So, you’ve finally landed your first technical job? Congrats! But you go to the office and find that there are millions of things to memorize, tons of command-line magic to perform, and strange jargon being thrown around among your team members that you simply can’t keep up with… How do you manage all of this without going crazy?
Of course, your hard skills count the most, but you’ll need more than that to be really good at what you’ll be doing. Let’s take a look at some of the strategies that helped me at the very beginning of my IT career path.
1. Ask questions
Lots and lots of questions. Asking early and often means not wasting time staring at code you don’t understand or being stuck on things you don’t know yet. Any good IT company will know that a beginner like you needs time to adjust.
You’re a junior, after all, and junior positions are mainly about learning. If you’re lucky enough, you’ll have a mentor to answer all your questions. But if not, ask other members of your team. At the beginning of my IT career, I rarely met people who didn’t like sharing what they knew. The more you ask, the more you learn.
But you also have to have solid fundamentals in the technology you’ve started working with and try to find solutions on your own. If you get stuck, ask Uncle Google before reaching out to your team members. (You’ll come to love—and perhaps hate—Stack Overflow in due time.) Because no matter how helpful your co-workers could be, they still have their own jobs to do. And you’d appear more self reliant and proactive if you solved things on your own.
On that note…
2. Be proactive
It’s perfectly fine to rely on the expertise of more senior colleagues at first. But don’t be afraid to propose your own solutions or share your ideas. Your team, boss, and clients would appreciate the initiative, even if your solutions aren’t chosen.
Don’t wait for others to organize your time—after a few days on your new job, you’ll know more or less what needs to be done. If you finished one task, let others know you’re ready to work on something new.
3. Learn the language
Tech professionals (like those in many other domains) use a specific language that you’ll would need to speak if you want to understand them (and, in turn, be understood).
Precision is very important in IT, so you need to use proper terms. Never hesitate to ask for clarification. If you don’t understand the task you’re supposed to do, you won’t be able to do it—or, even worse, you’ll do something wrong that ends up wasting valuable time or resources.
Don’t worry if it seems like your team’s speaking Mandarin on your first day. You’ll soon get used to all those merges, branches, bugs, commits, deployments, and story points.
4. Double-check your work
I know how it feels to struggle with a task for several hours when you’re desperate to get it over with. It’s common for many juniors—to commit their changes to a repository without a second glance just to get the job done, for example.
But after a few hours of working on something, you’re blind to your own mistakes. Try taking a break, having a cup of coffee, and then coming back to your code (or whatever you were doing). With that short break, you’ll gain a new perspective. And if you spend few minutes on your own quality assurance before showing off your work, you’ll most likely discover some flaws—and in the end, deliver a much better piece of work.
I can remember one particular situation when I was doing a final review of my code before committing it, and what I saw chilled my blood—spaghetti code. I’m glad I checked it before anyone else saw what I’d done. Reviewing your work like this can save you some embarrassment and show your team that you really know what you’re doing.
5. Ask for feedback
Mentoring new employees is a common practice in many IT companies, where a more senior team member will take you under their wing and help you get settled in. This is a great way to get feedback on your ideas and work so you can improve.
Depending on your specific field, it may be possible to work in pairs on projects—and pair programming, even with a person from a different professional background than yours, is a great way to learn. As a front-end developer, I used to pair program with back-end developers; it works like magic. With this approach, we avoided many misunderstandings and worked out solutions that were more convenient for the both of us.
If you don’t have this kind of opportunity, ask someone to take a look at your code and review it (code reviews are another standard industry practice). You can usually implement a solution in a variety of ways, but not all of them are going to be equally efficient or practical. Code reviews help you improve your work and learn good programming practices.
6. Don’t take failure personally
This is one of the toughest things at the beginning. You’re new—you’re still learning, and obviously, you’re going to eventually make mistakes. More experienced colleagues would make code reviews for you or evaluate your work to help you make progress. Criticism will also come your way. It’s easy to think they’re just being hard on you, but that’s not always the case. Your colleagues may like you as a person, sure, but they can’t accept code full of bugs. Everything’s fine as long as the criticism is constructive—it’ll help you level up your IT game and gain lots of valuable experience.
7. Take notes
This may sound silly, but believe me, it’s simply impossible to memorize all the new information when you start a job. Working on a project means you need to know new tools, new shell commands, URLs of important websites, and much more. Try to note anything that seems important and, if possible, jot it down in a file—you’ll be able to copy-paste when needed (you really don’t want to rewrite everything!).
Another simple yet helpful tip is to use folders for browser bookmarks. When troubleshooting and asking for help, add the solution to the right bookmark folder; next time you encounter a similar problem, you’ll be prepared and know what to do without asking the same question again.
8. Keep calm and carry on
You’ll always have your moments of doubt on a new job, especially if you’re self taught. Many times, I felt overwhelmed myself; I was losing my self-confidence and panicking. I had so many second thoughts about my skills and the choice of my career path, even about joining the company I was working at.
Many junior developers I talk to these days are dealing with the exact same doubts and fears. “It’s not for me.” “I have no idea what I’m doing.” “I’m not good enough for this job.” Yeah, I’ve heard it all. It’s a phenomenon known as the impostor syndrome—when a person doubts their competence in spite of evidence to the contrary and attributes their success to luck instead of hard work.
It gets better with time. I gained a great deal of confidence when I realized I can work independently, and I’m now taking on increasingly more complicated tasks by myself. Positive feedback from my team definitely helped as well. But still, when working on a really difficult task, I occasionally wonder if reindeer herding would’ve been a better career path 😉
9. Have a side project
This is a great way to keep up with the dynamically changing field of tech. You’ll learn lots of new skills through your main job, but try to make progress even after hours. You’ll learn the fastest when you focus on what interest you the most. Juniors are constant learners, so don’t hesitate to get back on the courses you’ve already taken if you need to refresh some knowledge or learn something new. I, for example, need to learn how to deal with geographical data for my future travel project, so I recently picked up a PostGIS course.
The first days on a new job are never easy, especially when you change your career path and go for something different. Starting my first job as a developer was a true challenge for me—I was extremely happy when I was hired, but the first days with new tasks in a new team made me doubt if it was the right choice. If only I knew what I know now! I hope some of these tips will make your first days in IT much more manageable.
Are you in a junior-level position yourself? What are your strategies to survive first day in IT? I’d love to hear your story! And who knows—maybe by sharing your experience, you’ll make life easier for yet another beginner.