In today’s fast-paced software world, the best developers know that standing still is the same as being left behind. Not only are there new breakthroughs and advancements made every day, clients are expecting more than ever; a recent study found that the number one problem for software development teams is capacity, and meeting the tough deadlines and backlogs for delivering projects.
Whether you’re working on a team or on a solo project, it is in your best interest to elevate your game. Getting better as a software developer is about keeping your focus divided up between the forward-facing tech trends that drive the industry, the best practices of your fellow programmers around you, and honest self-analysis to understand your areas for improvement.
Here are three tips on how to get better at software development and areas of growth for software development.
#1 Agnostic Language Development
The ultimate goal for any software developer should be to achieve language agnosticism. For some time, it was considered fine to be proficient in simply one language, or to have that language be your area of expertise. This has also become the case for many development teams, as we’ve gotten used to the idea of saying, “We are a Java team.” That meant whatever engineering problem gets presented to the team, the answer will undoubtedly be written in Java.
But, what if the issue could be more accurately or efficiently solved using Ruby on Rails, or PHP? If programming is about working smarter, and not harder, then language agnosticism is your only hope. When you’re able to stop thinking in ultra-specific terms, it becomes easier to get creative and use your natural intuition to guide you. That’s a big part of what the most advanced software developers do: they learn enough theory to forget about the rules.
That being said, it’s not exactly reasonable to expect developers to gain overnight mastery of the 700 programming languages used today. This is even more true for young engineers, many of whom may be in their first jobs and trying to make a name for themselves by plowing through assignments. So, in the same vein of working smarter, a good approach may be to choose an area of work that appeals to you, and focus on the languages most used there. For instance, if embedded systems are calling to you, try knocking out all the lower-level languages like C++ and its offshoots. If instead a data-driven application development career is appealing, you might split things between front and back-end languages. Once you’ve gotten those down, any engineering problem in that area will be open for you to think about from an agnostic standpoint.
#2 How to Improve as a Software Developer Through Collaboration
All too often, we think of software development as being a solitary experience. And, to some effect, it’s not without its truth. The coding aspect often consists of staring into our screens, tightening and revising strings, checking for errors, and eventually starting all over again. But in reality, this is only a part of our day. Studies have shown that programmers only spend 32% of their time building or maintaining code; the rest is spent within collaborative spaces. We meet for SCRUM or a daily stand-up, we sit down with clients and management; we even go out to lunch and attend coder meet-ups. Why? Because we’re able to motivate and inspire one another, even if it happens while arguing over tabs and spaces.
Collaboration is one of the top skills for developers. breeds a greater understanding of difficult or obtuse concepts. Nowhere is this more true than when working on open source projects. Sites like GitHub offer programmers everywhere the chance to work on cool and interesting projects with other developers from all around the world. That means as you’re contributing, you’re gaining access to different perspectives all on the same problem.You may be amazed to see one individual using a certain language or approach you wouldn’t ever conceive of using for a particular block. Or, perhaps, they’re using a new language that while you’re aware of, you still don’t have a firm grasp on its real-world applications. This experience helps to ground those abstract concepts, resulting in a valuable learning experience that doesn’t feel too formal or like a pop quiz.
Additionally, open source projects can be a huge boost for young developers just starting out. While you may not have the longest resume in employment, this kind of open source work experience can still be quite impressive. It also provides a kind of portfolio for your work. Whereas employers code is proprietary, hiring managers can just check out your GitHub and see what kind of great work you really do. And, let’s be honest, isn’t improving as a software developer kind of all about stepping up in employment?
#3 Why Reading Books Isn’t Retro for Developers
Let’s be frank: coding is complicated. Maybe not for the reasons that non-technical people think, but the concepts that float around this planet like satellites are many and were created by some of the most brilliant computer minds we’ve ever known. In addition, those concepts often intertwine and connect, meaning it may be impossible to understand one without the other. So, if we’re looking to truly elevate and become more masterful in our programming ways, we need to dedicate real and measurable time to being a student on the subject.
There are a number of hugely influential and impactful books written on the topic of software development. Some may wonder why these lessons can’t simply be distilled into Power Points, or why they can’t Google something or check out StackOverflow for answers.And in some ways, they can with these websites to improve coding skills. But there is sometimes a bit of a, let’s say “ego problem” when it comes to coders. Not knowing the answer to something is frustrating and they want to wipe that problem out immediately to get back on track with their quest for perfection. Reading a lengthy book is a more passive experience. There’s no jumping to a highlighted section, or searching within a document to find the exact information you need; instead, you relinquish control to the writer, allowing them to guide you through those high-level concepts and provide context for each one. The result is a more thorough and complete understanding of ideas related to development.
A couple of books on the subject of personal development are:
- Clean Code
- The Pragmatic Programmer
- The Mythical Man Month
Regardless of your professional goals or eventual career path, keep in mind that getting better isn’t about competition or measuring sticks. Too often we compare ourselves to others as a substitute for using a mirror. Instead, think of your efforts to elevate your game as being about self-love and self-care.