You’ve completed your coding classes, gained some hands-on experience working in your preferred language, and feel confident and ready to start your programming career. Exciting! Like anyone diving into a new career for the first time, you are probably wondering how you can make sure your first programming job is a successful one.
Fortunately, there are some basic tips to help you become a successful programmer. It is important to keep in mind that while programming can be a great creative outlet, most programming jobs are offered by businesses with a specific goal or project in mind when they choose you.
So, how do you combine your passion for building things with the right business approach to become an effective employee and essential part of a development team? We’ve compiled some tips and tricks to make your first programming job a success.
Programming is a Team Sport - Be a Great Team Player
Working at any company requires the ability to communicate and collaborate effectively, and working as part of a development team is a fundamental element of most programming jobs. Most coding projects are far too big for a single person to complete, and often companies are often working on deadlines and trying to get products out to customers as soon as possible. As a result, development teams generally break down a major coding project into “bite sized” chunks in order to get products to market as soon as possible.
So what does this mean for you as a new programmer? Simply put, being able to work well as a junior member of a team goes beyond receiving instructions and coding them into reality. To truly be a good team player and effective collaborator, follow these tips:
- Become familiar with common project management tools that development teams often use to organize projects, such as Trello or Asana.
- Develop clear “working hours” and availability before you meet with your team, so that your project manager and team members know when they can reach you and when they should expect to see your code pushed to the central hub.
- As a new programmer, make your goal to learn from more experienced team members and defer to them as needed. While you may have your own clever solution for fixing a particular coding problem, always trust peers who have hands-on experience in solving problems like this and take feedback openly.
- Be realistic about your role on the team - while everyone wants to ascend to the senior developer/project manager role, the best way to do that is to be humble and gather valuable experience. As a new programmer, understand that your first programming job is like a test drive -- you want to see how everything works and fix common mistakes, so that your experience is clear when you move on to your future programming jobs.
You Learn Best When You Ask Questions
Many new programmers are hesitant to reveal that they don’t know how to do something or don’t want to bother senior team members with what seems like an obvious question. But as a new programmer, you need to embrace learning about things you don’t know. While there are certainly considerations around how many questions you should ask, pretending you understand things you don’t can lead to poor code and bigger problems for the development team down the road.
So, how do you ask questions appropriately? Here are some tips:
- Understand that as a new programmer, the team knows that you may not be able to complete every task on your own. They will expect questions from you, and may actually worry if they don’t hear any.
- Before the project begins, work with your manager or the person who hired you to see if there is a specific person or resource you should turn to with questions. Often, senior developers may be assigned to mentor new developers, giving you a reliable resource to turn to with all of your questions without imposing on team members.
- If you’re not sure how to ask good technical questions, there are some great resources to help you learn what a good question looks like.
Focus on Creating Clean and Readable Code
This tip is true not just of your first programming job, but any programming job during the course of your career. Creating clean and readable code sounds like common sense, but many new programmers often struggle with it due to a lack of experience.
While you shouldn’t expect to do this perfectly on your first programming job, there are some basic principles to follow to make your code readable and easy to understand for senior team members who will need to work with it or review it as the project progresses. Fortunately, we’ve compiled some of those best practices to make following this tip even easier.
Set Clear Goals For Yourself
Programming is an occupation that you never completely master. As languages change and offer new solutions and new types of demands emerge, even the most experienced programmers change their methods and adapt to stay on top of their game.
Because this is the case, before beginning your first programming job, consider creating some personal growth goals, both for this specific project as well as for building your own skills toward future programming work. Some good goals might include:
- Set yourself "observable milestones" such as "Print button actually prints something nice", give it an estimate, write that down, and track your time. While this sounds simplistic, completing milestones helps you build confidence.
- Instead of setting a broad goal like “complete every task assigned to me”, focus on specific problems to solve that can be easily measured.
- Ask your mentor or team leader for their suggestions on reasonable goals -- how are specific needs of the project tied to your own growth as a developer? See if you can kill two birds with one stone.
- Create learning goals, centered on things you don’t know or want experience with -- are there processes or problems you haven’t worked with yet? Growth as a programmer is tied directly to learning the things you don’t know how to do.
- Set a goal for what an ideal second job will look like, after working with your current team and gaining an understanding of your first project. Once you know what you’ll be learning and gaining experience with on this project, figure out what further knowledge gaps you’ll want to fill when searching for your next programming experience.