Ever looked at very successful developers and wondered what their secret is? Are they super smart? Or do they work their faces off and barely sleep? There are too many variables to say for sure, but I’m willing to bet that each one of those people has one key thing in common.
I enjoy sharing my experience in this industry with new developers, or people who are thinking about taking the plunge in to code, and I get the same question from most of them: to what do I attribute most to my career success? At first, it seemed like a very tough question, but the answer is actually quite simple: I am always hungry. Not hungry in the “dang, that bacon cheeseburger looks good” kind of way (though I do enjoy a tasty burger); rather, I am always on a quest for knowledge.
Now, a lot of you might be thinking “yeah, duh, I’m always learning about the most cutting edge stuff, I’m just fine”. Not so fast there slim. Depending on your goals, you might be severely limiting your opportunities.
The majority of us hear about the exciting things going on at companies like Google and Facebook, and we see job postings from startups who are using the latest and greatest tech to build out their would-be next generation billion dollar SaaS platforms. Unfortunately, these opportunities are the minority and quite unlike the rest of the world where companies have more practical concerns like legacy code, application longevity, and the skill sets of their current development teams. This doesn’t mean you have to begrudge yourself to learning “old” tech or completely mastering every finite detail of the tech you currently work with. There is a balance to be had.
Have a good idea of what’s on the horizon, but prioritize skills that add value to the work you’re doing today.
That being said, as a developer, I find it extremely valuable to have pet projects that let you experiment with those new languages, frameworks, or libraries. Take a little bit of time out on an evening or weekend to experiment and play with something more than the to-do app examples that we see all too often these days. Building something more complex without a blueprint in front of you will help you learn more from the troubleshooting you’ll often have to do when things don’t work right the first time.
Show your hunger
Filling your head with knowledge is great, but if your peers and leaders at work don’t know about it, then you might not be taking full advantage of the time and effort you’ve put in. That time and effort could go a long way to being selected for exciting new projects or promotions. You could be rewriting that old legacy code, or you could be designing and building the next generation of customer facing web applications for your company. For most people, the choice is obvious.
Don’t be a hoarder of knowledge.
While this tactic might work as a job security tool for some, it only serves to perpetuate a state of complacency. Make yourself a resource that people know they can come to when they need advice or help with something you have learned. You’ll find that it opens many moor doors than it closes.
How much time?
When I bring up my concept of staying hungry, I get a number of folks who love to rebut my advice with anecdotes about how busy their lives are with families and other obligations outside of their career. “But I had to marathon the entire last season of The Walking Dead on Saturday! The new season starts soon!”. Listen, how much time you devote to furthering your skills, and thus your career, is completely up to you. There isn’t a magic number of hours I can tell you here, as everyone works and learns at a different pace.
The goal is simply to avoid stagnating or getting complacent.
To give you a point of reference, when I started learning to code I was spending 30+ hours a week reading, watching videos, and writing applications. I was eager to gain the skills I needed to get my first job writing software. These days, I devote 5-8 hours on average to learning something new. This doesn’t include the time I spend working on side projects for clients where I get to leverage new libraries or frameworks.
There’s no silver bullet or magic recipe to finding success in your career, but if you stay hungry, your climb to the top just might get a little easier.