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Caitlyn Greffly
Caitlyn Greffly

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Being a Junior Dev in the Time of COVID

There is a lot going on in the world right now. I often find myself oscillating between being anxious about the wellbeing of myself and those I love, being grateful for my situation, and being nervous about my career growth and goals. It may seem like small beans to be thinking about career growth, but it's been hard for me to work through feelings of how that is inevitably shifting.

It's an interesting time to be a junior dev. I'm only six months into my first tech job and I have been very bright-eyed and bushy-tailed when it came to my career path. I was gunning to go from Associate Software Engineer to Software Engineer in the next six months and regularly consulted my list of things I needed to accomplish to make that jump. Now, I find myself sitting in my boyfriend's music room turned into my office space trying to focus amidst a global pandemic. The first week of working from home I even switched my backend database ticket with a coworker for their friendly front-end API calls. I feel less likely to grab a complex backend issue because what would have felt difficult in the office now feels near impossible. That notion both makes me feel like I am not pushing myself hard enough, feels reasonable considering the circumstances, and makes me worry that I won't continue to learn at the same rate I have been. Compounding that, I also feel acutely aware that if layoffs were to hit our company, I'd likely be the first to go.

I have definitely been feeling the lack of physically present coworkers. Slacking (instead of speaking) all my thoughts and questions made me realize how many thoughts and questions I had, and it was hard not to try and pull back from that a little. I also often found I didn't really have a question, I just wanted to talk through my issue with someone beyond my dog. I would stare at the slack channel trying to guess based on recent chatter who might be swamped and who might have some downtime, which is significantly harder than spinning around in your desk chair. Beyond having people there to help out, I realized (especially as an extrovert) how much energy I get from the people around me. My challenging tasks felt like they drained me more quickly.

Up until this recent shift, I have been so full of energy and plans. Suddenly all of that seemed to hit a brick wall. I was so excited to attend my first real big tech conference and then that got moved online (still great for learning, but definitely not the same). I was looking at CFPs and starting to put applications in but many of those got pushed or canceled, and it feels harder to keep myself motivated to apply for events that may not happen. I had started a shadow program, but that was obviously put on hold for a while due to the current circumstances. I worry that this change of pace will kill my momentum, that when all of this lifts in a few months I won't be able to come back with the same energy and excitement that I had before.

All of this might just sound like a lot of complaining. First world problems, am I right? And often I go back to a place of gratitude for still having a job, and for having the people I love in good health. But at the same time, I acutely feel the challenges of being a junior dev in the time of COVID, and I thought that if I feel it, others probably do as well.

So what is a junior dev to do? I don't have a great answer for that yet. Some of my goals include being as talkative as ever in slack form, and if people want me to bugger off they can tell me to do so. I know I need to exercise more because that might give me back some of that usual energy I had. I need to be compassionate with myself, knowing that although my growth may in fact slow I am still growing. And I need to be honest with others about how I am feeling and where I am at, even when that's hard or scary. Hence this post.

Until then, there are always fun Zoom backgrounds to keep me happy!

Caitlyn in front of a cozy cabin zoom backdrop

Top comments (31)

graciegregory profile image
Gracie Gregory (she/her)

Just wanted to applaud you for your vulnerability here and also offer a thought: our pains and fears are all relative. It's so important to put our struggles in perspective the way you have ("first world problems!") and pay our immense respect to those who are in need of help right now, but you are still a human experiencing a difficult transition right now.

I'm not a dev, but I work closely with them in my job and I really took for granted how helpful it was to have an engineer sitting next to me to go over high-level concepts IRL. You're doing something difficult without that near-proximity support now, but just remember that everyone you look to for questions was once in the same stage as you are now. Be gentle with yourself and also proud of your accomplishments! Your goal to be talkative in Slack is a great one that sets an open, friendly example for others.

Take care, Caitlyn!

mikedubcurry profile image
Michael Curry

Thought I was the only one lol. I started my first dev job a month ago using a framework that was completely new to me. I鈥檝e been picking it up gradually but there are still components of the system I am clueless about. During my time in the office, things were great! My coworkers would aid me in anything I was having trouble on but now even thru slack and the other channels of communication, reaching out seems more difficult.

heatherhaylett profile image

This was comforting to read. I鈥檓 in the middle-end of a software engineering boot camp and have struggled with similar emotions. I鈥檓 very excited to enter this field, but nervous for the state of the economy and available jobs(especially with so many experienced DEVs looking for work). I want to stay motivated and hungry but often times find my mind drifting to worries about the future. Thanks for sharing.

8ucik profile image

I myself am in a similar situation. I have been in the QA department and after this disease happened I started to believe more in myself to improve. I think this is the best time to handle all of those ideas and put them into a list and then build.

You are right, that there are so many Devs looking for a job, but you should not be one of them. You should become creative and start to improve your portfolio. Even if your app shows hello world in different languages , but that is still an app with many of functions which you need to know to get a job :)

heatherhaylett profile image

That's a great idea!

jonathans profile image
Jonathan Sundqvist

One thing that I would encourage you to do. Instead of slacking all the questions, it might be more efficient to ask whether if you could jump on a short call instead. That way it's also more similar to the way it would have happenend in the office.

I would say this is especially important if you have an idea for an approach, but you're not sure whether this is the correct approach to take. Discussing that over slack can often get a bit lengthy, and could well be shorter if you just had a video call where you discuss it.

Good luck! I'm sure you will do well!

rhymes profile image

Thank you a lot for sharing Caitlyn!

I'm from Milan, Italy, I work at DEV and I am currently at the 26th day of quarantine (my calendar says it'll end at day 38, but it's unlikely) but I don't really want to dispense suggestions as I reached the conclusion that whatever anyone of us is feeling during this worldwide crisis is the right thing to feel. Don't know if that makes any sense.

Take care!

tedneward profile image
Ted Neward

Caitlyn, wanted to let you know that I'm a twenty-five year veteran in the industry, and I definitely feel some of the same boundaries and pressures you do. You're not alone, and you're definitely thinking about this the right way, IMHO.

More to the point, your post comes at a great time for me, because I'm going to be working with folks inside my company around how to spin up a virtual program for our incoming interns, and it was very helpful to read this and "get inside the head" of somebody who's new to the industry, given that it's been a quarter-century since that was me. Thank you for your candor.

segdeha profile image
Andrew Hedges

Super valid to feel all the things at this (almost typed sh*t 馃槄) moment in history! You鈥檙e off to a great start in your tech career and I have all the confidence in the world that you鈥檙e going to continue to find ways to grow and learn while the world figures out what the new normal is. Hang in there!!!

mariana0pachon profile image
Mariana Pach贸n Puentes

Thank you for this, I can totally relate! I started my first job as a Software Engineer the first week of February, and even though we have the option to work from home as much as we want, I was still working from the office every day because I love the change of environment. I could just ask the people next to me for help with my project which was written in Elixir/Phoenix, something I have never used before. I now find myself asking way more questions (and way longer questions) on Slack since I don't have that real-life back and forth interaction. It hasn't been terrible, but I definitely have that feeling that I am literally the least experienced person in the company, always asking questions and maybe over-complicating simple things. I think in my (or our) case it is important to stay positive and think about it from a different perspective, because if I didn't ask questions I would be stuck forever, and more experienced people can solve certain things way faster than I can, or point me in the right direction. Also exercise could also be really good for the mind ...

thecaitcode profile image
Caitlyn Greffly

Agreed that it's so important to try and stay positive and allow ourselves to feel vulnerable by asking questions. I hope your team is being supportive of you during this time!

manukunstpriv profile image

Thank you Caitlyn for sharing! This post is great. You have found words for my diffuse feelings.
I started a new job some weeks ago and suddenly I have to work at home. (While taking care for my seven year old kid.) I wonder and struggle: Why am I so lazy? Why can't I learn the new stuff and push my side projects as I usually did? Where is my energy? Although being a senior sofware developer I have the same strange feelings.
Take care and greetings from Germany

thecaitcode profile image
Caitlyn Greffly

It's so hard right now. There is no normal. We aren't trying to cope with figuring out how to work from home, we're trying to figure out how to work during a global pandemic (and you even while teaching and taking care of your kid!). Hang in there!

kethmars profile image
kethmars • Edited

Thank you for sharing, Caitlyn. I had never thought about junior devs during the current situation.
Thinking back, I guess it would've been quite hard to communicate only using technology in order to get complex (technical) problems solved. At the same time, I urge you to use the current situation as an awesome learning opportunity - yes, it's hard. But it also grows you - more independence, more "thinking through what I want to ask". And I'm sure you've had moment where you start writing a question, but then suddenly come to it by yourself.

Btw. You may want to take a look at my article on similar topic - how my junior days went by:

That said, keep going! The fact you're an engineer is awesome. Being a junior is hard, but it's also one of the most interesting times as there's sooo much to be learned!

roosterhack profile image
eddie chung

Hi Caitlyn, I became a web dev since last year August! So when my work announced working from home, I also worry about how am I going to grow as a dev. I understand the situation right now and it's important to take all kinds of measures. I generally ask a lot of questions and I need help all the time, I have been working from home for a bit over a month now. It has been better than I thought, whenever I am stuck with something, I just call my colleagues and I just share my screen to show them my problems. Pair programming helps a lot too. I also find it short tutorials of building some simple apps really helps you to get better. Anyways, thank you for sharing. Stay safe and happy coding.

imoscarcrespo profile image
Oscar Crespo Sanchez

Greetings from Barcelona! I'm a software developer intern and I share the same feelings you're talking about! I can say don't give up and firstly try to face the problems with no help, that will help to improve your skills a lot!!

superming profile image
Ming Ho

It'll require some coordination, but you can always try to call your coworkers on Slack! Also, one positive thing about writing on Slack is that it gives you a way to take notes/save important discussions a bit quicker vs writing notes after chatting in person.

bhumi profile image
Bhumi • Edited

Hi @thecaitcode - you may have gotten enough advice by now to last the rest of times :) But I was inspired to write down some things when I read your post - sharing some actionable tips in case it's useful - Best,Bhumi

thecaitcode profile image
Caitlyn Greffly

Hey thank you so much for sharing! It's great to hear from the other side of this.

cheerupemodev profile image
Jess Rezac

I'm finishing up a bootcamp but firmly employed in a job I'm now fairly overqualified for, but this was so helpful to read. I'm a bit overwhelmed by trying to balance my job with my final project with motherhood with housework. It's helpful to know none of us are alone in our feelings right now! Good luck to you.