Two years ago I started my career in tech. I started as QA Tester and then transitioned into a developer role a year after. Not without a lot of effort and a lot of personal time invested.
You can find that part of the story in this post about how I switch careers from Biology to tech and how I learned Android for a year. Today I want to talk about how I started my first role as Android developer, how I switched companies and how my first year as Android Engineer has been overall.
My first role as Android developer started out just a year ago. The company I was working at provided me with the opportunity to transition from QA to Android developer by dedicating half of the time to each role.
This transition was thanks to the time I invested learning Android on evenings and weekends. I went through the Android Basics Nanodegree, the Android Developer Nanodegree and as well I got the Google Developers Certification. That part of the story is explained in more detail here.
After two months I switched to full time when they hired another QA. Here's were all the challenges began!
Transitioning someone into a developer role is a lot harder than just providing them with a laptop and a git account. And here I explain some of the roadblocks I got during that time.
The first problem I faced was not knowing the expectations that the company had on me. My thought was that they expected me to deliver since the very first day, probably not like my experienced colleagues, but deliver by doing small tasks. This feeling caused me a lot of pressure. By not having clear goals, I was constantly thinking I wasn't good enough and that I was an impostor.
There was no concept of mentorship in the company and the environment didn’t allow us to work together. We barely did pair-programming, because there was always a deadline and the company wanted us to keep delivering. Luckily my colleagues were always willing to help! They sat with me to help me whenever I got stuck or asked for help.
I never got any feedback during that time. What was I doing well or bad? What could I improve? I didn't know since I didn’t have anyone whom to report.
I think that in order to keep up to date we need to continue learning by reading blog posts, watching talks, attending conferences, trying new things, etc. The company didn’t offer learning hours during working time, which is unfortunately quite common as other devs told me. Without having learning time, I felt I wasn't entitled to spend even 10 minutes to read a blog post I found to be interesting and relevant for my job.
The problem was not only the lack of an explicit learning time allowance, but also that when I requested it, it got denied.
An example of that occurred when I finished my tasks for the sprint and we were already at the end of it, so I asked if I could spend the rest of the day learning Kotlin. This request got denied.
Another case was when I requested to attend an Android conference, and then I was asked to take days from my paid time off.
The lack of expectations, the lack of feedback, and the lack of learning culture in the company made the first 9 months of my developer career even more challenging. I have the feeling that it contributed to increase my internal impostors syndrome.
One example of it was opening and reviewing pull requests. Sometimes I'd ask a colleague to check my code privately, rather than opening a pull request, to avoid showing my code to everyone.
Other times, when I was reviewing, I would spend minutes staring the "approve" button, worried of approving something that another colleague would have considered wrong.
And when I didn't agree on something, I was never speaking loud enough worried of a backslash due to my lack of knowledge.
Sometimes I’d ask a colleague to check my code privately […] to avoid showing my code to everyone.
Later on I got a new opportunity in my hands. I was invited to the hiring process for a Junior Android Engineer position at Babbel thanks to a friend who worked with me in the past.
I met the team while volunteering in a local meet-up that was hosted at their offices. That helped me a lot when deciding to apply. I loved the company's motto: learning for all. Also everyone was very friendly and looked happy working there! But I didn't apply straight away, because why would I apply if I though that I wasn't good enough?
Luckily my friend and my partner pushed me to do it. They gave me the strength I needed to send my CV. Shortly after I got into the interview process. It was fairly simple: I had to do a coding challenge in the form of a small app, and then later a technical interview with the team and team fit interview with the hiring manager.
I spent the weekend with the coding challenge and sent it right after on Monday. Soon after I got invited for an on-site interview.
The technical interview was about the coding challenge itself, we talked about good and bad things on Android, why did I implement things in a way, how could it be improved, etc. It followed a short team fit interview with the hiring manager, where we talked about challenges I faced, how I solved this problems, and so on.
They offered me the job and I accepted the offer!
On my first year working as Android developer, I spent 9 months in a company and the next 3 with my current employer.
One big change for me is having 1:1 meetings with my Engineering Manager every two weeks. That way, it's clear for me what are our expectations.
We are getting constant feedback and ideas on what to improve and how to help and be helped. Beside the internal trainings they offer, I also have a weekly learning time allowance to learn anything I want. So far, I've been using it to improve my Kotlin and RxJava knowledge.
We also do pair-programming almost daily. There's always paper and pens nearby my desk to sketch ideas. And I keep a second chair by my side so my colleagues can sit with me :-)
However, I still struggle with the impostor syndrome.
I still struggle with it. For example, when doing pair-programming, if we reach a topic I don't quite understand, even when my colleagues have the patience to explain it to me many times, there are times I just can't get it.
After the second or third time I start feeling a big pressure on my chest. How come I don't get it? Why is it so difficult for me to understand? This situation creates me anxiety.
I realized I need to accept that I might not understand a given topic but that getting the idea is the first step! Sometimes we just require more time and practice so it finally "compiles in our brains" :-)
For example, I used to struggle with Java interfaces vs. abstract classes, I just couldn't understand them completely, no matter how many examples I saw. But then I started using them, and even if I could not explain how they worked, I knew how and when to use them.
The learning environment in my current company helps me in building confidence. Even if I've been asking a lot of questions, there's always room for more!
Having less experience doesn't mean your opinions will be less valued. For example if a proposed solution seems too complex, I will challenge them to write it in a clearer way. Also, I provide a different set of experience and points of view, which has been helpful so far for polishing the app user experience.
The engineer role isn't just coding, but rather a broad range of skills. I am still at the beginning of the journey, and on my way of mastering it, I want to focus on the following ideas:
- Communication: as English isn't my first language, sometimes I struggle to transmit an idea, which is essential for my job. I can work on that by writing, reading and talking more.
- Give constructive feedback: I want to give meaningful feedback to my colleagues so they can grow with me as well. Be proud of my achievements: I need to create a list to track all kind of achievements, small or big, and my overall progress, so I can look back and feel good when I struggle.
- Not being obsessed on what I don't know: hard to do when there's so many new things coming up, so keeping focused on the essentials, and what's required for my project in hand, is important.
- Share more knowledge with my colleagues! That I'm a junior doesn't mean I don't have anything to share! I need to keep sharing articles and talks I find interesting. I know my colleagues appreciate that.
- Be patient and constantly learn: keep learning as I am doing, but being more patient with myself.
- Self-care: take breaks whenever needed and don't be hard with myself. Relaxing is also productive.
I am very happy at my new job, and I want to keep learning, improving and sharing. I hope that my experience can help you achieve your goals.