Tuesday, March 29, 2016

My two cents

We have all been there: new to a trade or starting to learn a skill with no prior knowledge. So what does it take to get from complete newbie to master of your craft?

I don't know much about being the master of any craft, but each day I separate myself from the version of me that had no idea how to write code. And 9 months in, the path to becoming a professional developer is clearer than ever. This post is going to explain some of the things I have learned along the way, with some examples of moves I have made that ended up being in my favor. While my interests and skill set have lead me into the world of computer programming, I believe that most of these methods can be applied to any new skill or trade. 

The first, and most important, thing I did was start DOING. I started out by scouring the web for hours on end, trying to figure out the best way to become a software developer. With the massive amount of information available to us today, I found that it was easy to simply stay on this step forever. I could search up and down and never find two strategies that were exactly the same. This is where I got my first break, as my brother-in-law is a (successful) developer, so I asked him where start. I probably should have done this first, but anyway.

Once I got started, I quickly found that this overwhelming amount of information exists for almost any topic imaginable, and especially when it comes to programming. It was important for me to develop a rough outline of what I wanted to accomplish. By starting out with a goal, I could then fill in the means to that end with some clarity. Again, having someone in my life that had what I wanted, and had been through what I was about to go through was priceless.

So, now I have this course of action to follow, or at least a very rough outline. The next thing that I benefited from was figuring out how I would spend my time doing this. I have a family, work full time, participate in some social groups regularly, and so on. Time management. I have never been very organized, but since I was already about to start this radical new journey, I might as well throw in some basic life skills as well. Learning how to budget my time has completely changed my life. I essentially treat the hours in a day like money in the bank. It will forever be a work in progress, but working at it consistently has served me well. 

Most of the time, learning a completely new skill involves much more than focusing on one thing. Learning to code is much more than simply learning a programming language. You have to know your way around a computer, familiarize yourself with the command line (that screen you see on a hacker's computer in the movies), learn more effective ways to search the web for answers, etc, etc. Also, learning to think like a computer scientist is crucial. What I am getting at is that there are all sorts of ancillary skills needed in order to do this. It's not good enough to just know a little bit, because these skills are the foundation for every project you will ever build, so to have a chance to excel as a developer, you have to pay attention to the little things -to be able to see the forest for the trees. (Side note: Ever since I learned what that idiom means, I have wanted to use it properly in a sentence. I believe I just have!) 

Recently, I started getting involved in the programming community. If you know me well, you probably know why it took me so long to do this. But this is important. Having all the talent in the world means zilch if no one knows about it. I found local meet-ups, discussions, and events where like minded people get together to talk about their craft. I know this sort of thing happens in every industry, and its a great thing to be a part of. I went to a career fair the other day. I went around to every both asking employers what specialties they were looking for. So now, I know exactly what I need to be working on. My rough outline has now become a well-revised blueprint. 

I like to save the best for last, so here it is. The most important advice I could give anyone would be to build relationships. Start early, and work at it often. Every single milestone I have reached was because of a relationship I had with another human being. Whether it was my brother-in-law, or a friend-who-know-a-guy. I would not be where I am today without the help of others.

 A good friend shared an idea with me recently that I want to share now. 

"We create possibilities for ourselves, but it is other's who create opportunities for us.

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