Maybe you’re bored, maybe you want to earn more money or work in a new country – whatever the motivation, taking your career as a software developer to the next level is about more than how many languages you can code in.
IT companies today will assume you’re a fast learner and can adapt to new environments – what they really want to know is: are you worth investing in long-term? Here are a few ways you can show that you’re a sure bet…
Keep it clean
Poor indentation, smutty or otherwise stupid variable names and random functions are all hallmarks of inexperienced, kid-in-their-bedroom programmers. Out of control indenting is a nightmare to read and debug – and won’t generate a lot of love for you on your team.
Without being too OCD about it, professional, experienced developers understand the importance of readable code and its role in supporting ongoing or future development. End-user experience is important, sure – but don’t forget that other developers also use your code. Write code that no one else can read and it just looks like you don’t fully understand how to read it yourself.
Watch your language
You already know that learning another language will help you become a better dev. But what about the one you use to communicate with other human beings, your mother tongue?
Develop your written and spoken communication skills – your ability to communicate ideas to others not only makes you more valuable to your team, it enhances your standing with current and prospective employers. Your ability to contribute positively at the more mundane meetings is your ticket to the more exciting, challenging projects.
Contribute to an open source project
Nothing gives you the chance to shine and show your potential like contributing to an open source project you find interesting. This is your opportunity to show off the skills that maybe you don’t get the chance to use at work – or learn new ones from seasoned developers. Get a Github account and demonstrate your ability to learn from and add value to other people’s projects and code.
Be active in a developer community: sharing knowledge and demonstrating your ability to work across diverse cultures and geographies is a high value skill to have. Better still, find something you really love and work on it, showing prospective employers your passion and initiative. More than a few early career developers have found the next rung on the ladder in an open source community. A publicly accessible record of your contribution to a software project is the ultimate CV.
Think small (for now)
We know, *everyone* wants to work for Google or Facebook, but working for a small or medium-sized company could be better for your long-term development as a developer. Lower staff numbers could see you exposed to a far wider variety of projects and technologies – and the kind of end-to-end experience you may miss out on early in your career at a bigger company, such as involvement with client discussions and requirements or project management.
You could find yourself taking on more responsibility earlier in your career – and don’t forget, Google was a startup once too.
No one can know everything. And while it’s great to have at least an understanding of a broad spread of languages and technologies, your ability to develop expertise in a couple of choice ones will help you take your career to the next level.
This isn’t about picking one thing and doing nothing else for the next three years, this is about developing expertise within a particular field and honing the skills required to make something really useful, whether that’s an e-commerce engine or a complete overhaul of a database design.
Finally, the easiest way to learn more is to ask questions and not be afraid to learn from mistakes – whether they’re your own or somebody else’s. If you’ve got an hour to spare, you could do worse than browse Stack Exchange to get a feel for what your peers (and maybe your next boss) are thinking.
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