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Jon Barker for Inktrap

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Starting a new job as a self-taught developer

Entering the world of web development as a self-taught professional is pretty scary. Mostly because web development isn’t a job that easily instils confidence.

For one, your self-assurance can be shaken by a seemingly untraceable bug or typo. This means your first few years of learning are plagued by a constant hum of “am I doing this right?”, which is occasionally broken by sporadic bouts of “I am the best” plunging right back to, “I know nothing.” For these reasons, accepting a job in an agency (or anywhere, really) can feel daunting.

You’re in a place where you feel as though your new colleagues know everything, whilst you’re still uncertain if you could write the DOCTYPE properly without your editor doing it for you. In your mind, your use of StackOverflow is a weakness. If you were as good as your peers you’d have all that knowledge at your fingertips. Just like they do… right?

Of course not. And, while these feelings of inadequacy can seem overwhelming, it’s important to face them head on and remind yourself that, although these emotions are valid, they needn’t generate the kind of angst they’re capable of.

Keep the following in mind so you can walk through the door excited for a realm of new possibilities:

You were hired for a reason

At some point, before you got the call or the e-mail offering you the position, the team sat around as a whole and decided that your competencies and attitude meant that you’re a good fit for the role.

They did this knowing everything that you had told them during the interview. Unless you told an enormous lie, they were fully aware of your current skillset. They were also aware of the skills that you’re looking to improve and felt strongly that you’d be able to pick up any necessary skills during your employment.

They have met you. They know what you’re capable of. They know what kind of person they want in this role. Trust in their judgement.

You should be proud of how far you’ve come

You have, through your own initiative, learnt a relatively complex range of skills to the point that a group of people have decided to offer you a position within their company.

The invitation to interview was not something that fell into your lap by accident. You earned the opportunity to be there. Believe it or not, this is a feat that should be acknowledged. (Mostly by you, but external acknowledgement is always nice too).

You have things to learn and many (many) problems to solve

You do not, and cannot, know everything. The same goes for your new found colleagues. You will see them looking at StackOverflow. You’ll see them watching tutorials. You’ll ask them a question, and they won’t know the answer. What separates a good developer from an average one is that a good developer is always ready to find a solution.

You should be comfortable with the idea of saying “I don’t know, but I’ll find out.” Learning is fun. It helps us grow whether personally or professionally, and we get to experience that little rush when a solution is found to a problem that previously seemed unsolvable. You’re not going to know the answer to a lot of questions throughout your career, and you should embrace it.

You will be criticised (constructively, of course)

At some point, the work you do will be under review. Maybe you made a mistake the team is trying to fix, maybe it’s a run-of-the-mill code review, or maybe you’ve just asked a colleague for help and they’ve spotted something while looking at your screen.

In one way or another, you might get told that something you’ve done is wrong, or could be done another way. A better way! That’s right, you’ve done something incorrectly, or not optimally.

You shouldn’t fret. It’s easy to get defensive when feedback is being given, but good feedback is never about you personally and is given out with good intentions. Take the information, learn from it, and try to implement the suggested change next time.

It’s in their interest to take care of you

Any sensible business has a system for the induction of their new employees. You wouldn’t be able to break anything crucial, even if you wanted to.

At Inktrap, my first day included a relaxed introduction to the team, getting set up on the computer and dealing with any paperwork.

Your induction will likely follow a similar pattern. When you move on to the development side of things, you might work on some internal projects before moving to client work. Your new employer has no interest in making this difficult for you.

Don’t get rid of all the doubt

You should acknowledge your hard work, and feel a sense of pride when you think of all you’ve taught yourself. However, we don’t want the pendulum to swing too far to the other side.

We want doubt. Doubt makes us question whether our approach is the right one. It makes us ask for help, which in turn makes us grow and adds to our understanding of how things work. It makes us better developers.

Ultimately, when walking through those doors on your first day it’s essential to have faith in yourself. It’s also important to have faith in those who hired you, and understand that they know why they offered you the position. Take pride in how much you have learnt and be confident in your ability to learn more.

In short, you’ll be fine.

Got any other tips to get over those first day jitters? How have you helped your junior employees settle in? If you’ve got any advice we’d love to hear from you — please leave a comment here, or drop us a line on Twitter, we’re @InktrapDesign.

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