Sunday, May 19, 2024

How to REALLY Survive Your First Year as a Developer

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Also see: Developers: Understanding Your Idiot Manager

“This must be a joke!”

Those were the words I was thinking as I was going through the usual junk mail in my inbox. I came across a promotion for a training class geared to newbie developers starting their first job after graduation.

It’s not that there isn’t value to learning what goes into a “real” job. But this training firm was asking for almost $400 for a two hour class.


What new graduate do you know who has any extra money? Ok, maybe in Silicon Valley where firms are offering new hire bonuses and “beer for life.” But in the land of mostly reality there are only pennies left after the first paycheck.

I remember in my first year going to happy hours to get the free buffet food so I could pay the rent.

So I’m going to do my good deed for the month and help you newbies save your hard earned dough. Maybe some of you veteran developers could learn a thing or two as well.

The email started out by explaining how the office is not like your dorm room, the college study hall, or the workspace in your parent’s house. What exactly is a “college study hall” anyway? Study hall was something I slept through in high school, but don’t think it existed in college. Maybe the trainer went to some liberal arts college where these grandiose study halls were prevalent, but I’m betting most computer science majors spent most of their time in a dark room in front of a computer screen.

I have also experienced many office spaces that were exactly like dorm rooms – or even fraternity houses. And some newbie developers are allowed to work from home – although sadly that may mean evenings and weekends.

My point is that it’s dangerous to make broad assumptions about work environments. Every place is different. Every workspace, work relationships, job responsibilities and most important, work culture, can be very different from place to place.

That being said, there are some common themes for any newbie developer to consider when starting their first job.

For example, the email sales pitch went on about how there are unwritten etiquette rules at work. Very true!

But instead of learning how to not pick your nose during meetings, here are more useful real world tips. If you want details, click through to my articles on the subject (no extra charge!).

Everyone screws up. Don’t try to cover things up or make excuses, just learn from your mistakes and do a better job next time.

Drinking alcohol during work hours isn’t a good idea.

• Don’t order dessert when the boss is buying lunch.

• Working on side projects at work is not cool. Your employer can claim any intellectual property developed on their time and their equipment.

• Don’t just moan and complain about work conditions, make a case for improvements and pitch it to your boss. For example, don’t just demand a second monitor, do the research and explain how it will improve your productivity.

• You can’t just tell customers to suck it up if they complain. Take the time to learn how to deal with difficult customers.

• Assume good intentions. Don’t go looking for the worst in your coworkers. But keep an eye out for the backstabbers. Hopefully you learned this skill in high school.

• Some of your coworkers will be idiots and worse, bullies. Don’t let their bad habits or bad attitudes bring you down. – Be careful what you put into emails and text messages. Big brother may be watching – or the message may end up where you didn’t expect.

• You sit slouched in front of your monitor writing code most of the day, right? It’s ok to take breaks – give your brain and back a break. Just don’t goof off all day and make sure you produce results; then your manager likely won’t give you a hard time. Gaming at work might not be such a good idea so save the Ork slaying for home.

• You should be confident on the job, but don’t be cocky. No one likes a pompous developer.

Now, back to the email. The sales pitch continued with questions they would expertly answer for your precious $400. I’ll answer them for you – again, no charge!

1. How do I establish a good working relationship with my boss without appearing to suck up?

Go ahead and suck up to the boss. Just don’t be a jerk about it. So-called “sucking up” is actually part of going the extra mile to do the best job you can.

Sometimes your work speaks for itself, but other times it’s necessary to toot your own horn to be recognized. Come annual review time this could be the difference between meeting expectations and exceeding expectations.

2. How do I find and effectively use a mentor?

If you aren’t assigned a mentor, seek out one you can confide in when you are facing tough decisions. But don’t waste your time if you find a mentor isn’t responsive – move on to someone else who shows a genuine interest in helping you.

3. What kinds of problems should I bring to my manager?

Don’t bring your manager problems, bring them solutions. No one likes a complainer.

4. When is the right time to ask for a raise?

Anytime. The key is to be prepared with facts to make your case. Look at salary surveys, talk to recruiters – but don’t point out that your peers makes more than you because you aren’t supposed to know what your peers make!

5. How good does my work product need to be?

If you really need to ask this question, then you won’t have that job long.

Finally, the email sales pitch suggested the most important determinant of success on the new job is the relationship with your boss, especially a dysfunctional boss.

I disagree.

The most important factor in your success is you. You control how you act. You control your work ethic. Don’t look to blame your idiot boss for your problems. Take responsibility for doing the best job you can and if you can stand the heat, get out of the fire – find a new job. Just remember, the grass isn’t always greener.

Now you can take the $400 I just saved you, skip the happy hour buffet, stock up on your favorite energy drink and buy a bunch of video games so you can at least feel like you are back in college.

No extra charge!

Also see: Are Quirky Developers Brilliant or Dangerous?

And: How to Deal with Your Idiot Coworkers

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