7 years as a developer - lessons learned

Tomasz Łakomy on May 13, 2019

Time flies, doesn't it? My programming journey began in 2012, with my very first C++ internship. Frankly, I had absolutely no idea what I was doin... [Read Full]
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I loved the article and agree with almost all of it, particularly the "things go wrong". I feel that you need to switch over periodically and become your own enemy and try to think of obnoxious things that could conceivably happen. I remember we had a QA guy named Dan Song - an ace. Once he bet us he could immediately break this program we were working on - one he hadn't even seen - and we said, "Sure". He walks over, we bring up the program, he hammers on the keyboard incredibly fast, it crashed instantly. The other programmers were all, "That's not fair!" but I had a revelation.

And Dan had a lot of tricks other than that. I realized that before then I had been testing code to try to show it working - now I started testing my code to try to make it break. Changed my life!

The one thing I disagree is the "50 comments on a junior developer's first review makes you a bad person". I disagree - it's doing this out of the blue, with hostility that makes you bad.

I started in a new organization with 20 years' experience under my belt and the first five code reviews were relentless with huge numbers of comments! But all the comments were warm and friendly, and I had been warned in advance that it took a long time to get all the details right in this huge system. People were supportive and told me that I was doing a good job. I was told to expect perhaps hundreds of comments on my first significant code review, so when there were only about 50, I felt I was doing OK.

Reviewing code in private is wrong - because you want to share the information with the team. I learn more from reading other people's code reviews than perhaps anything else. I ask myself, "Why did they do this weird thing?" and then I read the code review and I say, "Because it's the only way that will work!"

Any number of comments on a code review are fine - if the reviewee is primed to expect this before anything happens, and if the comments are supportive and positive.

Great article though - this is just a quibble.

 

"Programming is a team sport." I've been saying this exact thing for years. Thanks for sharing your experience it was a really good read 😁

 

Programming is a team sport when you're in a team environment. Nothing wrong with going lone wolf and building everything yourself.

However... if you're in a team environment, you better be a team player. Nothing worse than a lone wolf creating ripples amongst a dev team.

 

In a typical corporate environment? For sure, but I certainly know quite a few of programmers who are very successful developing solo.

 

Great article. As a non-native English speaker, I would also add that the most important language is:


English AND whatever language you use to communicate with other people at work.

Whether we like it or not, the vast majority of the learning material is in English. So, no English, no learning, no party.

 

I'm gonna go ahead and pile on with another "great article" comment. I've been devving for just about the same amount of time as you and your journey absolutely reflects mine.

I am definitely one of those devs that's very particular about how "clean" the code is, but I try to never make assumptions about why someone went about solving something a particular way - I always ask first for exactly the reasons you said, and often times I do end up getting a very reasonable answer. I think it's ok to be somewhat nitpicky as long as your intentions are to make sure the codebase is more maintainable and consistent for everyone, not just to satisfy one's own ego.

Overall, something that took a while for me to understand is that technical proficiency is NOT a career goal, it is merely one facet among many of being a well-rounded engineer. People ultimately respect a combination of being able to solve problems, being able to communicate your approach, being able to admit when you don't know something or when you made a bad call, and being willing to trust your teammates and work together with them to make the best code/product possible.

 

Thank you! I'm glad that we are on a similar path! :)

 

This was a really great article! Thank you for sharing your learnings Tomasz!

I really liked that you focussed not on code or technical factors, but rather on the human aspect of working as a software engineer.

Having said that, I'd love to read another part of this story where you write about your learnings from a technical point of view. Things like how has your attitude towards problem solving, coding choices, etc. changed over time. Or any other learnings, in fact :)

I'm sure the community would benefit a lot from reading about your journey and learnings.

 

Thanks for the read!

Completely agree about is more important communication skills than technical skills. We need to learn how to communicate our ideas and thoughts effectively with different people to resolve the problem we (as a team) are facing.

And yes, when is your turn to teach something is when you realize if you really understand the subject or not.

Cheers :)

 

Fantastic article Tomasz, you really hit a few points that I think are critical for everyone to know. My favorite is "Have a deep understanding of what you are building and why". So many folks enter this industry thinking that it's all about cranking out code for 8-10 hours a day.

It's really not. It's about building just the right things with just the right amount of code to make the lives of your users easier. It's not about the tech, the language, how much code you write, etc. It's about answering the question, does this solve the user's problem? Sometimes, solving that problem doesn't even require any code.

 
 

"Your goal is to solve problems with code." - Yup a lot of people miss this point. A lot of people miss the point that they are paid for creating a product not outsmarting each other or check out who wrote the code that made mess.

 

Thank you, Tomasz. I enjoyed reading this and these are useful key transferable skills to develop in any career and helpful in navigating other areas of life (volunteer, social, etc). I just started to learn software development and am looking forward to learning new things as well as utilize my transferable skills in different environments.

 

Great article, concise and hitting the points that really make a difference. I would stress that the first step in communication is to listen, observe and learn. Things work much smoother if developers can learn the business and then see how technology can improve the process.

I think we tend to get wrapped up too much in technology and think of systems as their implemented tech and not the problems they solve. We talk of a system with a React frontend, backed by Node microservices with MySQL persistence, not as sales prospect process that is needed to keep the revenue flowing to sustain the business.

Some of the best systems that I "developed" were one's that I never wrote. Often what is needed is a function that is already present, just not done where or how it was expected. Changing expectations or slight modifications to meet expectations are what's needed, not more code.

 

"Stand up. Reach out to that person in private."

"Learn in public"

So which is it? Okay, if we take the context into account it's not as contradictory as here, but still it could have been emphasized more in the article that the first applies to a specific situation, whereas the second is a general rule.

 

Excellent read! I couldn't agree more with these, I have learnt the same lessons in the past 5 years, often the hard way. Murphy's Law, as you said, often finds a way of teaching you to be more thoughtful in future.

 

I can't agree more. Certainly admitting not knowing more and being open to ideas from others is an effective way of being a better developer.

Also, I've had the chance to mentor a few other programmer although I don't consider myself a senior dev because there's so much I have to learn. In helping others fix code I've found out that trying to get the reasons why he/she chose a particular approach makes me pick up some lessons from them. It also ensures they feel good about themselves as their opinion or approach is being considered.

 

Oh the dreaded code reviews... One senior dev on a team I belonged to made me feel worthless for 1,5 years. In every.single.review... Holy crap did I try talking to me every few months, did not work, landed on your conclusion... just not a good human being. What is worse though, this sit held me back from growing and learning, made me feel I cannot do anything. I started flying with growth as soon as I quit. Please folks, quit sits like this waaaay earlier than I did. You will do MUCH better. Thanks for the great post. <3

 

I'm glad you're better now! Thanks for the feedback, I appreciate that :)

 

" Frankly, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing (this hasn't really changed) "

Lol me too. Also loved:

"If you're doing a live demo in front of an audience - make sure that the demo works online, offline, upside down and under water."

Don't forget you can test it all you like but then the laptop won't turn on on demo/game day. Have a backup plan for the backup plan.

Great article. :)

 

"Your goal is to solve problems with code."

This is perhaps the best thing to have learned IMO. I look around, I look around and I see a lot of new faces in the development community. New learners are picking up Python / Javascript and thinking "What can I throw this at?"

Programming is about solving problems. The code, the language, is just a tool. It's a hammer, a drill, a crowbar. You need to use the right one and at the right time. Sometimes.. you might not even want to do anything at all; it's sometimes better to do nothing.

Determine if there's a problem. What's the cause? Can a code-based solution fix this? What language best suits it? How can it be done most effectively?

 

"The problem you solve is more important than the code you write"

 

Fully on board with all of this, and my favorite one is "learn in public". Showing people that you don't know everything and at the same time showing them the methods you use to learn something is really valuable.

 

Love the article, but I do disagree on one point. The first point. What is the most important language in programming? It's English. And English. It's not Spanish, Chinese, or Polish, and it never will be. It's English.
Disclaimer: English is not my native language.

 

"If you have a database, it will go down at some point. If you haven't tested recovering your database from a backup, it's not a backup."
A very bad way to remember that I have not tested this on my project yet... THANK YOU!

Also, this article in general is fantastic. Hopefully you've learned as much from writing it as I have from reading it. Love these little gems of knowledge.

 
 

"if you leave 50 nitpicky (is that a word?), unkind comments under a PR of someone who is a junior programmer, you are not proving your superiority as a developer. You are proving that you're not a good human being"

1 comment or 50 doesn't make you a good or bad person. You can leave one comment that could brand you as the biggest jerk or 50 really useful comments. Tone and working agreements are important. If the "nitpicky" comments are about agreed upon styling standards, design patterns or architecture, then they are legitimate things to point out, not nitpicky Yeah, 50 might be a bit much, perhaps by the 15th comment that could be flag that some screens sharing / pairing could be more valuable, but it's also about preferred working styles. I'd rather have a list of things needing fixed / suggestions written down that I can go back and check rather than keeping everything straight in my head (or trying to write and listen) while on a call or in person

 

Reach out to that person in private. Talk to them, find out why they implemented that code this way.

There is a reason why SO is so beneficial to the Developers. Many people ask questions(newbie, stupid, or smart) on that platform and the good peer reviewed comments from the experts is documented right there. That encourages people to learn in public and share their knowledge.

Similarly, I prefer the discussions to happen in a common place such as a GitHub PR or on the related GH/Jira issue. Team should be encouraged to take a look at them and have an understanding of the reasons behind a specific implementation.

The problem might be the mindset of the team members who think that asking too many questions about an implementation means it's bad code or the implementer isn't skilled enough.

 
 
 
 

As my 2.5 years of being a developer in a company that has to deliver product updates/upgrades every two nights ... I have learnt that creating stuff is not as important as creating the right stuff.

 

Thanks for sharing. There are so many things that I have to learn from your experience. Appreciate!

 

Agree wholeheartedly with all of these points!!! I am coming up on my 7 year anniversary of being in this industry as well and I think you hit the nail on the head with this one!

 
 

That the 'works in my computer' is not valid.

 
 

My vote for Dev Quote of the year - "Your goal is to solve problems with code.". Great article. I can see how you have gotten so far in your career in a short time.

 
 
 

Awesome. Thanks for sharing your experience and knowledge.

 

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