💁🏻‍♀️ Dear Marie

What is your best advice for new developers?

November 16, 2019

Dear Marie,

What is your single best piece of advice for new developers?

(Background, I have an entire blog devoted to this and am really interested in other perspectives.)


Dear Dan,

This is such a tough question! There are so many different kinds of new developers and journeys that brought them here, and I want to tell them all different things.

🏕 For the career-changing bootcamp grad: I am so glad that you are here. I appreciate and value the experience and expertise you bring from your previous roles and industry. You already have valuable perspectives and skills, and you’re only going to add more over time as you gain experience in tech. I can’t wait to see what amazing things you do in this industry, and what you teach your coworkers.

📖 For the self-taught programmer: I am amazed at your dedication and perseverance and ability to learn from different resources. Remember that other people have valuable things to teach you, too, and seek out trusted mentors or role models when you can. You will never stop learning in this industry, and you have shown already that you are ready and willing to put in the work. That’s going to take you far.

💾 For the recent college grad, who has been programming forever: I appreciate your enthusiasm and am so glad that this is a career that gives you so much joy. Hold on to that appreciation for software, but make space for people who approach it in different ways than you. Try not to make anyone else feel small because they know less than you. And remember that you’re still new at this too—you might have a head start and some formal education, but there’s a lot you still don’t know. Be open, and be humble, and you’re going to do great things.

🎓 For the recent college grad, who is super new to programming: I am so happy that you’re sticking with this industry even if it doesn’t always feel comfortable for you. Fight that imposter syndrome—you have learned a lot already, and you will continue to learn. You can already contribute a lot, and you will continue to contribute more. Believe in yourself, and take chances.

🦋 For the one who doesn’t see themself represented anywhere: I am so glad that you are here. I hope you can stay here for a long time. I hope you find communities that make you feel welcome and safe and included. You get to make the right choices for you and your health and safety, even if it makes others uncomfortable or disappointed. You don’t owe increasing the representation of a space with your presence to anyone. You belong here, and you should get to focus on doing the kind of work you want.

👥 For the one who seems themself represented everywhere: Learn how to listen, how to observe, how to pay attention. When people tell you things that are hard or uncomfortable, sit with it. Don’t dismiss it immediately. Make space for other people who are less represented, even when it means giving up some of your own. You have probably also had some hard and difficult things too—no one is denying that, but individual struggle is the not the same as systemic oppression and I hope you have the empathic imagination to understand that.

🖥 For the one whose only interest is computing: Software is fun! But it’s not the only thing there is. Try to cultivate other hobbies and interests. Beware managers and companies who want to take advantage of you and your enthusiasm, who will you burn you out in the interest of getting every drop of work out of you as quickly as possible. (This is especially true for the neuroatypical among you.) Remember to take a rest, take a break, and take care of yourself, too.

💸 For the one who’s here for the money: Welcome! It’s okay if you’re not passionate about software. You don’t have to burn with enthusiasm for code in order to be an excellent software engineer. It’s perfectly reasonable to just want a job that pays the bills.

And of course, some general advice for everyone:

  • It’s okay to fail. Everyone makes mistakes.
  • It’s okay to look things up. You don’t have to remember everything to be a good developer.
  • Everyone is nervous about interviews. They’re kind of awful. But you get through them.
  • There are a million ways of solving a problem. Many of them are “right”, a few of them are definitely “wrong”, but none of them are perfect in every situation. Hold space for other people to pick a different path than yours.
  • Collaboration and communication are incredibly valuable, and non-optional skills in tech. Don’t do it all alone, and learn to see the amazing expertise your peers and coworkers from other teams and departments1 bring.

To any new programmers reading this: however you got here, and wherever you are going, I wish you all the best. I hope you do wonderful things in this industry, that you learn every day, and teach others with humility and empathy. I can’t wait to see what you build next. 💖


P.S. Sorry Dan, you asked for one piece of advice and I gave more than ten. I have been accused of being “extra” and I am guilty as charged. 😂

  1. Especially the “non-technical” roles. Sales, support, marketing, operations, etc. are all incredibly important to a business’s success, and every role has its area of expertise. You might be able to code well in isolation without relying on these coworkers, but you will never be able to breathe life into code and turn it into a functioning product without them. Give them their due respect, and listen to them.

Marie Chatfield Rivas

Written by Marie Chatfield Rivas, an amateur aspiring advice columnist, certified Emoji Enthusiast™, and purveyor of fine tweets.

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