As I grew older(shut up and stop snickering), I recognized the importance of using the experience of those who have gone down the road before you or have done something similar to you are doing. Based on conversations, tweets, podcasts and articles, I decided to reach out to some senior developers I know and pick their brains : asking questions pertaining to how they got to where they are now and what best practices I could do to achieve my goal of being a software engineer and a part time instructor.
So here is how I did it: I crafted a bunch of questions I would like to get answered, reached out to senior developers in different fields. I asked them out for coffee and conversation or Zoom call (their time is valuable). I got two yes's and three no's. From each session, I made notes and here is the summary of the advice that I got:
My first sit-down was with Esterling Accime. He has been a web developer, a teaching assistant with Trilogy at Georgia Tech, Esterling is currently a Software Engineer at Cox Automotive, a tech education YouTuber and an instructior at Georgia Tech's Professional Education. He has had a lot of experience being an instructor, software engineer and tech community facilitator (yes, he runs a meetup too). More information on Esterling here, here and his YouTube channel is here. This is a synopsis of what he said :
Whether its MEAN, MERN or VENoM, Esterling spoke of the importance of specialization in e web development stacking preferably experience on what you have learnt prior to diving in deeper into a field of study or expertise, in my case from a bootcamp. He emphasized building something using the web development stack you learnt, this will greatly increase your learning capabilities and help you to grow as a web developer. Yes, it may break, but that will help you learn to debug and ask the right questions as you build your project.
Understand with more focus being placed on on-demand cloud computing platforms e.g. Amazon Web Services(AWS) or Microsoft Azure and learn how to use one of them(again, specialization). He spoke on how he found that some newer developers lack the basic understanding of what cloud platforms are or how to use/ do basic commands. He pointed to free resources where anyone could learn the basics for free(e.g. free resources on AWS).
He said to adopt a project which aligns with the skills you aim to learn and keep building. He pushed the point of presenting these projects before you think are ready; Esterling explained the importance of writing and talking about them as you progressed, dictating your thought process and how you tackled new ideas and bugs. My take away from my time with him was to mentor others and teach what you know as it reinforces your knowledge and enhances your social skills.
My other sit down was with Niya Panamdanam. She is a Front End Developer & Designer from Toronto, living in Atlanta, GA. Her career is defined and refined by her work with local startups which makes her uniquely resourceful and an adamant coffee addict. She runs the ReactATL meetup and blogs about code.
She spoke on the importance of having production code and where to start if you are just beginning to learn. We talked about seeking freelance projects that helps to develop the soft skills of developers. She also pointed to getting experience through civic hacking e.g. Code for Atlanta and Catch-A-Fire as places where one may get production level developer experience, with the added commodity of doing some social good.
Niya spoke on the necessity of working on projects to fill the space between bootcamp and your first job. We agreed on the need for consistency and preferably, daily coding as it helps to grow your skills and allows you to better tackle new difficulties, especially in code and debugging, as they arise.
She stressed understanding the importance of staying driven and using your "why"(the reason started learning to code in the first place) to keep pushing till you get that first job, and growing after that. This small reminder will help you to keep going in times of doubt or frustration.
As to which technologies and programs to learn or have a basic understanding of: she directed my attention to GraphQL, Redux/Hooks and understanding how the endpoints come from a backend server.
Taking the time to reach out to a few senior web developer painted a better picture of what I could possibly expect in the future. Their understanding of their craft and the dedication that they emphasize to growing in your desired area of specialization was admirable, to say the least.
My take away from sitting down and talk with them were four simple yet profound concepts: Specialize in an area, cultivate your soft skills, practice and never stop in your pursuit of knowledge.
To my fellow web developers who will one day walk the same path that I have chosen here is my bit of advice; be a part of your community, create spaces of growth and conversation, and practice your craft repeatedly. Also, it never hurts to buy other developers and mentors coffee, trust me, it fuels their soul.
I love to communicate but writing takes me a bit and I like two weeks sprints(taking two weeks for conception to publication). My secret sauce is that I have an editor, her name is Joy. She is a storyteller, home cook, poet, and freelance writer. She enjoys talking about building communities and the human condition. If you find her in a bookstore, approach her carefully with snacks. When she isn't banging her head against a desk to write, you can find her drinking tea and reading a book. (probably a biography or manga).
I would appreciate any feedback or your own tips. Find me "@nerajno" if you would like to chat, my DMs are open.