DEV Community

Cover image for Important tips for a self-taught developer
Rui Sousa for Coletiv Studio

Posted on • Originally published at

Important tips for a self-taught developer

There are some big tips out there that will teach you the core fundamentals (mostly technical) to withstand, as a junior developer, the first times at a company. This post, however, focuses on traits that are a bit more on the personality side of the role (I guess you could say that it’s aimed to help you being human 🤔).

Although the post starts by focusing on self-taught developers, it’s actually for everybody. The reason I chose to speak closely to the self-taught developers out there is because I’m one of them.

To talk a bit about myself, I’m a self-taught Front End Developer with a Master’s Degree in Psychology (completely changing my career path) and I got my first job as a Front End Web Developer at Coletiv, a software development studio from Porto 😎

In this post, I intend to cover 4 important tips that helped me improve myself and that I find fundamental to turn your first software development role (or any role at any profession, really) a more pleasant experience (for you and your peers).

So, without further ado, let’s do it!

Palpatine from Star Wars saying 'Do it'

Tip 1: Learn to say “I Don’t Know”

No one expects you to know everything but they do expect you to tell them when you don’t. Be comfortable showing your own level.

Saying I don’t know shows that you’re comfortable with your own knowledge and that you understand your weaknesses. It allows your mentors, colleagues or peers to adjust their speech and, if you add “But can you show me?” to it, they will guide you and show you the resources so you can change that I don’t know to Yeah, of course I know!

Don’t try to pretend like you do know about the subjects if you have no idea what people are talking about. You won’t gain anything with it. You’ll be left with no answers and a lot of doubts and the only profit you might take from it is a slight ego boost!

Tip 2: Have the ability and will to learn

The ability to learn

If you still haven’t figured what’s your best study and learning method, work some late hours trying to figure it out so you can ask for resources similar to your preferred way. That way you can get specialized help and resources without feeling like you’re spinning your wheels.

If video tutorials aren’t for you, ask for books. If books aren’t for you, check the documentation. If the documentation isn’t cutting it, create a mini-project that tackles whatever you’re learning.

The will to learn

Of course, resources and the perfect way of studying mean nothing if there’s no will of tackling your difficulties. You might get away a couple of times by reading an answer on StackOverflow but you DO want to learn and understand what you’re working with; I believe that’s the only way of actually doing some progress.

Allow yourself to study past work hours. Do it for yourself. Not for the job but for yourself since you probably already sacrificed a lot to be here. So why stop now?

Tip 3: Keep teaching yourself

Be the first one to know your own weaknesses. If you don’t stay hungry, you’ll never know what you’re missing out on your knowledge and curriculum. Look for new stuff and have a reading list. Take notes of everything that seems new (but relatable to your area) and prioritize what seems to give you the edge.

If you’re working with React and your knowledge of useEffect seems a bit wonky, don’t wait for others to point it out so you do something about it.

Stay hungry!

Tip 4: Don’t be a lone wolf

No one is against you… or, if there is someone against, it’s probably someone who doesn’t matter. Your mentors, colleagues, and peers want to hang out with you and help you! If they didn’t, they probably wouldn’t have hired you.

Allow yourself to open up and make the working environment more friendly towards you. It will make things easier when you’ll eventually ask for help and it’s just better to get to know people.

We’re all used to work alone but this time we can share a joke from time to time and actually connect with someone and we have the opportunity to share knowledge, ideas and to get better together!

That’s pretty much it!

I think these four tips cover what I think to be essentials to actually get through your first job as a developer. Sure, there is a lot more to talk about but, for me, Being hungry, Staying humble, and Being a people person take the cake since they will help you level up your knowledge and increase your connection.

So, if I had to shorten this article to a single phrase, it would be this

Having technical skills is important but being willing to DO, TRY and FAIL is critical

Are there any other tips you consider important? Share them in the comments!

Thank you for reading!

Thank you so much for reading, it means a lot to us! Also don’t forget to follow Coletiv on Twitter and LinkedIn as we keep posting more and more interesting articles on multiple technologies.

In case you don’t know, Coletiv is a software development studio from Porto specialized in Elixir, Web, and App (iOS & Android) development. But we do all kinds of stuff. We take care of UX/UI design, software development, and even security for you.

So, let’s craft something together?

Top comments (29)

madza profile image

Here are couple other important ones:

  • learn to negotiate and evaluate your productivity and added value properly;
  • ask for raise when you get bored and start to feel your skills/potential are way higher - otherwise leave;
  • learn to say no;
  • don't mix your leisure time with work, instead invest your spare time in hobbies and family;
  • set your health as a priority - everything else can wait :)
nombrekeff profile image

These are some great tips. I've learned to follow them after much trial and error.

set your health as a priority - everything else can wait :)

This one has to be the most important one for me. Health goes first.

axelledrouge profile image

Exactly, working and learning is tiring and will become counterproductive.
Learn to take breaks and do something else, it is good for your health, which means good it is for your productivity and creativity

itzami profile image
Rui Sousa

Absolutely, Madza.
You have to stand up for yourself (like negotiating, asking for a raise, and learning to say no), especially if the company doesn't look up for your interests.
Fortunately, I'm at a company that takes all of that in consideration and actually wants you to stand up for yourself so it didn't even cross my mind to refer those points.
But you're absolutely correct! Thank you for your input!

midasxiv profile image

Great tips Mazda 😁

kvanrooyen profile image
Keagan Van Rooyen

learn to say no;

I can't agree more, something I have learnt and am still learning (sometimes the hard way)

jessicastrachan profile image
Jessica Strachan

Great article Rui. I think a huge challenge for junior developers is swallowing their pride and asking for assistance. There's no shame in asking and when time is money colleagues would always prefer you asked rather than wasted time.
Even now sometimes my routine consists of:

  1. If the logic is complex, write down what you need to achieve in steps.
  2. See if the internet has any answers
  3. If you're set on being independent but need reassurance, ask a colleague to check if you're going in the right direction before continuing.
  4. Give it half an hour of the above and then ask, knowing that you've done what you can and haven't just given up so easily.
  5. Don't be hard on yourself for asking and especially don't be embarrassed to take notes. It will just make you look eager to learn, which can only be a good thing :)
itzami profile image
Rui Sousa

You're right, Jessica, but I also feel like some times junior developers (like me) just feel like they are bothering their peers by asking questions. Plus, it is intimidating so show that we know so little specially compared to our colleagues who appear to know so much.
However, we all learn that this is not true and we get assured by testimonials all over the Internet on how every developer faces difficulties and needs help at some point.

Your step by step will surely be reassuring to anyone starting this path

srikanth74659 profile image

"Give it half an hour of the above and then ask, knowing that you've done what you can and haven't just given up so easily." Well said..

vitalykrenel profile image
Vitaly Krenel • Edited

Hey Rui! Thank you for the great article! In my opinion, it covers quite well the gotchas junior developers encounter in the company.

These are especially valuable to the developers that are starting their career while still seeking more life experiences. This stage of life usually is falling onto 18 (or even less) - 25 years old range and thus they may be chronologically younger in comparison to their colleagues.

It is important to grasp that chronological age (i.e. when you were born and for how many years you've lived so far) is not relevant in developer career, what really matters is your ability to learn and how many hours you've put into mastering the subject.

But sometimes junior developers still might confuse the age with professional experience and thus try to hide their own weaknesses. Just not to let people judge or assess them, which they fear may start coming from the years they have lived and not the years they've been practicing their craft. For some this fear prevents them from saying "I don't know" and come up with some excuse. For some, the fear shapes into the practice of consistently keeping their ideas to themselves because they are afraid their colleagues will say a suggested idea is silly. Some start escaping responsible tasks or roles in the team.

I have never had experience mentoring a highly mature person coming to development that
at the same time has had many years passed behind them, but I could assume they might encounter similar prejudices (though I hope that they have a life framework strong enough to challenge those, instead of hiding or pretending).

Yes, sometimes people judge you based on your age. You need to become tolerant to that. I'm not sure whether it is possible to ignore it completely, but it is definitely possible to be tolerant. I learned it myself. Tolerant means you hear it, but you don't care and focus on it.
It is just like the sound of cicadas or car noises out of the window - may be unpleasant and distracting in the beginning, but the more you hear it, the less it bothers you.

Focus on your experience - experiments with different technologies (frameworks, approaches, architectures, etc.) help a lot with that. Raise your weakest spots to just "okay" level, so you can at least communicate and try something out using those, and focus on developing the expertness in a few subjects that you are most passionate about. Share your ideas, no matter how wild they are, and keep listening to people's feedback.

This way, no matter what age you are, 19 or 50, you'll be so good, nobody simply will be able to ignore your worth.

itzami profile image
Rui Sousa

That's a great comment, Vitaly, and it shows perfectly what I was trying to pass with my post. Thank you!

"what really matters is your ability to learn and how many hours you've put into mastering the subject."


fsou1 profile image
Maxim Zhukov • Edited

Excellent post, thank you.

I would also recommend a great course at the Coursera: Learning How to Learn. This course tells you about invaluable learning techniques.

The course takes approx. 15 hours, so here is a summary.

itzami profile image
Rui Sousa

The book from Dr Barbara Oakley is also fantastic for those who prefer to have their learning materials on paper!

ap8900049 profile image

Thanks for sharing Rui. The first tip made me looking in to myself, and found it the biggest thing to do. I think that's why I don't like to leave comments (even to thank) on articles I read. Shame on me!

itzami profile image
Rui Sousa

It's ok, Agung, we're all learning here! Do your best to interact with the community and surely it will help you grow!

jackbarham profile image
Jack Barham

I'm a self-taught coder with 12+ years of web development experience. I made a non-technical video on all the advice I would give myself if I learned to code now. I hope it helps.

mdegans profile image
Michael de Gans

My .02:

  1. Don't be afraid to as questions. There's always somebody who knows more (and less).
  2. Don't blindly trust the answers you get, especially if they contradict the docs.
  3. RTFM. It takes some time, but will end up saving you more.
  4. Examples are good. If you can't find examples, they're often in the tests. If the thing has no tests, consider it broken and don't use it.
itzami profile image
Rui Sousa

Absolutely, Michael. Getting to know the environment with which you're working with (tip 3 and 4) are really important to make the path much easier!

itzami profile image
Rui Sousa

That's understandable, I'm an introvert myself. The point I was making is they you should be aware that now you're part of a team and that you should try, to the best of your abilities, to hang out with your peers.
It's mostly a reminder that now you're not really alone and you can hang out and be social if you feel a need for it!

perpetual_education profile image
perpetual . education

These are great!

We find that people often need some sort of outline to keep them focused - on top of these tips. We recommend this book a lot / and maybe it'll help people with Tip #3

im_javaid profile image
Naik Javaid

.Nice this was beautifully written

itzami profile image
Rui Sousa

Thank you, Naik, I appreciate it!

tacrew profile image

Hi, i'm starting my first career in tech world. And this post encourage me a lot. So, May I translate this post in japanese for other beginners to help? Of course, I'll give you back the link.

itzami profile image
Rui Sousa

Hi, Tacrew 👋 I'm glad this post helped you 😀
And of course you can, just make sure to refer Coletiv (here's also our Twitter and our Dev.To profile )in it and to give credits to me. You can link my Twitter or my Dev.To profile

And thank you 😁

matekuna92 profile image

My colleagues using old technology + sql only, so if I stuck I have noone to ask help from... So Im the lone-wolf front-end person :D

itzami profile image
Rui Sousa

Yes, sometimes we actually have no way of following the best path 😅

fwaltrick profile image
Fabricio Waltrick

Mandou bem, Rui 🙌

hemant profile image
Hemant Joshi

I don't know a lot of things, but self commited to learn the relevant skills required

Great post thank you, 🎉🎉🎉

I literally figured mine dark side, and promise to inporve😁.

itzami profile image
Rui Sousa

That's it, Hermant. And make sure to get into a good online community if you can't have something by your side to help you!