A Letter To My Past Self
What I Learned Becoming a Senior Developer
What advice would you give to your younger self, if you had the chance? It´s a question many of us have probably thought about, especially when it comes to our work and career choices. In the tech industry, it´s an even more interesting question given how quickly and radically things are changing every decade, every year, even every day...
To understand a bit more about the challenges that junior developers are facing - the mistakes made, the lessons learned - we spoke to one of Jobsity´s senior developers, Sebastian Fernandez Rodriguez, about his 10-year career in the industry.
Thanks for speaking with us today, Sebastian. Could you first tell us a little about yourself and the work you do with Jobsity?
Sure. I’m the React tech lead for my client innRoad. I’ve been working with them for four years - I started as a junior react developer, just working on some components and other assignments. Now I lead all the UI projects and React related projects. Over these four years, a lot of things have happened, and I’ve gone from being a simple developer to the tech lead.
And before joining Jobsity, how did you start in software development?
I started in school. My first contact with development work was taking some classes in school, but I don’t have a degree or complete any other formal studies on the subject. I am mostly self-taught. And then nine or ten years ago, as an 18-year old, I began my first job at a Colombian company working on the digitization of documents. I was a real beginner, doing some basic fixes and working on some small applications - the typical tasks given to a junior developer.
I was there for around two and half years and then I moved to a start-up in Colombia, which failed after eight months or so. After that, I started my own company with a couple of friends. It was a digital agency and we worked on WordPress, React... making some mobile applications for clients. I was also doing some freelance work, some short 6-month contracts. And then four years ago I started working at Jobsity.
And what would you say were the main challenges in the journey from those first experiments in school to becoming a professional developer?
In the beginning, you think that the main challenge you’ll face is related to code. But it isn’t. Sure, you might face some difficult technical challenges, but you’ll eventually solve them. There is nothing that you cannot do from a technical perspective.
The main challenge in my career is dealing with people. Sometimes you get a great team and everything works as expected, but that’s the ideal scenario. Sometimes you have to deal with lots of people that have different points of view and levels of knowledge. As a developer, you just have to figure how to work with what you get. But if you want to become a leader it’s a bigger deal, as if there’s a problem you need to know what’s causing it. You need to know when it’s your problem - maybe you’re not being patient enough or understanding other people’s viewpoints - and when it’s something that you need to address with others. The most difficult thing is knowing how to work with people and how to get the best out of them.
So now after almost ten years working in development, what advice would you give your younger self if you could speak to him as he starts on this career path?
I can summarise it in one sentence, though I think past Sebastian would laugh and not take it too seriously. I would say: “You are not as good as you think.” Sometimes we are blinded by our ego, especially when we’re young, and we think that the world is ours. But it isn’t. And the second bit of advice would be to listen to those that have more experience. Everyone makes mistakes, even senior developers, but often those with more experience have some important to say, and that’s when you need to pay attention.
So what are some of the common mistakes that a junior developer may make when starting?
Every junior developer will have areas of weakness, but they can vary across different people. But one common error could be to rely only on the knowledge you have at any given time. Some people just take the knowledge they gained from university or from a course they took, and don’t try to learn how technology is changing. That’s one of the main problems I see in junior developers. You need to adapt your knowledge to the new knowledge that’s emerging.
When someone is just beginning as a developer, do you think they should try and specialize in one area or try and keep as broad a skill set as possible?
That was one of the mistakes my past self made. I wanted to learn everything about everything, but now I don’t recommend that. You should specialize in something. Because people that know a bit of everything don’t know much about anything. You need to specialize in something, and then learn a bit about the areas connected to it so that you’re able to work with the rest of the team. So if you’re specialized in front-end development, try to know a bit about the back end, because then when you need to talk with the back end team you’ll understand what they are saying and be able to communicate ideas.
Is there a particular programming language that you recommend new developers learn?
What would you say are the most important non-technical skills that a developer should have?
Communication skills are the most important, for sure. Because you might be lacking in some other soft skills, but if you are a good communicator you can talk with your team about your weaknesses or other people’s weaknesses and how to solve any issues. If you have good communication skills you will work well within a team.
As a team leader now, what tips would you give people starting so that they can progress quickly in their career?
I think the key is to do a bit more than is expected of you. You can be great at your work when assigned a project, but maybe you’re not offering something extra. I don’t mean working extra hours, that’s not the issue. But if you can do the job required and also find a way to help the team perform better or faster, that will help you climb the hierarchy or achieve your dream job sooner.
Is there any particular advice you’d give to young developers in Latin America?
I don’t think the advice is specific to Latin America. It’s just what I said earlier - wherever you do your job, you should try and think about how you can do extra to help the whole team or company to get better. It’s not just about you. If everyone can complete their tasks more easily because of you, they are going to appreciate and support you. They won’t want to let you go, so you’ll become a fundamental part of the team.
I wanted to end with something a bit creative…we spoke about what you would say to your past self, but what do you think your future self might say to you today?
Hmmm, that’s a tough one. Even though it’s improved from when I was younger, I still think I might tell myself to control my ego. It’s a slow learning process. ‘Future me’ might also tell me to get started on my projects - I love my job but also always dreamed of developing games, just for the art and personal enjoyment. So he would probably say ‘get on with it!’.
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