18th July marked 3 years to the day since I started working as a software engineer full time. I published a 2 year retrospective last year, so I wanted build up on that and make it into an annual ritual (hopefully I can stick to it 🤞).
The goal of these posts would be to share what I wish someone would have told me when I first started working. However, I have had to learn over the course of many years, so I hope this will help folks who are new to the industry and looking for some guidance.
Doing isn't enough, you need to know how to market your work
This was my biggest and most hard-hitting realization so far in my career. I've always been the kind of person that sits in the corner, puts their head down and gets stuff done. It took me a while to realize that that's not enough. Knowing how to present, talk about and market your work to the right people is a critical skill. Nobody teaches you how to do this, but trust me, you'll thank yourself further down the line in your career if you invest some time in learning how to do this effectively. It'll make a huge difference in your career trajectory. Learning to shout about your work is hard, I know, but you'll often not reap the rewards if you leave it there.
Titles do matter, even if they'd like you to believe that they don't
There's a ton of discourse about this on tech Twitter and I often see men who are already senior in tech tell folks just entering the industry that they shouldn't run after titles. Honestly, I think this is doing them a disservice. My main gripe with it is that it completely fails to consider the fact that titles decide what rooms you are allowed in. Titles/levels give you legitimacy, especially when you don't enjoy the privilege of being assumed to be competent. It makes people, who otherwise wouldn't, listen to you and take you seriously. They're worth it for proving that you indeed know what you're talking about.
The dangers of blindly climbing a career ladder
Titles/promotions/levels do matter and you shouldn't let them take a back seat in your career. However, you need to establish a balance that works for you. If you spend all your time and energy chasing a promotion, then it starts to almost feel like having a second job. You want to avoid getting into that situation as it can prevent you from focussing on your actual job and drain you of all the excitement and energy. If you find yourself blindly trying to climb a career ladder while your actual job and growth has taken a backseat, it's a red flag, and it might be time to start looking for something new. It's sad that it has to be this way but it's not by chance that the most common and fastest way to get promoted or a raise in this industry is to switch jobs. Protect your energy to invest in better and more fulfilling pursuits.
Sponsors are like cheat codes in the career game
There's a broader point here about investing early on in building a solid network which I touched upon in my post from last year. Here, I want to specifically touch upon the importance of building and investing in longer term relationships. If you want to learn more about the concept of mentors vs sponsors and how they differ, Lara Hogan has an excellent blog post and talk that covers it better than I could here.
Having folks who are trusted by people around you, are willing to stick their neck out for you and help you grow is like having access to cheat codes while playing the career game. What sponsorship has looked like for me in practice:
- Shouting about me and my work in rooms I am not in
- Trusting me with opportunities that stretch my comfort zone but having my back and making sure I don't spread myself too thin
- Being a good sounding board for when stuff gets hard and making your sponsee feel heard and understood. Then actually doing something about it
I can't emphasize the importance of having folks who are eager to open doors for you at every step of the way. It's not just a confidence boost that there's someone out there who wants to lend their privilege and help you build credibility, but it also goes a long way in helping you progress much faster.
Programming gets easier over time
Programming is hard. I know people who've been doing this for a while don't like to talk about that but that doesn't negate it. It took me a while to form mental models of how things work. Now I like to see programming as a way to keep augmenting those mental models, breaking down and forming new ones as we go. Something that has taken me by surprise time again is that you might not see everything coming together but after spending some time, things automatically start to click and those are the moments I live for. It makes sense and becomes a hell of a lot easier after a while, I promise.
I love building things with code. Programming brings me so much joy all these years later. And even though it's not always been easy, I can't really imagine doing anything else with my life. 3 years in -- many more to go. To bigger and better things. ✨
These points could've been self contained blog posts, so if you enjoyed this post and want me to write a post on any or all of the points above, do drop me a line via Twitter/email, I'd love to hear from you. 💜
Top comments (9)
They really don't. Your skill gives you legitimacy, a title is just a good heuristic for someone who doesn't otherwise know you, but nobody should assume your skill level based only on your title.
I was semi-considering at one place making my title Computational Demonologist, especially since I primarily did systems level programming and reverse engineering there.
Titles at small companies are flexible, and at large companies may not even be indicative of what you do. My first software job my official title was "Data Analyst". I wrote a good chunk of the server code, did gatekeeping on getting stuff into prod, did application rearchitecture of the backend. That sound like a Data Analyst?
It’s likely that people you meet at work will make a quick judgement based on your title, since they don’t know your skills yet.
If they're smart, they won't bet all that much on those assumptions though. Then again, not everybody is smart.
This resonated so deeply and I agree. It's true after 3 years in tech. And it's true after 23 years too. What changed in more recent times has been more people speaking up and sharing real stories reflecting diverse perspectives. Looking back I think many self help books were the source of irreparable harm because they advocates a view (be assertive, lean in, write it down make it happen) that failed to understand the dynamic of things like race, gender and whisper networks.
Definitely hope you keep posting these retrospectives!
I've been in the industry for 3.5 years now and have done two internships (1 year in total).
Now I've been working in the food industry in a company for 2.5 years.
And my experience is exactly what you wrote in your article.
I hope and fight for positive change.
Thank you for your article.
I enjoyed reading it :)!
Very nice article I can relate to many points outlined here. So what do you mainly program in?
Not running after titles is about good attitude I think. One will be judged based on his/her work.