Maintain a few side projects at all times to keep your mind active. Spend extra time on your side projects on the weekends and after work when your workload at work isn't keeping you too busy or pushing you. Utilize your side projects to expand your toolkit of abilities and experiment with new technologies and methodologies, a luxury you might not have at work given the need to deliver functionality as quickly as feasible.
Keep refactoring your code. With 20/20 hindsight, you can almost always think of a better way to create the same code as soon as you get something to work. Spend some time rewriting the code so that it makes more sense. Consider using a library to complete the task you were previously performing on your own. The more at ease you are with the finished product, the more likely it is that you will continue to develop it and add new features to it so that it becomes a part of your portfolio (put it on GitHub).
Get more used to your development environment and tools. Have a thorough understanding of your editor. What's the easiest way to refactor a function or identify a class? How quickly can a text file be modified? (learn regex).Never reinvent the wheel. Understand how to use every library that is offered in the language(s) of your choosing. Make an effort to provide an example for every library. Keep such instances close at hand so you may refer to them whenever necessary. When you are sufficiently familiar with a library, you are more likely to remember to utilize it when the occasion arises and to be aware of how to use it, making it easier to resist the need to create your own.
Read other people's code. It's a great way to learn. If you encounter idioms, libraries, patterns or techniques that seem unfamiliar, explore them further until you feel ready to try them in your own code. Being comfortable with reading code written by others is very important for doing code reviews within your team or across teams, working on open source projects, or troubleshooting open source libraries you're using in your own projects.
Develop what I call a "pixel to metal" perspective. Eliminate blind spots in your understanding of the entire scope of your application and its execution environment, whether it's the front end, the back end, the data store, the hardware, supported operating systems, virtualization layers, the network, the data center, or something else.
Automate. Automate. Automate. Including command line (bash profile), text manipulation and log mining (Perl), refactoring (Eclipse), building, deploying, integrating (Grunt, Ant, Maven, Gradle, Jenkins), and testing, automate anything you do often (xUnit, SoapUI, Selenium, Postman).
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