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Top 5 Mistakes That Will Set Back Your Career As A Developer

A quick list of Do-not-dos that every ambitious developer should bear in mind.
Adobe Stock / Andrey Popov
María Carolina Rojas
María Carolina Rojas

Software development is a well-paid profession, and it’s not unheard of for people to blaze forward so quickly in their careers that they are ready to retire by their early 30s. While you may not be aiming for that blistering level of speed, I’m going to guess you wouldn’t want your career to move at a snail’s pace either, much less for it to get stuck.

Since blogs with proactive career tips are already abundant, I thought I’d write one instead about those things you should not do.

With no further ado then, here are 5 classic mistakes a software developer can make which are certain to slow down her career!

#1 Changing jobs too early

The software industry is one of the most rapidly-evolving in the world, and people who work in it are often advised that they must never stop learning. This is good advice and I do not intend to contradict it here, but it’s not uncommon for people to assume that “learning new things” is alphabet soup for “finding a new job”.

If your current position is causing you to stagnate, and your company doesn’t offer you the means to change that, then by all means look for a new position. Otherwise, there is nothing wrong with staying with the same company for 10 years or more. You can grow, learn, and improve yourself from within the team, and assuming the organization is big enough, you’ll almost certainly reach executive positions earlier than if you just bounce from one job to another every 6 months.

#2 Picking the wrong fight

If you’re the sort of developer who wants to create products of her own, then a surefire way to go nowhere is to put yourself in competition with the field’s bigger players from the outset. Say that you want to create an application to video-call your friends and colleagues. Maybe you can think of a feature that Zoom and Google Meet do not boast, and that’s good, but you are still setting yourself up against competitors with a market share and a level of manpower which are several orders of magnitude above yours. Whatever feature you may come up with, they’ll just replicate it and integrate it into their product within the week, and you’ll have wasted months or even years on an uncompetitive product.

For entrepreneurs and independent creators, market research is among the most essential parts of career-building. If you have an idea for a product, find out what sort of a competition you’ll be going up against, and if the fish in the pond are too big, move on. The giants of this industry tend to cluster around products that are either so basic that everyone needs them, or so advanced that nobody else has the resources to create them. Find room for yourself somewhere inbetween those two extremes, and don’t be afraid to use tools created by others to develop your own idea.

#3 Taking the salary bait

This blog has already delved into the differences between working for a startup and working for a big tech firm, so I’ll keep this one brief. Suffice to say, that if you want to see quick progress in your career, then you should at the very least consider a spell or two working for a startup. Many devs don’t do that for the understandable reason that bigger firms pay much, much better salaries. But with a startup you will pick up skills and experience which are simply not available when under the wing of a consolidated company. And if the team in your startup grows, you’ll be primed for a management position from very early on.

#4 Too much time in the library

I’m using “library” as a euphemism for academia here, and this too is a topic that one of our own students has treated in this blog. I do not intend to detract from the value of a university course in a tech-related discipline – it’s one of the most traditional and established ways into the industry, after all. At the same time, what’s really important to understand is that a degree is not an end in itself, and much of the theoretical work that is done there may find scant applications in the world of work (or worse still, may be conceptually obsolete).

If your priority is your career, then start looking for opportunities while you are studying at university, not after. Internships, for example, are a great place to start. Spending five years in academia when you could have found a job from there after eighteen months is one of the most spectacularly inefficient ways to build a career as a developer.

#5 Doing what makes you unhappy

There are many different types of jobs that a developer can do. Some of them are drudge work, or may not align with your moral values. It’s not uncommon for developers (particularly younger developers) to take this sort of work purely for the money or to build up a CV.

While this may be acceptable as a short-term strategy, you need to have a clear vision of a.) what it is that you like doing, and b.) how your present work is going to take you there. This means understanding what role would fit you best, researching the possibilities that the industry offers you, setting yourself goals, and drawing up an action plan that will lead to a happy, satisfying working life.

The ‘drudge cave’ is a dangerous place to be in. The longer you stay there, the more you will accrue stress and frustration, and the more vulnerable you will become to burnout (which, aside from its terrible toll on your health, will also set you back massively in your career…).

Even if you are making a little less money, focus on finding work that keeps you interested and fulfilled. The passion you’ll put into your work will compensate in the long run for whatever you may be missing out in a less spiritually rewarding position, and it will keep you happy. If that isn’t the whole point of cultivating a career, then I don’t know what is.

María Carolina Rojas is Career Assistant at WBS CODING SCHOOL, where she assists students and graduates as they enter the tech industry.

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