School Is Not Enough

Jun 24, 2013

Recently, I had to do one of the more difficult things I’ve done in a while. I had to participate in laying someone off. I mean it wasn’t terrible, and the programmer knew that he was working under a trial period. But I still felt terrible, and that got me thinking about what went wrong.

This is my letter to any new programmer trying to crack into software development.

School is not enough

I get the feeling that many new programmers think that they can enroll in school, go to class, do the assignments, and that’s it. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, if that’s the path you’ve chosen, the guy building meaningless web apps just to see if he can has already beaten you. He has learned more than you, and has more experience than you. You have got to love programming! There is no other way. You have to love building things. If you have zero side projects, you don’t love it enough and you will fail.

You need to find out if this is for you quick. Because trust me, if you don’t like building things and working through the issues that come up from building things and making them work when they don’t seem to want to, you are going to hate working. Jump in now. Spend some free time seeing what’s possible. Here are a few ideas to get you going:

1) Build something that has already been built. Sounds stupid, doesn’t it? You will learn more building something from the ground up, than you did studying how fast an algorithm is.

Make it simple. Start with a static site generator. Can you build something that just takes text and builds a working HTML site? Make sure you deploy it.

2) Buy some server space and build a site on it. But don’t just grab some off the shelf blogging platform. Build your own blogging platform. Get used to fixing problems to make your life easier.

3) Look at something you have not done yet. Then do it. When I was starting out, I would look at what I haven’t done yet, but thought was cool. Then I programmed it. You will be amazed at how fast you progress with knowledge and experience.

One last thing. No one will know about any of this if you don’t tell or show them. It’s scary as hell, but do it anyway.

Talk to Other Developers

If you just sit in your house and fiddle around, you won’t get anywhere. You need to talk to someone with more experience than you to help you learn. Asking questions is a big plus. That’s how you will level up. Don’t know what questions to ask, or who to ask? That’s okay, find a meetup, go to it and listen. You might even want to introduce yourself. Tell them who you are, what you’re working on, and ask them what they are working on. Pro tip: software developers love to talk about what they are working on or interested in.

Once you’ve been doing this for a while, you will start to see patterns of growth and experience. Not to mention, make some pretty cool friends. There are some of us that hang out in Toledo. If you’re local enough, come hang out