Being stuck in an entry-level software developer job can feel like a dead end, especially when tech leaders are struggling to give remote technologists the training and coaching they need to advance.
Fortunately, there are effective and practical ways for junior developers to improve their skills and go from simply performing routine tasks to programming code independently, eliminating bugs, writing simple unit tests and proposing solutions to strategic challenges.
To help you climb the career ladder in short order, we asked three experienced tech leaders for their advice and tips.
Perform Your Own Code Reviews
Most junior developers can produce code that “works,” explained Sam Williams, founder of Complete Coding. However, what distinguishes a more advanced developer is their ability to create well-written, readable code that is easy to understand and breaks down big problems or tasks into small, manageable chunks of code.
“Developers who don’t find ways to improve their coding skills can be stuck at a junior level for a very long time,” he acknowledged.
While there are numerous ways to improve your coding skills on your own, performing your own code reviews is not only highly effective but convenient and easy-to-implement. “Go back and look at the code you wrote two weeks ago,” Williams recommended. Can you explain what’s going on in each line of code? Can you improve code quality, readability or structure by refactoring?
If you need help or advice, ask a more senior developer to review your code. But don’t simply ask if code will work—ask if it can be improved or what might make the code faster or easier to expand upon in the future.
Participate in Pair Programming
Farhan Thawar, VP of Engineering at Shopify, views pair programming as an important technique for sharing knowledge; developers at Shopify are able to view and select the tasks they want to work on and are automatically assigned a new partner and task each week.
What’s more, peer programming sessions can help replace the casual conversations and learning moments that take place all the time in an office and team environment.
If your company hasn’t tried remote paired programming, do some preliminary research and offer to spearhead a pilot program using a collaborative coding tool. Being able to learn from a senior developer in real time can give you an intellectual and emotional boost and help you feel connected, especially when you’re working remotely.
The classic way of checking whether you actually understand a technical concept or way to solve a problem is to try to explain it to someone else. As Thawar pointed out, “When one person teaches, two people learn.”
Use modern tools to your advantage by creating a short instructional video and sharing it on TikTok or YouTube. Peer teachers can not only reinforce their own learning by instructing others, but they can also benefit from the comments and feedback from reviewers in an online setting.
Join Open Source Projects
Contributing to open source projects is another way to learn, gain experience and replace the valuable exchanges that happen naturally in the office. In addition to receiving, discussing and addressing code review comments, strive to learn how decisions are made by reading a project’s history and reviewing previous issues and documentation.
Understand the ‘Why’ Behind Your Work
Coding proficiency is only half of the equation for next-level success. Being able to evaluate a task and suggest potential solutions is another way that mid-level developers distinguish themselves from their junior counterparts.
To close the knowledge gap, make an effort to understand the connection between your tasks and the use case, or what the user hopes to accomplish when interacting with the system.
Don’t just do what the client or PM tells you to do, Williams advised. Understanding how specific tasks support a bigger goal can not only help you see things from the user’s perspective but develop “big picture thinking.”
Put the Developer Pieces Together
Understanding the technological ecology (or more specifically, how the framework and task you are working on interfaces with the front-end, back-end or other apps and technologies) can elevate your thinking and help you produce better solutions, advised Joe Erickson, senior software developer with Tech Elevator.
For example, if you’re asked to build a simple e-mail sign up form with Ruby on Rails, look for a tutorial that pulls in the entire ecosystem and explains how the request will interact with the email server. While you’re at it, take note of the specialized terminology or jargon they use in the tutorials, and strive to incorporate the terms and phrases into your communication with team members.
Being able to communicate at a higher level will help you get your message across, enhance your relationships and show that you are capable of performing intermediate-level tasks. “To elevate your skills, own your incompetence and grow through it,” Erickson added.