Tech Career Advice from 30 Interviews
Sam Jarman 👨🏼💻 Jul 11
I just wrapped up season one of my Dev Chats series, where I interviewed a different tech professional every 1-3 weeks asking them about their role, career, and their unique experiences. It was really great hearing from the folks I had on, and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading the interviews too!
We learned a lot about these folks, from how they got started, to how to get into roles likes through to how they mime typing. However, in this post, I want to summarise the career advice that came out of the interviews. What stood out? What was repeated? What can you take and use right now to improve your own career?
The first piece of advice was about being yourself, being authentic true to yourself, and running with that. A lot of the people I spoke to had suffered a lack of confidence or drive at some point, but now, on the other side, they recommend that you look to work on those for yourself. And take some time out for yourself out once in a while, too!
“God, I’ve started joking recently that it’s “do things with the confidence of a white man” (blatantly stolen from a tweet). Is that rude? That’s a bit rude. It isn’t wrong though. Anyway, in all seriousness, I get asked this a lot, so I did a brain dump about it here.” - Monica Dinculescu
“Be yourself. You don’t have to act/look/behave a certain way to be an engineer or work in tech. Just be you, and bring your diverse and authentic self to the industry. I actually think my quirky brand has allowed me to stand out and have my voice heard more.” - Chloe Condon
Go Get it!
This advice revolved around just starting work towards the thing you want, be it anything. Fear, confidence, and much more gets in the way of starting - but how many of these are real blockers versus imagined? I’ll let JD Traskfinish off this section.
“Take action. This isn’t limited to your career in software. I meet with so many folks who want to do something (get a promotion, ask out that person they like, start a business, renovate the bathroom - the list goes on). Stop waiting for permission, stop reading inspirational quotes on Facebook - basically, stop fucking around and do what’s necessary to do it. Nobody will ever hand you things.” - JD Trask
Ask For Help
A lot of people feel fear when wanting to ask a question, and this harms you in the long run. There is nothing to be scared of, and no reasonable person should give you negative feelings for just asking a question.
I think Rose summed this up really nicely, “Asking for help doesn’t make you weak, it doesn’t mean you don’t deserve to be where you are, and doesn’t mean you’re incapable”.
Never Stop Learning
It should be clear that in 2018, and especially tech, the only constant is change. New tools, technologies, and more are coming out daily while others fade into disuse. Thinking that you’ve finished learning is career kryptonite, so please, keep learning.
“It isn’t possible to know everything. There will always be someone who knows more than you do. There will always be an expert who’s done more than you have. Never stop learning. Never stop trying new things.” - Jess Dodson
This whole idea is summed up by Katrina Clokie: “I think that those who are most successful are those who are always willing to learn.”
These clever folk also told you to never stop learning: Sarah Dayan, Bevan Arps, Laura Bell, Kristina Balaam, Andyy Hope, Joe Fabisevich, Carolyn Saund, Scott Hanselman... you get the point? Don't stop!
Teach What You Know
In addition to learning, you should be teaching. An important role, for example, senior engineers, is to make more senior engineers. They do this by teaching, using their experience to help guide their less experienced peers. I loved it when Kelly said “If you don’t know, ask. If you do know, teach. We grow as a tech community by sharing. We all started out not knowing how to do what we do today.” These words couldn’t be more true.
Finally, from Sarah Dayan - “Senior developers, embrace the mentoring part of your position. Being a senior isn't only about a higher salary and staying away from the grunt work. If your company doesn't encourage mentorship or relies too much on you for the risky tasks and it eats up all your time, remind them the benefits of teaching: higher trust within the engineering team, juniors growing their skillset, and a better velocity at short, middle and long term.”
Actively Work on Core Skills
As JD so concisely said, “Coding is the easy part, people are the hard part”. Working on your core skills (aka soft skills), working well with others, and networking to meet others will provide so much benefit to your career. We have quite a beautiful saying here in NZ;
He aha te mea nui o te ao
What is the most important thing in the world?
He tangata, he tangata, he tangata
It is the people, it is the people, it is the people
These wise words were also covered by almost everyone interviewed in Dev Chats, so there must be something there.
Focus on Quality
Finally, make great products. Use your above skills of empathy to think about the user when developing great products. As Mike Jeffcott puts it, “Try to think about the end-user’s experience of what you’re building in their context as much as possible.”. Said even more simply was Nick Parfene, “Strive to make your users smile when they use your software.”
Criticism and feedback are career foods. They’ll help you grow in more ways than you can possibly know. I think Erica Sadun sums it up well: “Criticism is so valuable in terms of growth and development. __I think people naturally want to defend themselves when they’re criticised, and while a lot of criticism can be genuinely stupid (it exists), I think the vast, vast majority is is people helping you, and to push back against that help, without giving it due consideration is not in your best interest.” And more concisely, Aurynn Shaw said: “Stop Being a Jerk".
While I've picked some quotes here, I'm sure all the folks I talked to during Dev Chats season one would agree with this advice.
I really hope you got something out of this. Read the full interviews and more by clicking any of the names.
Best of luck with your journey,