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Top 10 Tips for Junior Software Developers Starting Out

Posted on: November 12th, 2018 by Simon Swords


Of course, a knowledge of programming languages and how to apply them to software is key to landing yourself a job offer, but if you aspire to be a truly outstanding software developer, you are going to need a lot more to offer to get the most out of your projects and your career.


Great software developers require a professional combination of core skills if they want to excel in a successful career. First and foremost, it is important to maintain a positive team-player attitude – coding requires strong communication skills as it involves a lot of teamwork. Developers should have the ability to learn and pick up new skills quickly and good time management is essential; not to mention that every software developer must be able to think in a logical, constructive and analytical manner, while maintaining a high level of attention to detail. Lastly, any great software developer must have a broad technical experience and understanding, keeping themselves up-to-date on new practices as they progress.

Having these attributes will take you far in your career, but there is a lot more to successful progression than just them, alone. Here is a list of our top tips for junior software developers that will help you on your way to greatness.

Error Messages are your Friends

Error messages are not always going to be straightforward, but it is very important to keep in mind that whatever the computer is telling you is true from its point of view. Never dismiss a pop-up without first understanding what it means and any implications it might have on the issue at hand.

You will eventually begin to learn which errors are not so helpful and can be ignored, but only start skimming and skipping once you are confident that you know what to look for.

Top Tip! Design your error messages. You’ll be grateful you included important, hand picked information when an error message pops up down the track and you instantly know how to reproduce the bug because you have provided yourself with specific facts to help you do so.

So, in conclusion, read the error messages. Reread them until you have extracted and understood every piece of information they offer. Debugging is a large chunk of your job as a software developer, so adopting this mindset will save you a lot of time and allow you to be much more productive.


Learn how to Break Stuff!

Equally as important as it is to pay attention to error messages when they pop up, you should definitely know how to make them appear in the first place. Knowing the breaking point of a piece of code can go a long way to help you fix it. You can’t completely understand how a product works without first knowing how it doesn’t.

The moral? Sometimes, being destructive can actually be productive.


Think like the End-User

Of course, you need to apply your technical expertise to the project you are working on in order to build it; however, don’t forget that, ultimately, the product needs to make sense to the end-user. Maintain a level of consciousness throughout your work to understand the product end-to-end from a user perspective. The ability to think about your work universally will help you to engage with your end-users much more efficiently and, moreover, will allow you a fresh appreciation for the work you are doing.

On from this point, keep in mind that end-users are going to want information about their product. Whether it’s understanding how a system works and how it processes certain information, or what caused an issue to occur and how you were able to resolve it, you are going to need to be able to explain everything you know in a user-friendly way. What makes sense to you is likely not going to hold the same resonance with a client.
Learn about the Business

If you are just starting out in your career, the chances are that you have landed yourself a position on a development team at a good software company. It would then stand to reason that you want to give your new employer the best impression of yourself and your work as possible, proving that they made the right decision in hiring you.

While hard work and determination are both very desirable traits in an employee, nothing is going to impress your new boss more than your interest in the company. Make it your mission to learn the ways of the business you are embarking on this journey with – how does the management work? What are the marketing procedures? What is the company’s ethos? If you know how the business ticks, you will be much better equipped to do great things during your time there.


Hands off the Keyboard!

I’m sure you are eager to go full steam ahead, putting your skills into practice; but try to hold fire for just a moment. While practical work is an asset to learning new things, there is a lot to be gained from taking the time to read and understand other code and technologies. This will help you to expand your expertise in areas that might otherwise be considered weaknesses, in turn increasing your experience and skill set and making you more valuable in your chosen field.

Top Tip! New technologies do not just appear out of thin air – they inherit approaches and characteristics from earlier examples, so understanding older programming will win you the upper hand when working on up-to-date software.

Test your Work

Unit testing is invaluable. This cannot be expressed enough as it provides a variety of benefits. Unit testing improves the overall quality of the code as it identifies every defect that might have cropped up. It also helps you to write better code in the long run, as it makes you think harder about the problem.

Another great aspect of unit testing is that it identifies issues early on, which means you can resolve them there and then without fear of them impacting other pieces of code.

Other key benefits of unit testing are that it facilitates maintenance and changes to code and simplifies the integration process during later testing. It also helps to simplify the debugging process and makes you think more about design. Additionally, you will be amazed at the cost reduction that unit testing can generate. Issues being caught early will minimise the amount and cost of bug fixes.


Document Everything

Maintaining an up-to-date and detailed record of your work is a must. Firstly, being able to consult back to notes that detail work done right at the beginning of a project’s development will save you a lot of valuable time, but above all else, documenting everything promotes a better level of communication and understanding.

We are all human. People forget things, interpret them differently or simply misunderstand them from the get-go. If something is discussed verbally, be sure to follow it up with and email to confirm what has been agreed. This both demonstrated your understanding of the task at hand and gives the other party(ies) the chance to clarify and points they feel have been left out or misunderstood. Putting everything in writing also offer the perfect opportunity to confirm the agreed deadline for the work in question, providing complete clarity on the expectations of everyone involved.


Take Charge of your own Progression

The world is your oyster. There are plenty of avenues to explore and people to help you along the way, but, ultimately, you must manage your own career and growth.

Top Tip! Take time to research about and plan your career goals. If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll never get there.

Say ‘yes’ to new challenges. Nobody ever got anywhere by playing it safe. Moving further away from your comfort zone each time it expands will accost you a fortitude of knowledgeable wealth; you just have to take the leap.

If you’re lucky enough to have one available to you, find a mentor. Having the opportunity to learn from a well established and experienced senior developer is honestly priceless. Ask questions. Listen. Take notes. Graciously receive feedback when it is given to you, be it positive or negative. When you adopt an attitude of ‘what can I do to improve?’, you will open yourself up to a whole new world of possibilities.

“We do not rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training.” – Archilochus.

While the value of having a mentor is beyond measure, remember to help yourself as well. The ability to succeed despite external support will speak volumes about your work ethic.


Communication is Key

This ties very closely to our earlier point of documenting everything. Communication is critical because the better understood the requirements are, the more straightforward your work becomes and the more time you can spend actually doing the job you enjoy – creating something new for someone.


Don’t Burn Out!

This is possibly the best advice that you can be given as a junior developer. You’re young and invincible, right? Wrong. All work and no play is going to have a knock-on effect on your performance. Understand your limits and realise that there is only so much progress you can make in one day.

If coding is your hobby, make sure that you work on passion projects that are meaningful to you in your spare time. Work should stay at work. Other hobbies are a must, too. Spend time with friends and family and make sure you get plenty of fresh air. Also, go easy on the coffee. Caffeine is a bad substitute for sleep!


Let’s Wrap Things up

So there you have it – our top 10 tips for junior software developers starting out. Hopefully, this will have given you some insight of the things you should keep in mind when getting started in a new software development career; but before you depart on your new and exciting journey, remember these two very important points:

  • Believe in yourself: Without adopting an ‘I’m invincible’ attitude, learn to code fearlessly. If you don’t believe that you can do it, the chances are, you won’t.
  • Never compare your work to that of others: Don’t forget that behind every finished project are a magnitude of broken iterations that occurred along the way; and, in addition, remember that everyone has different strengths. We all have a place to shine, including you.

Simon Swords


Managing Director

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