Young fish in the big sea

Prenston Haddock

Being young has its perks: Everything is new and wonderful; the world is full of opportunities; and stress, hopefully, hasn’t grayed all of your hair. However, being young does have its downsides. You get asked for your ID everywhere; you have no experience at anything other than being clueless; and if you’re a developer, everything is foreign.

The problem with being a young or new developer isn’t that you’re not smart or good at what you do, but rather, you have no experience doing it in the real world. Everything is just as foreign to you as the day you started developing in school or as a hobby. It’s like going to a new country where you don’t know the language. Sure, you know how to read, eat and go to the bathroom, but when you don’t know the native language, those easy tasks can be a bit tricky. But, you’re in luck, young developer! Every developer has been in your same situation and faced the same problems —that is, every developer except the first one. (That poor, poor developer.) There are a couple of ways to combat being young, inexperienced and unfamiliar with new work environments.

Ask for help

There’s nothing wrong with asking for help, especially from people more experienced than you. When I started my last job, I was tossed into the .Net environment not knowing anything about it. But, I cozied up to the developer I worked with and asked so many questions I thought she was going to explode. Every question I asked solved a problem or pointed me in the right direction to the solution. If you’re not sure about a process, it’s OK to ask to be shown the way or to be walked through a process until you’re comfortable doing it on your own. Sometimes even asking a question out loud helps you solve the problem before they can respond. I’ve ran into that scenario more times than I can count.

Search the web

You don’t have to just rely on co-workers for solutions. The Internet is an amazing place full of trolls and, thankfully, people who can answer your question. However, you need to be specific about the question you’re asking. In most cases, it’s best to provide code samples of the problem you’re having. Websites like StackOverflow are an invaluable resource to have on your side. The community is great, constantly growing, extremely active and very knowledgeable. StackOverflow isn’t just for asking questions, though. You can also ...

Answer questions

Answering questions is a great way to get some experience under your belt. It gives you the opportunity to see into another developer’s situation and lend a hand. Start answering questions you feel comfortable with, in languages you already know. You would be surprised how much you can learn from coming up with solutions to problems you’ve never encountered before, without the stress of your own code being on the fritz. It is also nice to give back to the community that has saved your ass on many occasions, too. Over time, you’ll have a plethora of code snippets, explanations and better knowledge of crazy scenarios you may never run into — but on the off chance you do, you’ll be prepared.

Use sandboxes

Sandboxes are great. You can create just about anything you want and run it in a controlled environment without worrying about breaking the new website you spent hours, or days, getting online. Sites like CodePen or JSFiddle are amazing. You can import third-party libraries and use preprocessors like SASS, LESS or CoffeeScript, to name a few. You can save your snippets for later use or to come back to them and improve them. CodePen lets you share your creations, and if you’re good enough, you can be picked by staff and displayed loud and proud on the home page for the world to see. These sandboxes are also a great way to get help with issues you’re having or help solve another developer’s buggy code.

Hopefully some of the tips above can help any new developer feel more comfortable in a new environment. With legacy code and old frameworks in place, you can’t go wrong with asking for help from fellow employees or other developers who have experience with those systems. When it comes to answering questions, start small and work your way up to the big stuff. Never stop creating and never stop learning. Eventually someone new will get hired, and you’ll be the one they’re looking to for answers. Who knows? Maybe you’ll learn something from them, too.