March 2018. Having recently finished a two-year contract collecting map data with a large search engine provider, I found myself at a point in my life where I had a real chance to pursue a new career. Having absolutely no background in coding at all, I decided to look up fast track ways to get into the industry without a computer science degree.

This is how I found Makers Academy. They painted a perfect picture…

Join the 3-month bootcamp, get hired, work your dream job. It almost sounded too good to be true.

I decided to apply through their apprenticeship scheme which resulted in a connection with Capgemini. They then gave me the opportunity for a new career. I finished my Makers bootcamp in April 2019 and now have 1.5 years of experience under my belt as a Java developer.

I am so grateful for the opportunity I received and I want to share some things with upcoming junior developers. These are tips that I still use today, but that I wish I knew just a little bit sooner in my developer life.

Find time to practice…

…no matter how little

I know the scenario; you finish work for the day and doing more coding may be the last thing on your mind. But don’t let that deter you. A personal project can be anything you want, which means it will most likely be something you will enjoy building because it aligns with your interests. This could range from small and simple to multi-layered and involved.

You want to build a little calculator that runs in the terminal?…Nice!

A weather app which uses a weather API to display information on a front-end interface?…I’m listening.

A huge multi-microservice program which really pushes the boundaries of your knowledge and skill?…Be my guest!

All personal projects, no matter the size, give you scope to improve on what you have learnt at work, or start fresh and learn something totally new - and hey, if you enjoy what you’re building, 9 times out of 10 you will find the time and come back to it. For the other one time, the sheer fascination that your family members will have for your project (especially if they are in no way techy like mine!) may coerce you back to the keyboard.

Always ask questions…

…the only stupid question is the one not asked

Nobody wants you to fail, and every single developer you will meet once started out their journey in the exact same position that you are in right now, as a wide-eyed junior developer. This is something I really came to terms with at Makers. They put it into perspective by telling me that even the best developer doesn’t know everything. I may have some information that a developer with 15 years’ experience may need. This was instilled in their ethos and passed onto the students. As a cohort we would all help each other because we knew that the next day, we would need that same help with something ourselves. This concept is explained brilliantly in this article titled When It’s Clever to Admit That You’re Not Feeling Clever written by Andrew Harmel-Law.

This culture can also be found at Capgemini and the sooner you become comfortable with asking for help, the sooner it can be your cushion of hope when you are stuck.

Let’s face it, we all like it when someone asks us for help. It makes us feel like the person asking thinks we are smart enough to know the answer! Asking a fellow junior developer will comfort them as they will have more confidence in their own knowledge if they have the answer and asking a senior developer will show that you are willing to learn and contribute to the team. Also, you never know, by asking someone for help and explaining your problem, you may find that you knew the answer all along.

Be a sponge…

…but remember a sponge can only hold so much

I remember my first day on my first project at Capgemini. I had my notepad and I said to myself “I’m going to write down every technology, every keyword that I don’t understand so that I can get up to speed”. (A+ for effort! F for realism!)

By the end of the day I couldn’t see the beginning of my list.

It was way too much for me to feasibly go and research and take in. So, I tried to break it down as best I could. By focusing on the tools and technologies that I was going to be using near enough everyday it gave me a much more solid foundation to build from.

Personally, if I work on something for a few days and just get the bare basic knowledge, then move onto something totally different with the same cycle repeating, I find that I actually don’t learn a lot about anything. It’s only when you get your hands dirty and get involved that you truly see how something can work and how you can utilise it.

This way you’re taking the time for new information to be absorbed before you can soak up something else.

Impostor syndrome is a real thing…

…and it may likely never go away

What is impostor syndrome? Some of you may not have heard of it, I’m not sure I did until a few months into my coding journey. It is a sense of feeling that you are a fake, not good enough at your job and that others around are doing better than you. Failure to recognise achievements, instead focusing on mistakes and shortcomings, fuel this fire.

But why might it never go away? Well, technology is constantly evolving. New languages and tools make it easy for a developer to feel a sense of inadequacy or that they are back to square one. It can, however, be easy to accept and manage.

Keep track of your achievements and take time to look back on how far you have come, not just in the last year but even in the last month or so. Recognising that you have felt this way before and looking back to remember what you did to overcome it can be useful.

We always tend to underestimate ourselves, but acknowledging that you learn a lot more than you give yourself credit for and realising that your role requires constant learning will give you a head start in accepting impostor syndrome.

And one final, more up to date concern…

…find time to stay connected

This one is last, but it is probably more relevant now than all the others put together.

Due to the current national situation in 2020, a lot of us are now working from home. I’ve gone from an office location in London with a team of 15+, to a home-office location in the West Midlands with me sat at a desk alone with my computer. Staying connected with my project team and keeping channels of communication open have become crucial. As we have inevitably become distanced from one another, we have made changes in our day-to-day to try and talk more often.

Three of the main changes we implemented were:

  • A designated Microsoft Teams channel/call that can be used by anyone when they have a problem, all team members can drop in and out as they wish.
  • Turning video on when on conference calls
  • Daily catch up at the end of the day. This discussion is open to anything and everything, work related or not.

I know the movie industry makes coders out to be introverted, just sitting in a dark room, hacking away. But for me, programming is a social activity. I wouldn’t be able to do this job without the help of others around me.

The changes my project team have made to try and maintain the social aspect to work has meant that throughout lockdown we have continued to deliver as much as we did whilst in the London office, if not more.

More importantly, it has meant that we have all remained a close team and no one has been left isolated.