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James Robert Lund III
James Robert Lund III

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Reflecting On My Programming Career

It's been a long 5 years.

5 years of stand-ups, posture issues, fixing staging and production sites, and code, so much code. It's hard to imagine that it's been that long, it seems like ages ago.

From starting my career as a back-end Python engineer working on healthcare websites to building full-stack applications with Typescript, I've seen a few things and led myself astray along the way.

One of the ways I disadvantaged myself was to be a "yes man".

🚨 Spoiler Alert - don't do that.

I took any opportunity I could to prove myself and advance my career. Build my skills and keep my clients happy. I wanted to be known as a competent engineer. I wanted people to want me on their team. I wanted attention and to be recognized for my efforts, no matter what.

I would work extra hours during the day or weekends to keep people happy. Anyone besides myself or my family.

Stretching myself like this would only get me so far. I voluntarily did this to make my clients happy or to make up for a fumble I had during a meeting earlier in the week. I felt like I owed someone something.

As long as my clients were happy, I was happy. Or at least that's what I told myself for years.

😬 Yikes

I was becoming the person I set out NOT to be, the workaholic programmer who only made time for work. Work work work. A cog in the machine that only stops to rest.

I didn't stop and think about the negative impact my workaholic tendencies would have on my mental health and family. They craved more attention from me. Attention that I denied them so I could focus on developing the skills I thought I needed for the future.

I was right on some of the skills and wrong on others. Let me explain.

Things I didn't need:

  • Google Cloud Certifications
  • Saying yes to all demands
  • Influencer trends (Rust, Flutter, AlpineJS, RedwoodJs, etc)

Google Cloud Certifications

Looking back, I feel like this wasn't the move. I was studying to earn a Google Developer certification to show to companies that I knew Google Cloud. What does that even mean? Knowing "Google Cloud" is a HUGE goal for anyone to learn (same goes for Azure, AWS, etc), I didn't set the right expectations for myself.

A better use of my time would've been to better understand the exact features of GCC that would've benefited my projects. At the time, I was using Firebase on every project to speed up development. Learning more about GC Cloud Functions, App Engine, Storage, and IAM would've pushed me further in my career besides just knowing the basics.

Couldn't the cert help me with those things? Yes, but it probably was overkill.

Saying Yes

This was my biggest mistake.

I was eager to prove myself and fearful of letting people down. I wouldn't turn someone down because it was an opportunity for me to learn and get more experience.

It was easy for me to feel like this was progressing my career but it lead to sooner burnout. That sooner burnout hindered my performance and my drive to learn.

Influencer Trends

There's new technologies coming out all the time and I felt like it was my responsibility to keep up with the trends. There's some truth to that but I was a bit starry-eyed thinking I should learn everything tech-bros were talking about.

Is it okay to try new things? Absolutely.

Is it okay to force yourself to try new things when you should be around those who care about you? For me, no.

The reality was that I just needed to stick with the things that employers were looking for. For my specific line of work, this would mostly be React, React Native, JS/TS, Firebase, HTML, CSS, etc. A framework, a language, and the tools to build full stack apps.

That's what helped me get the positions I was in, understanding tools and having the skills that employers were looking for.

In my experience, employers weren't looking for a full-stack dev that had a Google Cloud certification or knowledge of Rust. They were looking for someone who knew one of the big three front-end frameworks (React, Angular, Vue) and could write nodejs code. Also someone who could adapt to older/different codebases than current standards.

At the times I was applying for new opportunities, I never saw positions that were looking for Svelte, Rust, RedwoodJs, etc experience. Mainly full-stack positions that asked if you could provide value with knowing more common technologies.

Rust is a neat language but it doesn't have much use for me in my area of webdev. I typically work on full-stack apps that use Typescript. Typically a CMS or CMS-like back-end and React front-end. Why should I learn Rust?

It's not like I was building CLI tools or infrastructure to support my web apps, I just thought Rust was cool. I thought it would give me an edge.

And let me stop for a moment, there is nothing wrong with learning new things. There is nothing wrong with learning Rust or anything on this list. My point is I was forcing myself to learn something that I didn't need to learn. I thought I was advancing my career but I was just holding myself back by not investing my time into the things that companies would want me to do (mostly front-end stuff at this time).

What actually gave me energy to continue learning wasn't to force myself to learn, it was to spend more time with my family and recharge. After all, the point of me working so much was to have more family time by being better at my job, wasn't it?

But that's enough of the negative, let's focus on the things that pushed me along my career.

Things that helped me:

  • Communication
  • Typescript/Javascript
  • CSS/HTML etc
  • Saying no
  • Establishing boundaries
  • Learning to protect those boundaries

Communication

To most of you, this is a no-brainer, but I learned it the hard way. Instead of communicating my hiccups to my team, I'd silently iron all bugs in my way. "I can fix anything!" I'd say to myself, not considering that I could save time by pair programming with someone else.

What happens when you can't fix something and your deadline is coming up? Panic.

What happens when you can't fix something, your deadline is coming up, and you leverage your team? More often than not, the team will help you get out of your situation. Either by helping you get unstuck, developing the work with you, or communicating with the client that we should push back the deadline.

Typescript/Javascript

Another no-brainer for those who work in webdev. Looking back, I wish I focused on Typescript a lot sooner. I'd have more experience and would have more job opportunities. Most places are asking for TS experience these days.

I'd also grow faster. If I implemented TS sooner, more of my legacy projects would be more maintainable because my code would've been more intentional with its data flow.

CSS/HTML

If you work front-end, you need to know these. I was decent at it but for most of my career I'd use divs for everything. Who cares about SEO or accessibility anyway? Yeah, totally not my attitude these days.

Saying no

If you're having a hard time, this might be your skeleton key. Learning to say no and protecting my boundaries was a game changer!

When I learned how to protect my boundaries, I was able to properly set expectations with my team. Expectations that were manageable led me to get more sleep, keep work at work, generally feel less stressed, and not feel burnt out as quickly.

You have to swallow your pride to do this. Accept that you can't do everything and you should leverage your team when you need them. They're there to help you, as you are to them.


These things actually helped me progress in my career. The cool thing was they didn't take much time outside of work. They're mostly day-to-day things that made my life easier. And with my life easier, I was able to make more time for my family.

What also helps motivate me is having a sense of community. Something outside of my job that connects me with others who feel the same way I do. For me, there's a non-profit organization called GRWebDev that hosts events in my local area.

Maybe there's an org like that around you too ☺️


Thanks for reading! If you liked this post please give it a heart or another emoji. Did this post help you manage learning and your mental health? Or do you have some tips from your personal journey? Let me know in the comments below!

Top comments (15)

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phalkmin profile image
Paulo Henrique

I was eager to prove myself and fearful of letting people down. I wouldn't turn someone down because it was an opportunity for me to learn and get more experience. It was easy for me to feel like this was progressing my career but it lead to sooner burnout.

You have put in words a thing that I have felt for years. This was my downfall, struggling to prove myself to people that didn't even care and in the end all I got was physical pain and a huge burnout.

Mental health is overlooked in IT, something that needs to change, and fast. I hope that more and more people start voicing out their problems and learning the most important word in this area : "no"

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nicholasbalette profile image
Nicholasbalette

Got to be assertive when necessary.

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seniorasjunioraul profile image
Raul Navarro

Things I didn't need:
thanks for what you wrote. At My 66 years old and in the process of retirement, today I define myself as SeniorAsJunior, but wanting to continue working in technology, it helps me a lot to read your experiences, since my career as an ICT Project Manager mostly with legacy. I am faced with the challenge of reinventing myself and defining what to study and what to practice to become employable again or to be able to create value with more technical skills such as those of developers. So it was open to suggestions of where to travel on a short and practical path.

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sreno77 profile image
Scott Reno

Never be a yes man. They pay you for your expertise and not to just blindly go along with things. If you know a better way, speak up!

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murtaza-swati profile image
Murtaza Khan

Putting that much effort to make clients happy and to be always a “yes man” and sacrificing your time that should be given to family and to physical health impacts you alot in longer run.
I used to play soccer on regular basis and my body was much better. Now setting on the chair for hours for many years have impacted my body a lot and I saw a lot of folks with same outcome i.e Pains everywhere neck and upper/lower back.

Happy clients are good but the cost should not be your body.

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canro91 profile image
Cesar Aguirre

I share the same view about certifications. It's better just-in-time learning in the context of projects that a certification just to skip the line during interviews

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tylerjrbuell profile image
Tyler Buell

Great article @lundjrl. I often struggle with some of these myself. Mental health is something that should be discussed more often in this industry for sure!

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tobiaslanzic profile image
tobiaslanzic

Thanks for sharing with us your history!

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christian_go3 profile image
Christian GO

Thanks for sharing and the advice!

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andersonpull profile image
Anderson Oliveira Bezerra • Edited

Saying yes and trying to prove my worth at all costs is what frustrates me the most, always chasing something unattainable and always exhausted, but I keep learning. 😅

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siy profile image
Sergiy Yevtushenko

Actually, Rust is quite good in webdev. And it's one of very few languages which actually significantly influences coding, even in other languages.

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lundjrl profile image
James Robert Lund III

Sure! It just hasn't shown through in my specific sector. The companies I've worked for have older php sites or C# backends or Typescript everything. The teams I've worked with prefer those languages instead and it would be hard to convince leadership for us to pivot to something else.

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agesset profile image
Eag

Thanks, @lundjrl. 🌟 As a beginner in web development, your insights have been super helpful. They've given me a clearer sense of priorities while I'm working on becoming a better developer. 💻

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happilyai profile image
Happily.ai

really nice

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moriamakterswarna profile image
Moriam Akter Swarna

Amazing post. Recently I've joined in a company and all of those negative things you have said is exists in me also. I hope the above suggestions would help me a lot. Thank you so much.