No matter if you are just starting your career as a software developer or coder, or a grizzled coalface veteran who has seen your fair share of successes and wayward projects, now is the perfect time to access your IT career to date, determine where you would like your career to go in the short, medium and long term and the steps you will need to get there. Here is a list of proactive actions and self improvement undertakings that will make you a better software developer, now and into the future.
Where Do You Want Your Career To Go?
Every coder will reach a point in their career when they will realize that they no longer want to do exactly what they are doing now any more. This doesn't mean that they don't want to be coders anymore, but it may mean they are unhappy with the company which they are working for or a seeking a new challenge such as mastering a different language, a different design paradigm, a move to a more senior position or shock horror, maybe even a move to the dark side into management.
One of the great failings within the Information Technology and Communications (ICT) sector is the lack of defined career progression paths within the industry. Companies are generally poor at future planning employee's careers and giving them the tools, time and experience to reach their future career goals. Every computer programmer should regularly evaluate how their career is progressing, where they would like to be in the short, medium and long term and what skills they will need to reach their goals. They should undertake the steps they need, whether its further research and study, asking for opportunities or even looking further afield at positions at other companies so that their career does not stall and a coder doesn't sit stagnant in a role that they no longer enjoy.
One book has become the defacto bible in helping software engineers and other IT professionals progress their careers. Being Geek: A Software Developer's Career Handbook by Michal Lopp has developed a stellar reputation as the best resource in helping programmers manage their careers. With more than 40 standalone stories, Lopp walks through a complete job life cycle, starting with the job interview and ending with the realization that it might be time to find another gig. Many books teach you how to interview for a job or how to manage a project successfully, but only this book helps you handle the baffling circumstances you may encounter throughout your career.
Key Career Points Covered In Being Geek:
- Decide what you're worth with the chapter on "The Business"
- Determine the nature of the miracle your CEO wants with "The Impossible"
- Give effective presentations with "How Not to Throw Up"
- Handle liars and people with devious agendas with "Managing Werewolves"
- Realize when you should be looking for a new gig with "The Itch"
Improve Your Programming Chops
In your career as a computer programmer, as technology, languages and designs ever more forward, if you are not actively seeking to improve your skills and knowledge you are falling behind your peers. IT is far too broad a subject area to stay abreast of all new technologies and paradigms, but you should be learning new skills in your particular niche and other areas that either interest you or could be beneficial to your career into the future. Be it learning new keywords in your main programming language, research user interfaces to create cleaner, more intuitive screens for your end users or learning the features and idiosyncrasies of the new version of your corporate relational database platform, increasing your programming chops will make you a more efficient and effective programmer.
Learn From The Modern Day Master Coders
Learn how the world's best software developers approach their craft and the approaches they take in a variety of industry, company sizes and disciplines. In Coders At Work: Reflections On The Craft Of Programming by Peter Seibel interviews 15 of todays most recognizable and influential coders. Seibel has an entertaining interview style that allows him to draw essential insights from these masters, including how they approach their day to day work, how they recognize and nurture talent in others, how they became great coders and their methods for attacking difficult problems. This book is full of golden nuggets that you can apply to your own career, no matter if your job involves working in a large multi-national company or working in a small Web 2.0 startup.
Join A User Group Or Community Focusing On Your Main Technology (Or One You Are Interested In Exploring)
Reading books and self-learning can only get you so far. The most efficient method to quickly gain experience in a technology stream is to become an active member of a community. Learn from the hard worn experience of other experts in the field and in turn, share your learning's and findings with others. You will often find that problems that have taken you days to solve in the past could have been solved in minutes if you asked the write person in the technology group the right question. By being active in a community, whether on-line or in physical location such as a near by city will help to build your network, opening options and opportunities that maybe invaluable to you in the future.
Learn From A Mentor
Finding a mentor you respect and admire and taking their wisdom and applying it to your own software engineering career could be just the catalyst you need to achieve your goals and reach the next level. A mentor can not only be an advisor but a confidant and sounding board, the person you go to for advice not only on the technical aspects of your job, but on how to navigate the political minefield inherent in all organizations. Your mentor does not have to be from the same company or necessarily from the same industry. If there is no one applicable in your organization than user groups and technical communities are great places to hunt for a mentor, or in lieu of finding a mentor, rely on the hive mind of the community and pose your questions openly and apply the collective knowledge of your community to your problems.
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