While the marketplace for developer employment isn’t as crowded as you might think, it’s an important role that can be in high demand at times, and one that can open a lot of avenues for progression further down the line.
Here, we asked industry insiders for their words of wisdom and advice on how to get ahead as a developer. If you’re looking to make that move into a new role as a developer or you want to take things to the next level, you’ll find plenty of insights and tips to further your career right here.
1. Learn the basics
As a developer, you have to start somewhere. Stuart Watkins, founder of web development agency Devstars says: “I’d suggest learning the basics first. There are lots of great online courses out there and people who are willing to help. Avoid shortcuts – it’s very easy to install themes and plugins and end up with something that kind of works, but this could be dangerous if you don’t know what’s going on under the bonnet”.
2. Act like a manager
Standing out from the crowd, even at an early stage in your career is important. David Mortiboy, software developer at web design and digital marketing agency META says: “As a recent graduate and newcomer into the professional software development industry, it has already been instilled into me to take on more responsibility and display more managerial characteristics to progress into a senior role.”
David also points to keeping abreast of the development press: “It is vital to keep up-to-date with the latest technology news and demonstrate a broader interest outside of work in learning about more frameworks, programming languages, and tools.”
3. Develop your soft skills
While technical proficiency is undoubtedly important, many of our experts pointed to the benefit of soft skills when it comes to progressing in a development role.
David says: “Certain soft skills such as communication are key because a senior manager will be required to lead a team and meet with clients. The ability to write clear and concise documentation is also necessary to draw up a spec for new projects.”
Meanwhile, Jessica Rose, Technical Manager at digital education provider, FutureLearn, notes: “As a junior developer, learning the intricacies of the technical tools and processes you work with can seem like the most pressing priority in your professional life. But you must also develop communication and collaboration skills to progress further in your career, and to learn some of the technical skills you’re worried about. While ‘soft’ skills may not seem as pressing a priority when you’re trying to learn the basics, they are an often-overlooked route to both technical and professional mastery.
“Building great software is always a team effort, requiring interaction with user needs, stakeholders, and often co-workers and managers. By polishing your soft skills, you give yourself the best chance to succeed alongside these stakeholders and learn from those who are ready to share their skills.”
Tara Ojo, Software Developer at FutureLearn and STEM ambassador points to using soft skills as a means of fostering a more positive work atmosphere: “Don’t just focus on developing your programming skills, try and make your environment a better place to work. Organise tech catch-ups, lightning talks or hackathons with your colleagues. You’ll be developing your softer skills and it’ll get your team members engaged and encouraged to try new things.”
4. Fine tune your technical skills
That said, while soft skills are important, your technical skills should be as polished as can be, too.
Sukh Ryatt, managing director of intranet software business Oak says: “For the technical skills, define a profile of the skills a person in that role should have and then self-manage your learning by filling in the technical skill gaps you have via books, online material and courses. Create a timeline of what you want to have learnt and by when, to make sure your plan has focus.
“Additionally, I think it’s invaluable to be involved in, or at least exposed to, some of the activities people already in those roles within your organisation perform, so you can learn in practice, not just in theory. Explain to your company that you have a desire to progress into that role, and they’ll support you in doing this; if not, you might want to rethink the company you work for!”
5. Communication is key
With so many people to communicate with, being able to simplify and improve your speech is undoubtedly an important benefit.
Andy Williams, head developer at eLearning solutions business DeltaNet says: “Delivering a successful project brief is all about listening, asking the right questions, and keeping stakeholders and colleagues up-to-speed. That’s why it’s not an exaggeration to say that communication is one of the most important skills a developer can have! Without it, projects easily lose momentum and mistakes get made.
For those wanting to get ahead in development, and in addition to traditional, academic qualifications, it’s always worthwhile taking on some additional training in a specialist area, e.g. animation, UI/UX design, illustration etc. Try websites such as Udemy for a cost-effective starting point.”
6. Illustrate your independence
Rather than ticking off a checklist of tasks, showing your initiative illustrates a willingness to not sit back and be complacent.
David says: “Instead of waiting to be assigned tasks, a senior developer should show independence by looking at what could be improved and taking projects to the next level. Certain soft skills such as communication are key because a senior manager will be required to lead a team and meet with clients. The ability to write clear and concise documentation is also necessary to draw up a spec for new projects.”
7. Get a portfolio together
It’s always good to be able to demonstrate what you’ve done over the years. A portfolio collects the work you’re proudest of and gives future employers something almost tangible to view your skills.
Tara says: “Keep track of all of your achievements! Being able to look back over a document of examples showing your amazing skills is not only a great confidence boost, but also brilliant to refer to when you’re having promotion discussions or in an interview. A Google doc will work for this, but if you prefer try tools such as Trello or bullet journaling.”
We hope this collection of tips and pieces of advice has given you insight into progressing your prospects and career as a developer.
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