Junior Developer – Avoiding Common Pitfalls
At Pentest People we are always looking for talented developers to join our team, especially those just starting out in their career and looking for a challenge. Having seen many junior developers make the same common mistakes, I decided to write this blog to discuss how such mistakes can be easily avoided.
Not talking to peers:
If you are struggling with a coding problem, ask for help. Everyone gets stuck in a ‘loop’ from time to time when developing a complex application, and often a colleague has already faced and solved the very same issue. However, when you ask for help, ensure that you fully understand the solution. This may sound obvious, but it’s all too tempting for new starters to implement a solution and move on.
Not using free resources:
Don’t be afraid to use forums such a StackOverflow. However, as mentioned above, be careful not to blindly copy a solution without understanding it thoroughly. It may occasionally seem like forums can be full of ‘trolls’, but if you politely ask users to explain a response, nine times out of ten they will be happy to. Likewise, if you see a user post a question similar to one you yourself have posted, then pass on your solution.
In Leeds, we are lucky to have many free meet-ups such as PHPLeeds and Hey! These talks are a great way to gain knowledge, meet like-minded people, and improve your coding ability. Wherever possible, submit a request to present at these events. This can really help to raise your profile and boost your confidence. I presented recently for the first time, and now wish I did it years ago! Which reminds me, I need to write up my talk on Git!
Ignoring the old things:
When starting a new developer role, there is typically a lot to learn. This is especially true if you are starting your first or second role. You should make a concerted effort to keep up-to-date with new and upcoming technologies (especially if we think about the cloud), frameworks, programming languages and possible security vulnerabilities. However, it is important not to forget about the ‘older, less exciting things’, such as command line tools.
During my first development job, I learnt about Unix commands such as ‘sed’ and ‘awk’. By piping these together you can easily sanitise CSV and XML files before importing them into your application. In nearly every job I have had, I have used these tools at some point, and often found myself teaching other colleagues how to use them. However, the same cannot be said about using Regular Expressions. I tried to ignore RegEx for a long time, copying solutions found online without clearly understanding them. It was not until recently that I decided to learn about regular expressions and have never looked back. I love them! I now find myself using RegEx nearly all the time either during my development work, or when helping consultants extract very specific data from long lines of complex terminal output. So yes, keep up to date, but don’t ignore older things, they are still around for a reason.
Worrying about how you are doing:
Personally, I love praise! I think it’s important in the workplace. It is also really useful as a junior developer to see how well you are doing. If your workplace does not have an appraisal scheme in place, I recommend that you ask for one. Even if your workplace has an appraisal scheme and you are between appraisals, there is nothing stopping you from asking for a ‘mini appraisal’, or asking your boss for a ‘catch up’. Especially if Imposter Syndrome is starting to sink in. Imposter Syndrome is not nice and can make you worry about work. Getting reassurance that you are doing well and you belong in the company will help remedy this. If there is something wrong, a quick catch up can help you get rid of any issues and get you back on the right track. I think it is really important to know how well you are doing at work. It also demonstrates to your employer that you care about your position in the company.
When you are starting out, make sure you ask for help and understand the advice given. Don’t ignore old possible solutions, don’t worry that you don’t belong in the role, and most importantly, have fun. After all, this is the start of your career!