My first developer job
Let’s start with the basics: I have no prior formal experience as a web developer. I started teaching myself how to code a few months prior to joining Error and was over the moon to be selected for a role. I’m really grateful to the team for believing that I can add value to them and for having the patience to invest in a code newbie.
Error is a small agency run by four shareholders, most of whom have worked together since around 2010. Between them they are three developers and two designers (Andy wears two hats). They are a lovely bunch!
I was initially attracted to them because a lot of their values are the same as mine. I have a one year old and need to be close to home to manage the demands of family life. They all have at least two children, work a four day week and work remotely. They value family and personal life and have chosen to create a company which fits around this, not the other way around. At least that’s the ideal.
The first couple of weeks has shown me that being a small company, managing several clients at a time is not an easy task. The team has been pulling long hours in order to meet a deadline. This takes a toll on personal wellbeing. It hasn’t been easy to witness, given I feel quite helpless at this stage to contribute as a developer.
Instead I’ve been helping prepare for a client workshop and in particular planning user testing and brainstorming an initial prototype. This has been almost too much fun. I can hardly believe this is actually what people do for a job! It’s great to think creatively with an experienced colleague, build something and test how humans use it.
I feel grateful that I have found a colleague whom I can turn towards when I feel emotional, down or unsure. After my first week I was hit with the reality that it was going to take me much longer than I expected before I was proficient in Ruby, let alone being able to put code into production. I was a lot slower than I expected. I felt worried that my team would find me too slow and that the return on investment of hiring me would not be great enough. The aforementioned colleague reassured me that this was fine and that they would not sack me…at least I definitely hope not!!
It’s really important to have someone to talk to when you’re a junior dev, or in any challenging job where there is a huge body of knowledge to absorb. I’ll be attending the You Got This conference in London, an event on wellbeing for junior devs, so it will be really interesting to hear what the speakers have to say about this.
Lessons for small companies hiring junior devs:
Hire people who have demonstrated an ability to teach themselves and be proactive. You will not have time to hand-hold, so you need colleagues who can get on with work for a day or two when you’re busy.
It’s great to have someone in your team that can act as a mentor or “friend” for that person. This might happen naturally without you engineering it. Often a new person will experience challenges settling into their new job. Having someone to talk to and reassure them could be the difference between them feeling comfortable or not.
Carefully outline your expectations of their coding development. Be clear about what you want them to be able to do in a certain timeframe and offer support to help them get to that place. If you have an ambitious timeline, then they need to be exclusively coding, rather than working on other aspects of the business.
Talk about how your junior enjoys learning and find a way of supporting them in their ideal learning method. Everyone is different and it will pay dividends to discuss their learning style. If they have spent time teaching themselves, they should have an idea of this.
Lessons for junior devs starting work in small companies:
Be transparent. You have needs and if they’re not met, you won’t work efficiently. Reach out to your colleagues when you’re struggling or feel emotional. Coding can be a rollercoaster of “I don’t get this”, “I get this” which friends/family may not understand. It’s really helpful if you have a colleague to lean on.
Have patience. Coding takes time. It really does. All developers are learning everyday, so take it easy on yourself and don’t worry if things are taking longer to learn than you expected.
Get involved in other aspects of the business. I found it hard to not be contributing as a developer on day one. There are lots of things a small business does, you can get involved in other things to add value early on.
Overall I feel like I’ve found my “dream job” working for a small company where you can wear many hats, be entrepreneurial, proactive and flexibly manage personal life as a remote worker. In the next couple of weeks I’ll have completed my first client workshop on-site. Stay tuned to hear about that!