Making the leap to kickstart a career in coding is a pretty big life decision. But for those who do make the decision to shift careers, there are definitely some big perks.
From a personal standpoint, I find it enjoyable and rewarding to collaborate with coworkers and get feedback on the work I’ve done. A career in coding is different than work in many other fields. Even if the code works as expected, there are often additional ways to make it even better. I feel proud that the asset I bring to the companies I work for is more than just using my time to do tasks. Instead, I have real responsibility and am able to add real value, building useful features and bringing concepts into reality.
However, when I was first transitioning into a developer role, it wasn’t positive all of the time. There’s a slim line between feeling like Superman, and feeling stuck. Since I’m also involved in helping people transition into a career in coding, I see both the best and the worst behaviors people have when going through this process. Based on this experience, I have 14 tips to help make the transition as smooth as possible.
1. Go 100% all-in.
Learning enough of a new skill to be employed in a new field takes a lot of work. Instead of trying to find a quick trick to eek out a small advantage, you need to simply go all-in and spend your time doing the hard work.
Fully committing to conquering the skill will require willpower, but it will also empower you to get to the finish line if you can summon a significant amount of discipline.
Starting today, you’re a developer first and foremost. If you’ve had other identities in the past, they can help guide you to your new role, but when someone asks you what you do, say, “I’m a developer”.
2. Get your code reviewed.
Feedback on code is something that happens all the time in the real world and it’s never too soon to start having these conversations.
Improvement only comes by sharing a solution and having someone else critique the code and point out different, sometimes better, ways to accomplish the same goal.
It’s critical for the improvement of coding skills!
3. Start a side project.
Building a project idea that you care about, not only will help you stick with it when coding gets hard, since you’ll be motivated to keep building it, but will also be important in your job search process.
Employers are always impressed by job applicants who have projects they’re working on that they genuinely care about. Passion can be contagious and this can help separate you from other applicants.
4. Go the extra mile.
You might find projects that have a simple solution that can be completed fairly quickly.
There is nothing wrong with spending a bit more time and doing more than what is required. This isn’t high-school – there’s nothing wrong with being an overachiever. Going the extra mile will also show potential employers that you’re serious about launching your career in coding.
5. Never pretend to know things that you don’t.
If you don’t fully understand a topic, looking for clarification to understand the issue deeper will be helpful for you in the future.
One of the most harmful things when learning to code is pretending to understand things you don’t. Learning to code takes a long time, and getting to the bottom of how things work is important.
Avoiding this will eventually catch up with you, and that won’t be good.
6. Pair program with someone more experienced than you.
One of the fastest ways of leveling up and improving programming skills is to get into the mind of a different developer with more experience than you.
If you’re not familiar with pair programming, here’s how it works: pair programming is generally split into two separate roles. One person “drives”, meaning they use the keyboard to type code. The other person – the one not in control of the keyboard – is responsible for keeping the person using the keyboard on the right track.
The absolute fastest way to learn is to pair program with someone who has more experience than you. It is also important that you drive the process, while the more experienced person helps you navigate.
The reason is pretty simple. As the driver, it’s your job to write and understand the code. It is the passenger’s job to make sure the right code gets written the right way. Having someone teach you one-on-one through live instruction, you’ll have the opportunity to get personalized instruction on-the-go, which is the best possible way to learn.
7. Start honing your developer brand.
Changing careers and becoming a developer involves learning hard skills in programming. It also involves learning how to position yourself and your new developer identity.
Hiring managers have a lot of candidates come across their desk and learning how to communicate with a personal brand that resonates with the culture of the company is important, too.
You should start thinking about how you want to present yourself as a developer.
8. Write technical blog posts about coding concepts.
These types of blog posts will help position yourself as a developer in addition to helping you organize thoughts and understanding of complex topics.
Use your writing to allow other developers to understand your mind and your problem-solving process. Employers will want to understand how you break apart problems and you should give them every opportunity to appreciate your skill as a developer.
It will also help to convey how serious you are about launching your career in coding.
9. Push yourself outside your comfort zone.
If you only work on problems that are easy, or that you feel very comfortable solving, you will never learn anything new.
Only by pushing yourself a little outside what you feel comfortable doing will you be able to move new skills into your comfort zone.
The most successful people who launch a career in coding challenge themselves to push outside their comfort zone every day.
10. Work on a project with other people.
Working on coding projects with many different individual contributors is an important experience and it will require learning new skills.
There are some skills that you’d be hard-pressed to really master without working with other people. Things like:
- Use Git & GitHub to collaborate with developers
- Encountering and resolving merge conflicts in code
- How to break up features into manageable chunks that other developers can work on.
Having experience working in an evolving codebase, where other people are making changes and it’s your responsibility to stay up to speed on what changes are happening is invaluable.
Working on projects with other people will likely be a challenging experience and will push you outside your comfort zone, but again, it will force you to level up your skills.
11. Keep a positive attitude.
Learning is impossible without having the right frame of mind. Programming is hard, but that’s a good thing. If it was an easy skill to acquire, everyone would do it and programmers wouldn’t be valued by the companies they work for.
To successfully start a career in coding, you need to take emotion out of your coding process. Error messages in your code are not messages that you’re bad at this, it’s telling you the code just isn’t working in the way that you might have thought it would. It’s okay. Chances are, you’re closer than you were before.
There will be times when you’ll be frustrated. The act of solving any problem can be very frustrating. The key is that you can’t shut off when you experience this irritation. After you’ve overcome that challenge, you’ll feel great about yourself and have real pride in your work, so keep that in mind as you’re working through the challenge.
12. Work on coding challenges.
It’s not uncommon to be judged by hiring teams based on your ability to deconstruct a self-contained problem on a whiteboard. These are the notorious “whiteboard interviews”.
By solving challenges, particularly challenges a little outside your comfort zone, when you face challenges that aren’t immediately obvious during technical interviews you’ll stay composed, creative, and productive about solving problems.
Development teams are looking for programmers who are good problem solvers. Putting developers in the situation where they don’t immediately know how to solve a problem is important. It tests if they’re capable of figuring out the answer after exploring the problem and thinking through different approaches.
Solving coding challenges help you hone this skill.
13. Immerse yourself in code.
In addition to focusing energy spending time coding, building project, solving coding challenges and focusing on code, expand programming to other aspects of your life.
To immerse your world even more in code you can:
- Watch technical conference talks on YouTube
- Follow technical influencers on Twitter
- Listen to podcasts about learning to code
By having code as a centralized aspect of your life, you’ll be thinking about it a lot of the time. This immersion will help you to transition careers in a smoother way since you’ll be completely informed about different opinions and thoughts.
14. Prepare yourself for the technical interview.
To start your new career, you need to get through the technical interview. Whether you’re preparing to ace a whiteboarding interview, or solve a technical challenge before the interview and be prepared to talk about it, to make a successful career transition being prepared for the interview is critically important.
In order to be prepared, prior to going into one, you should practice with similar problems you’ll encounter. Writing code with pen and paper instead of a regular text editor, terminal and IDE can be helpful, too.
I recognize that starting a new career can be a daunting task. However, in my experience, if you know that it’s the right decision for you, a really rewarding career lies just around the corner. A career in coding gives you the opportunity to add real value to companies and build features that people actually use.
Regardless of whether you’re looking to get there through self-study, or learn in a more structured environment, my hope is that these 14 tips will allow you to launch your career in coding in the smoothest way possible.