As a junior developer, starting a career in the tech industry can be both exciting and overwhelming. On the one hand, you are passionate about learning and developing your skills as a programmer, and you have the potential to make significant contributions to future projects. On the other hand, you may face a wide range of challenges that can make it difficult to find your footing and succeed in your role.
To provide insight and better understanding, we will explore some of the most common challenges faced by our very own junior developers, as well as strategies team leads use to help overcome them. Whether you are just starting out in your career or you have been in the industry for a few years, this article may prove valuable and help navigate you through the early stages of your journey as a developer. From dealing with imposter syndrome to learning new programming languages and working in collaborative environments, we will cover a range of topics that are relevant to junior developers in all areas of the tech industry.
Knowing When to Ask for Help
Upon entering the world of business, specifically in the IT industry, novice employees need time to adapt to their work environment and company dynamics. Junior developers are no different. To help make the introduction period easier, it is common practice for team leads to assign mentors. These mentors are usually senior/medior developers who are charged with guiding and developing juniors’ skills.
The first few months are crucial when it comes to nurturing this relationship between a mentor and a trainee. Rules and boundaries are set, progress is tracked, and feedback is given according to which realistic goals are set. Most importantly, junior developers are expected to conduct their own research when performing tasks. But, at the same time, they are encouraged to seek help from seniors when necessary.
Sometimes, finding the balance between being independent and asking for assistance can be challenging. Based on our experience, juniors can have a hard time determining the time limit for independent research before asking for help. In some cases, junior developers fear their questions may sound foolish.
To help establish this balance, team leads are vital. A team lead monitors junior developers’ progress and determines the point when they can become independent. If they see apparent signs of struggle, they can step in and resolve them.
It is important to mention that once a junior developer has achieved independence, it does not exclude them from seeking assistance in the future. Everybody, from team leads to interns, needs a helping hand from time to time. At that point, juniors are expected to have a working knowledge of the basics, but even then, team leads can make exceptions and provide assistance. However, if the behavior persists, it can be interpreted as a lack of focus or interest on the junior developer’s part.
Good software development companies want their programmers to abide by some well-defined and standard style of coding called coding standards. They usually make their own coding standards and guidelines depending on what suits their company best, along with the types of software they develop. It is very important for the developers to maintain the coding standards; otherwise, the code will be rejected during code review.
Nevertheless, junior developers can struggle with following the company’s coding standards and writing quality code overall, especially when submitting their first pull requests. Oftentimes, they can write more code lines than necessary, forgetting the concept of clean code as well as the basic rule of coding — don’t repeat yourself.
On the other hand, from a team lead’s point of view, junior developers are not expected to write quality code which is defined in the company’s code style. Through mentorship, juniors have the opportunity to learn the principles and design patterns necessary for writing good code. In addition, the team lead can go over vital coding standards as well as practices that are not recommended as new projects arise.
Imposter syndrome is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their own accomplishments and feels unworthy, despite evidence of their competence. It is a common experience among junior (and senior) developers who are just starting their careers in the industry. Junior developers may feel like they don’t belong, or that they don’t have the necessary skills to succeed, despite being hired for their roles. This can lead to anxiety, self-doubt, and a lack of confidence in their abilities.
It is also important to stress the importance of good guidance and mentors, especially when junior developers get assigned their first tasks. If the senior mentor does not have an adequate approach, it may reinforce the imposter syndrome signs. Examples include assuming that juniors already know things, expecting them to face many challenges on their own, as well as setting high standards without proper support and advice.
To help tackle and prevent such emotions and issues, open communication is key. Our team leads put emphasis on 1-on-1 conversations where junior developers have the freedom to express their thoughts and discuss issues regarding work. Together they go over the list of potential challenges and determine if the problem stems from a lack of experience or time management.
For junior developers, debugging can be a daunting challenge. Inexperienced programmers may struggle to understand complex codebases, and they may not have the skills or knowledge. Thus, they may end up in a vicious cycle with endless lines of code, confusing error messages, and the pressure to identify and fix bugs. However, it’s important for juniors to develop effective debugging skills to become successful software developers.
One such example comes from our junior developer. Upon receiving the task of fetching and displaying data from a 3rd party API, a problem arose. The code was written and functioning well, but the feature broke. Trying to identify the issue, the developer spent hours rewriting the code, to no avail. Only after generating mock data for testing and determining the code was not an issue, did realization hit. The problem was the API itself. Due to the free subscription, it generated a new API key after every new request. Upon notifying the team and client, a solution was found.
But in order to avoid such dilemmas, projects usually have a project manager overseeing all tasks. If there is no one, developers need to possess the ability to spot major bugs that block or hinder the app. However, if the developer keeps focusing on minor ones, a team lead can step in and point out the priorities, especially when they aren’t already defined.
Similarly, juniors may tend to avoid complex tasks, like debugging, mostly due to inexperience. To overcome it, they’ll need time to analyze. But if there is no feedback, superiors can intervene. Otherwise, juniors can spend countless hours, even days, debugging without voicing their concerns. Moreover, mentors can implement the rubber duck debugging method to help struggling developers. Just talking and explaining the problem with the code is 60% of the solution.
Junior Developer Challenges: Tips from the Business Coach
If you are a junior developer struggling with any of the challenges mentioned above, bear in mind, you are not alone. To help you deal with the hurdles of programming, our business coach wrote a few tips.
- When you take responsibility for what you do, you can improve and learn what is needed to successfully achieve a particular goal at work.
- Focus on the effort invested and lessons learned in the process (growth mindset), even when the outcome is not as expected, in order to keep morale high and improve self-esteem.
- Remind yourself that dealing with challenges is a necessary part of learning that moves you forward as opposed to doing easy, comfortable tasks which do not enable you to expand your skills.
- Ensure timely and adequate feedback/support is in place in order to identify issues early, save time and energy and do better planning for the upcoming steps.
- Reinforce the examples of positive experiences while you are working on the identified issues/challenges to also consolidate what has been going well (progress tracking). This provides a more balanced and meaningful view of the experiences involved in the learning process.
- Stay connected and engaged with the team leader, team, and colleagues that support your growth.
- Invite humor and add fun where appropriate for the tough situation to get easier.
- Remind yourself: “The expert in anything was once a beginner.” (Helen Hayes)