Your First Programming Job

When you’ve been programming for a long time, it’s easy to forget what it’s like to be brand new, fresh out of school, and starting your first job. Heck, I can barely remember what that period of my life was life at this point. The biggest thing I remember? Being afraid. I worried I’d screw up something important. I worried my coworkers would hate me. Most of all, I was scared I wasn’t good enough to hack it as a professional developer.

Lately, I’ve read a lot of questions from junior developers starting their first “real” programming job. I see a lot of the same worries echoed in their issues and concerns. So, I thought I’d quickly share some advice for those taking the first step in their programming career.

When you start working on your first project, there’s a good chance you’ll spend a lot of time feeling frustrated. You’ll spend hours hunting down a simple bug or struggle to understand concepts that seem like second nature to the rest of your team. It’s normal — every programmer goes through it. After you’ve been programming for a while, you’ll laugh at the mistakes you made in the early days. You spot the same bug in no time flat, looking at someone else’s code. But you need to fight through this phase first, so stick with it.

Don’t get too precious about the code you write — there’s likely room for improvement. When a senior developer offers a suggestion or critique, it isn’t personal. You are not your code. This is so important I’ll say it again.

You are not your code.

At first, every comment on your pull requests will feel like a dagger to the heart. Don’t let it get you down. There isn’t a single developer out there who writes perfect code on the first try. Quality code is a process. When I was starting out, senior developers tore my work to pieces. I won’t lie; it hurt a whole lot. But I slowly learned to focus on the code — instead of my feelings — and started to improve.

Most programmers experience imposter syndrome, at one time or another. Even the developers you look up to and admire. Often, it’s the most talented developers who experience it the most. Everyone looks around a room, at times, and thinks, “This has to be the day they realize I’m a fraud.” It happens, no matter how hard you work or how skilled you become. Acknowledge the feeling and do your best to move on.

There’s always something new to learn; it’s the best part of working as a programmer. Those people in the office everyone turns to with questions? Even they have something new to learn. Graduating from school was just the beginning of your education — it’s a lifelong process.

Finally, don’t be afraid to ask questions. You might feel like you’re bothering your coworkers, pestering them with simple issues. Please ignore that feeling. Don’t forget; you’re there for a reason. You’re a member of the team now. You know what’s worse than asking a stupid question? Not asking the question and grinding your gears all week, with nothing to show for it. Be willing to admit you don’t understand something and have the humility to ask for help.