- #01 Always keep learning
- #02 Embrace failure (and learn from it)
- #03 Learn to deal with your harshest critics
- #04 Learn to ask for constructive criticism
- #05 Increase the quality of your code
- #06 Read lots of code
- #07 Manage your productivity better as an employee
- #08 Manage your productivity better as an independent pro developer from home
- #09 Learn to work truly remotely as a pro developer
- #10 Manage your health better
- Becoming a pro developer: key takeaways
Becoming a pro developer is a key step if you want to become an authority in your field. In turn, that reputation as an authority opens up more opportunities. Whether in moving up the corporate ladder or becoming the go-to independent expert in your field, your authoritative position will give you the platform to shape your career as a developer and personal life more to your liking.
The problem is, this goal isn’t easy to achieve; it takes a lot of time and effort to become a pro developer. Worse still, it’s a never-ending process because everything moves fast in tech.
That’s why we’ve lined up 10 tips to help you to become a pro developer.
#01 Always keep learning
“That’s easy”, you might think, but it’s not. It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day aspects of your job, whether you have a boss or are your own master.
You might be, or just feel, busy – weeks may fly by without the to-do list growing any shorter, but that never stops. There is no magical future moment when the workload will ease. If it’s intense now, it will probably be even more so in the future.
That may sound grim, but it’s also realistic. The result is that you have to prioritise developing your skills. Nobody will do it for you.
Start smart by brushing up on your time management skills, then using these to take control of your schedule.
Next, pick a new skill to learn and set a specific goal. Don’t overdo it in the goal-setting department: SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound) is the best way to go, otherwise, you risk paralysis, which eventually leads to giving up.
#02 Embrace failure (and learn from it)
You’re going to make mistakes if you want to expand your skills – it doesn’t matter if you’re a developer or a racing driver, that’s true for everybody.
Britain‘s Lewis Hamilton didn’t win six Formula 1 titles by playing it safe or just doing the minimum expected of him! Over the years, he made many mistakes, but he learned from them, growing into the title-winning machine he is today.
The problem is, many people are not comfortable making mistakes. Fear of failure or atychiphobia is a very real thing.
It is, however, quite literally all in your mind. It’s not easy, but you can train yourself to deal with failure – even to embrace it.
You can learn to stop self-sabotaging thoughts (by sticking to the facts) or to stand up for yourself and your way of working.
Another strategy is to always focus on the positive things you’ve learned from a mistake.
This article is not the right place to delve into the various tactics. Different people will handle things differently, but no matter where you come from, or what your personality type, there is always a way of dealing with this fear or discomfort.
#03 Learn to deal with your harshest critics
Speaking about fear of failure, dealing with criticism is a related but different point altogether.
It’s essential to read a situation the right way and be highly aware of your state of mind.
Imagine you’re already having an awful day, and there’s a code review via email. A certain team member you don’t get along with (at all!) points to a very minor, but valid, error. In a reply-all, their pointing it out seems almost gleeful.
However tempting and satisfying it may seem, we can all agree that it’s best not to follow up with a stick-it-where-the-sun-don’t-shine message in any way, shape, or form.
Email is often short on context, so it’s best to keep emotion out of the equation. Instead, thank the team member for their contribution (after you’ve cooled down) and be glad this tiny error (with your name on it) didn’t end up in the final product, exposing it to many more people in the wider community.
#04 Learn to ask for constructive criticism
The above may sound obvious, but most of us have seen these types of situations blow up on our screens.
While this can be very entertaining (cue the popcorn!) if you’re not involved, it can be avoided altogether by changing the way you ask for feedback.
If you ask for a critique, you’re going to get it. The person on the other end doesn’t want to be seen as unprofessional or out of their depth, so they will focus on finding something (usually trivial), and they’ll go on and on about that (until the end of time!).
If you reword your request, you can get better results. Take a code review situation once again. You’re probably already aware of where you might have made errors because you had to solve a tricky problem, for example.
If you ask others how they would have solved said conundrum, while handing over the specific code, the perspective changes. You’re confiding in them, acknowledging their authority (even if your acknowledgement is insincere) and having them focus on the problem, instead of bashing you over something trivial.
#05 Increase the quality of your code
Writing clean, robust code doesn’t come naturally to everybody. It’s a skill that needs to be honed.
That’s why code reviews (whether manual or automated) are critical; they are the best way to improve your skills.
Clean code has to be simple, elegant, readable by humans and focused, according to Robert C. Martin, author of The Clean Code.
He states that the naming of variables, classes and functions should always be deliberate, intent-focused, and clear to anyone who reads it.
If you need to resort to comments (apart from legal ones), your code probably isn’t clean.
How should you go about the process then? For starters, objects and classes should have nouns for names, while methods should have verbs.
Martin also states the importance of using a single word for a concept and sticking with it. That way, your meaning is always clear to anyone reading.
Martin also advises that functions should be small. Including statements, they should only be a single line in length. This way, functions remain simple and descriptive.
#06 Read lots of code
Learn from others by reading (and running) their code and understanding what it does. Don’t focus exclusively on the code you have to review as part of your day-to-day work.
Look up (clean) code from developers you admire, but be sure to seek out the code of amateurs too. Make no mistake – beginners can also come up with great ideas, and reading a variety of code helps you to measure your progress and learn to distinguish clean code from bad code.
There are plenty of tools available that will help you read code faster. There’s no need to torture yourself too much.
The code-reading habit is often compared with how writers (should) approach their work. Good writers read everything they come across and use it to cherry-pick new ideas and methods. Online or offline, literature or ad copy – it doesn’t matter. Inspiration is everywhere, so be sure to seek it out.
This habit also contributes positively to finding new solutions to coding problems when you’re stuck, as you’ll have a number of different approaches to consider.
#07 Manage your productivity better as an employee
Thinking up new features, solving problems, writing the code and testing it means you need lots of time to concentrate, but you may not always be able to eliminate distractions.
If you’re an employee, there’s a good chance you’re sitting in an open-plan office. The awkward reality is that, nowadays, open offices are used to put as many people (and their desks) as possible into the smallest possible space.
While COVID-19 countermeasures may affect this for the foreseeable future, it’s not realistic to expect that this layout will permanently change any time soon, due to the financial efficiency it offers the owners or lease-holders of a space.
This means it’s often hard to concentrate in the office when you’re expected to actually be doing the work. To keep both your sanity and the quality of your work at acceptable levels, it’s best to take your own, personal countermeasures when it comes to productivity.
You may be able to plan a day or two at the office every week for all your meetings and then work from home or from a quiet, rented office space where you can get things done the rest of the time. Another solution is to use a meeting booth or any other small space where you can work quietly. Another tactic that may be easier to activate is buying a great pair of comfy, noise-cancelling headphones.
#08 Manage your productivity better as an independent pro developer from home
When you work from home, countering distractions is essential. Even more so if there are people around you who may not understand that you’re working.
Because your partner and/or kids can see you, they may assume you’re available for household chores, hanging out, or playtime.
It’s vital to create a plan or set expectations with your partner/family and make sure you have a space removed from others to work from. This will both increase your productivity and keep your relationship(s) healthy.
Another important element is your internet connection, though that’s probably not something a dev crowd needs to be told!
However, depending on where you live, you may not have the option of a fibre or cable connection, leaving you to work on unstable or slow ADSL lines.
It’s absolutely worth going the extra mile to secure a better primary line AND a secondary line as a backup.
Lines usually fail around the time you have an essential milestone/meeting coming up, so plan ahead and don’t get caught out.
#09 Learn to work truly remotely as a pro developer
A home office or regular office are the most common scenarios for developers. But other types of setup are quickly gaining popularity, whether that’s your local coworking space, a pub, the local Starbucks, or if you’re entirely location independent, in a ‘home away from home’ as a digital nomad.
Each of these scenarios comes with different challenges. What they all have in common however is that you will need to upgrade your tech to work wherever the situation requires.
That means you need a good internet connection AND a backup line at the very least – Sod’s Law applies here, too. Check with your providers for coverage maps or download a speed test app and map those locations. Always come prepared.
Next, ensure you have all the cables you need and a (charged!) power bank. Sod’s Law strikes again.
Last but not least, a proper mic is mandatory – no discussion, end of story – so that people can hear you clearly during online meetings.
Use the mic that come with your smartphone or grab a good mic from Amazon – either way, it’s time to cut out noisy sirens, loud tablemates, and family interruptions from online calls and be heard by everybody sans echo.
#10 Manage your health better
Last but not least, don’t forget to invest in your health. Getting regular exercise and sitting in a good chair that supports your back properly are essential.
Otherwise, you risk ending up with RSI or another physical complication from sitting on a crappy chair in the wrong position all day long. If you can’t type, you can’t be a developer. If you can hardly sit up straight because your back is killing you, you can’t be a developer. It’s worth getting very serious about this to prevent the development of the sort of chronic pain you may end up battling for the rest of your life.
It might be worth looking into buying an exercise ball. These help users to burn more calories, improve core strength, relieve back pain and tone core muscles. Better still, they’re much cheaper than office chairs and you can take them everywhere with you.
Becoming a pro developer: key takeaways
To become an authoritative pro developer, you need to improve yourself in just about every way.
Continuous learning should be your standard MO, and you should both embrace failure and learn from it. Dealing with harsh critics is also something you’ll need to cope with for the rest of your career; keep in mind that the critics keep you sharp, which is a good thing in the end.
Another skill you’ll need to refine is asking for constructive criticism. There is a wrong way and a right way of going about this. Be sure to choose the right way.
Speaking of your coding, learning to write clean, elegant code is vital to improving its quality. You should also learn from others by reading their code, which will help you to find new solutions to the problems you encounter along the way.
Don’t forget to keep an eye on your health and take steps to prevent chronic pain from sitting too long on poor (home) office furniture. Failure to take care in this sphere may mean you may end up not being able to work as a developer anymore.
Last but not least, focus on becoming more productive, regardless of the location you find yourself in at any given time. Whether you’re an in-house or independent developer, productivity is an essential skill to hone.