage of what is accessible instead of what you don’t have” means to use the resources available until you have the opportunity to do more. You don’t know the founder of a big company but you can network with the developers on LinkedIn. You don’t have the opportunity for college internships so compete in online hackathons. You aren’t in a startup, the next best thing is to volunteer for a non-profit. If no one will hire you as a freelancer, then build small products for family and friends.
Success isn't a straight line. You have to do more than just hustling, more than play by the rules, and most importantly, be innovative in your approach to your career. There is no linear path but a series of steps that transverse forward, backward, on the ceiling, and up mountains. There is no elevator to the top but a staircase of lessons to be learned. But you can do it.
The following is a quote from the community about honing your craft and career that I have learned to love.
“Sometimes you will feel like you are trudging through the mud, and you are making little progress. But while you're in the mud, your legs are getting stronger, you are learning about grit, and when you make it to the other side, you'll be better for it. So while you're in it, embrace the suck.”
I want to end this conversation about creating a successful career with this quote, “Never let your career be a coincidence”.