On becoming a better developer without losing your sanity (8 tips)

I’ve been lucky in my brief career to have worked in a range of environments. From small startups to enterprises and large government projects. Along the way I’ve learnt a few things about making career progress, but staying sane along the way. Somewhat sane, that is …

1. If you’re not using it, don’t learn it

When it comes to learning new technology. If you’re not using it, don’t learn it. If you don’t want your life as a software developer to be tortuous you’ll need to master JIT (just-in-time) learning. If you’re not using React on a frequent basis, at work or on a personal project you’re going to forget it. So find a way to either use it frequently, or defer learning it. You’re better off spending time mastering the tools or concepts you currently use. Use the 80/20 rule. If you’re learning something you don’t use, make sure that’s only 20% of the time. Prioritise learning the things you are using.

2. Forget the shiny things

There is always some new shiny and sexy way of getting things done. It often comes as a distraction from getting the real work done. So if using the latest tool isn’t the best idea, what is? Make decisions with change in mind. Don’t jump on using the latest tool, but try your best to ensure that you could use it in future. When the time is right. And it makes most sense. The goal of software is to get rid of problems, not create them. When it comes to shiny things, proceed with caution.

3. Online presence matters

When it comes to hiring, you’re a risk. Anything you can do to mitigate that risk is going to be to your advantage. If you can write online, create a portfolio, video’s. It doesn’t matter. If you can show that you know what you’re doing, it takes a ton of pressure off those hiring you. Why not make life easier for them? Simply give them what they want. De-risk yourself. 

4. Learn one thing at once

It’s the fable of the donkey. The donkey is sat between hay and water. It looks to one side, hay. It looks to the other, water. Hay, or water. Hay, or water. The donkey falls over and dies. This would be funny if it weren’t so real. It’s an issue we all struggle with, it’s definitely one of mine. Distraction and lack of commitment to a single direction is difficult. It takes courage and grit to sacrifice the second best thing and to focus on one thing. Learning one skill at a time. Mastering one role at a time. You can do it all. But it has to be one thing after another, not all at the same time.

5. For finding jobs, culture is important

For finding a job, culture matters. If you apply to a job where you don’t match the culture, the interview and the job are going to be far harder than it needs to be. If you match the culture, the interview and the job resulting will be far easier on you. Put culture much higher up your list and you’ll make life easier for yourself.

6. Always go full steam ahead

You’re not always going to know what to do. There’s going to be decisions. Should I leave? Join a new company? Move cities? No matter the decisions that you have at hand don’t sacrifice the pace that you’re already moving. Continue to commit headlong into your current job or your current situation. Because if you change your mind and want to stay, it just makes sense to have put your heart into it.

7. Seek learning over earning

When it comes to decision making. Earning over learning makes sense every time. Earning follows skills. Climbing the ranks in one company could lead to a glass ceiling if you’re not learning. It can be all too tempting to take a higher pay cheque for a lower skilled job. But in the long run, this might not pay off. And if you’re in a role where you’re not learning, think about the long-term consequences of this.

8. It’s not about you

We all get lost. We start wondering how we can get more or how we can progress. If we’re not careful, we end up in a dangerous mindset of thinking about what we want. Instead of what we are going to give. If you want more, you have to give more. Spend a small amount of time thinking of your colleagues. Think about what is important to them. Think about how you could make their lives easier. Then when you know what’s important to them, do it. It’s simple, it feels obvious, but it works. And it’s the right thing to do.
Lou Bichard