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6 rookie developer mistakes to avoid

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Jack Wilson CTO, Laplink Software
 

With the rapid evolution of technology, the ever-expanding Internet of Things, and the growing number of devices that are integrated with our mobile phones and tablets, the demand for software developers and engineers is growing. Software has woven itself tightly into the fabric of our daily lives; programmers and developers have almost guaranteed job security.

In 2012, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted that software developer positions would grow at a rate of 22%, much faster than the average career. Armed with a bachelor's degree and computer programming skills, college graduates can be hired out of school for jobs paying close to $100,000 a year.

Top tech companies recruit the best talent from around the nation and the world, paying new hires top dollar and providing often incredible company perks. By working in the software industry, you are ensured job opportunities for the foreseeable future.

But while this is an exciting time to start a new career in software development, be aware that a lot of new hires make rookie mistakes early on in their careers, or get burned out quickly and fall off the ladder leading them to more wealth, better hours, and more influential technology projects.

As the manager for the tech department at Laplink, I have gleaned the following lessons over the years:

1. You will never know everything (even if you think you do.) Continue to learn, always.

If you are fresh out of college, you probably feel like your brain is bursting with new knowledge. But what you didn't learn in a classroom will soon become very apparent; working in an office is vastly different from raising your hand and turning in assignments on time. The best attitude you can have is to understand that college teaches you how to learn, while your employer, your co-workers, your mentor, and your peers will further your knowledge once you get into the industry and start programming. If you want to stay on top of your game, make learning a priority outside of work. There are countless educational resources, both free and paid, that will support you in advancing your knowledge and learning. You also might consider inquiring as to whether your employee will subsidize additional educational opportunities; many companies offer this perk.

2. Never say, "It can't be in my code," when an error is found. It can be, and it will be. I have been humbled many, many times, and so has everyone I have ever worked with.

As in most workplaces, arrogance should be left at the door. Taking ownership of a project gone awry, a task fallen through the cracks, or a project that just did not work will impress your manager. Regardless of your responsibility in the issue, your boss is sure to get flak from his or her boss. Knowing that you were willing to step up, acknowledge the problem, and confidently say that you would go back through and meticulously check your work as well as that of others to resolve the issue as quickly as possible will make a strong impression to the higher-ups, especially when they are considering whom to promote among your peers.

3. Don't be afraid to ask for a bit of help. There is a good chance someone has already been through something like what you are going through. Find a colleague you can bounce ideas off of.

Even seasoned executives can and do feel out of their depth with certain projects. Sometimes you just won't know what you're doing or where to start on a new task. The fact is, there is probably someone at your company who has experience doing exactly what you are doing. Shoot her an email, drop by her desk, ping her in a chat. Whatever your method, be tactful and respectful of her time as you ask for guidance in tackling this new project. Odds are she'll gladly teach you. Everyone's had to learn from someone else at some point.

4. Relax. New engineers tend to get offended when someone finds a bug or questions what they did. It's going to happen. Getting uptight won't help.

It's easy to take it personally when someone points out a malfunction in your work. It's like someone saying your baby is ugly. The difference between the two is that at the office, you have to learn to maintain an impersonal attitude about what you're creating as much as possible. From conception to final product, everyone's work will go through a series of revisions. Keep in mind that oftentimes it's a matter of staying consistent with the brand and products and that you won't be able to please everyone.

Of course you'll take pride in your work and be excited to share your accomplishments. But you must also be humble and accept critiques of your work, not as jabs at you personally, but as lessons for you to improve your professional skills. If you approach your work as you would a homework project, you'll feel a lot less sensitive when someone points out an error in what you created. Remember that every lesson is a lesson learned.

5. Lighten up. Have some fun; you are going to spend a lot of your life at work. Try to make it a good time.

Forty hours a week is probably more time than you see your friends, your family, or even your dog. And most software developers work longer hours than that. Your co-workers will become your new network; you'll share meals with them, as well as new ideas. They will be the first people you talk to in the morning and the last people you see before you head home to crash for a few hours before starting up again. Because work is now such a large part of your life, you need to make your job more fun. I'm not talking "throw a party at the office while your boss is on a business trip" fun, but it's important that your job not come to seem like drudgery. Take a few minutes to talk with your co-workers and build relationships; no one should be so busy that he can't grab a quick cup of coffee with you. And try to get to know your boss; chances are that if you develop a good rapport, he or she will be a stronger advocate for you when the time comes for a promotion.

Mostly remember that while work is still work, you'll be a lot happier if you look forward to seeing the people you share an office with. Make the most of it.

6. Be passionate. We'll notice.

Passionate people succeed because they are invested in what they are doing. They're excited to start a project and practically jump out of their chair when a meeting finishes so that they can get cranking on a new piece of code. Managers will note your enthusiasm and be more willing to give you new projects and responsibilities as they continue to see you tackle your tasks with gusto and pride. At large companies, there is a regular culling of teams, and you had better believe that the employees who are only there for a paycheck are the first ones to be shown the door. Be excited about your work, because there's a good chance you'll be doing it for the next few decades.

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