July 29, 2016

Breaking Into the Industry

I got an email the other day from an old friend that said he’d met a young developer named Ben and that he was impressed with his acumen, initiative and hunger to learn,” which made me want to help him if I could. He also said that his Dad followed your blogs for years,” which made me want to eat right and exercise.

In the meantime, Roger introduced me to Ben via email and Ben had some excellent questions, which I thought I’d share here along with my answers, if only to avoid other people sending me emails that make me feel old…

From: Benaiah Mischenko

[ben] I was hoping to pick your brain for any advice you’d have for a young developer trying to break into the industry. I’ve been coding for some time, but most of my work has been small one-off contracts (I currently work at a radio company building websites for the stations they own).

Ben, you are about to break into” an industry with near 0% unemployment. Practically everyone able to string together working code/markup can get a job of some sort. All you really have to do is to keep coding, be prepared to show off your work (GitHub is great for this) and you’ll find a job. Right now there’s no other industry I know of that has this luxury and it’s not going to last forever, so enjoy it.

[ben] What do you see as the biggest growth opportunities in the field — areas of study that will be big in the coming years (for instance, I’ve heard people say DevOps is poised to become as fundamental a practice as source control as time goes on)?

Identifying the biggest growth opportunity is easy: containers are the way we’ll be packaging and deploying out software for the foreseeable future, the cloud will be the target of said deployments and Machine Learning is going to be part of practically every system we build from now on. I’d also look at Augmented Reality as the next computing platform beyond web and mobile. Forgive me for making all of those links Google-related (Pokemon Go runs on the Google Cloud), but Google has it’s hands in lots of cool stuff.

[ben] What do you look for when determining the ability and potential to grow of a junior developer?

I look for two things when evaluating any engineer:

  1. How deeply do you know the things you know? Can they answer why questions in addition to how questions?

  2. How quickly and how often do they learn new things? The tech landscape is always changing, so whatever skills you have, however deep they may be, will quickly fade in importance. You can’t be useful for very long without the ability to learn new things.

[ben] More generally, where do you see our industry moving, and do you have any concerns that you think I should watch out for when navigating the field?

I see our industry spending a lot of it’s time throwing away existing processes and methods, sometimes to replace them with something new (which may or may not work better than the old ways) or to reinvent what we just threw away. I think that what we’re seeing evolve out of this process of continuously trying new things is our attempt to turn software engineering” into an actual engineering discipline on the order of electrical or civil engineering. We’ve still got decades of work to do here, but we’re slowly hammering out best practices, e.g. Continuous Integration/Continuous Delivery is emerging as the best way to do sustainable DevOps.

What that means for you is that you need to be skeptical about the processes that any software team uses to produce software, since we’re still finding the right way forward here. Don’t be afraid to take a proscribed process with a grain of salt or to try new things to make your team happier and more effective. In general, if something looks like meaningless bookkeeping, it probably is and should be treated accordingly.

[ben] Thanks in advance for your help. I appreciate every chance I get to learn from more experienced developers.

Good luck, Ben! Feel free to reach out again. I’m always happy to help budding engineers if I can. And say hi” to your Dad!