It’s hard to believe, but I’ve been a front-end developer for three years now! Sometimes I have to pinch myself because I can’t believe it’s my JOB to build cool things and solve puzzles all day. It isn’t always sunshine and rainbows, but after three years I’ve finally built the confidence to accept any challenge that comes my way with minimal fear and self-doubt (but some days are tougher than others!).
Someone I’m close to recently told me that they are making a career switch to development from a very different field, and helping him work through concepts that I remember learning not so long ago has me looking at them from a new perspective. In the spirit of helping him and celebrating my anniversary, I decided to come up with a list of things that I wish I had known when I first started:
In my first year, I suffered through hours of frustrating console errors that made no sense to me, and wasted time writing throwaway code in my IDE that I had no idea if it was actually helping or hurting. Once I learned how to do basic DOM queries and write functions to test my work directly in the console, I learned so much more about how the DOM worked and it saved me precious time debugging. My friend thinks these basic steps are boring and questions their usefulness, but I’m assuring him that becoming fluent now will save him a lot of headaches.
You will break things. Probably a lot of things. This is okay! Learning how to fix broken things gives you power. You are way more likely to understand how something works if you have the visceral memory of how you broke it in the first place and the steps you used to fix it. I love forking things in Codepen and commenting out random parts of the code piece by piece to see how it breaks to figure out how it actually works - this is how I learned the ins and outs of SVGs. It’s better to try and fail and learn from your mistakes than to not try at all and learn nothing.
You don’t have to struggle alone. I was so afraid to ask for help in my first year, that I often spent hours going in circles or sitting stuck because I just couldn’t get through something. As the only female front-end developer on my team, I felt insecure asking for help because I didn’t want to look weaker than my male colleagues. My good friend Ryan took me under his wing and I learned extremely good habits and problem-solving skills from him, and he never tired of answering my questions (at least outwardly!). Don’t be afraid to ask someone to help you, and to ask for someone who inspires you to mentor you! I love helping out new developers because I empathize with the struggle of learning so much new stuff so quickly and how hard it can be, and I know other seasoned developers feel the same.
Many of my dev friends stay up into the late hours coding pet projects, which is awesome. I am not one of those people. I love to code, but staring at a screen all day is draining for me in particular, and I find that investing in analog hobbies helps me feel fulfilled, well-rounded, and leaves me feeling fresh and excited to code the next day. Knitting is one of my favorite analog hobbies. I love to create things (obviously) and doing something productive and methodical that doesn’t take a lot of brainpower (except when I’m knitting lace…yikes!) gives me a peaceful, meditative end to my day. I also love to run, cook, and do yoga. In balancing these types of self-care activities with my work, I find that I have a good shield against burnout, even when things get hectic at the office.
In your first few years, it can feel like you will NEVER catch up to your knowledgable peers. It’s scary and hard and intimidating. But you WILL get there. The more you practice and dedicate yourself, the more coding will begin to feel like muscle memory. You’ll surprised yourself with the things you begin to remember, and as you form good habits you’ll solve problems more quickly. Stick with it, dear newbie, and believe in yourself.