Katherine McClintic

Katherine McClintic

Software Engineer

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On Being a New Software Engineer

9/18/2015

Insights from my first week

Am I Ready For This?

I think the biggest thing that prevented my getting a job sooner was all of the daunting stories I'd heard about people's first days and weeks as a software engineer, particularly about those who were changing careers from something unrelated to tech. I'd hear, "Yeah I shipped code the first day" and think it meant something like, "Yeah I rewrote their whole API the first day/week/month." While every experience is different and mine should not necessarily be held as THE experience, there are a few important things to understand when people say this.

  1. Unless you're the only engineer working for a new startup, you are not the sole one responsible for the code
  2. Actually even if you are the only engineer, quality workplaces won't expect an inexperienced dev to rewrite the whole API right away
  3. Many places will have you ship something small but important regardless of your experience so you can get a hang of their workflow

While I didn't think of it while I was interviewing, it's a good idea to ask what your first week or so might look like so you can get a sense of how much the company cares about their engineers/developers/designers. Sometimes asking about the onboarding process as a whole gets you an answer that's not specific to engineers or to your role.

Nerves

It's perfectly understandable and human to be nervous leading up to and/or on your first day of work. Even on your first few days of work. Change is hard, even if it's something you want to do. I can't tell you to just relax, because I'm not sure that suggestion has ever helped anyone. What I would suggest is starting or continuing good self-care habits like sleeping enough and eating breakfast, as well as controlling the little things that you can control. Have a favorite piece of jewelry with sentimental value that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside? Wear it. Want to wear that purple shirt on your first day because purple's your favorite color? Rock it. Don't usually buy that thing because it's a splurge? Buy it. Obviously do all this within reason, but you'll get a boost from the things you enjoy and the ability to choose them.

Just want someone to listen to you or tell you everything's going to be okay? My email and twitter info are in the header.

What Can I Contribute?

If you're joining a larger company or a company that's heavy on senior devs or people with years of tech job experience, you might be wondering how you could possibly contribute. While I don't know what you know, I'd bet you have something to offer. Even if your technical knowledge is weak, everybody brings some kind of knowledge with them. Different perspectives and experiences are crucial to enriching any community.

On my first day I helped a new senior dev with installation issues because I'd actually read the somewhat unclear directions and muddled my way through. In this first week I've also showed other devs useful laptop tricks and explained how to read a particular error message to know exactly what was wrong. Oh yeah, I've also written code that's been integrated into the live app. It was small but necessary, and was a good introduction to typical workflow.

Your Workflow

Your office or team will have its own workflow, but what about your workflow? This is especially important to think about in your first week if you've never had a tech job before.

  • How long can you sit in front of a computer before you need to get up and take a walk?
  • Might a standing desk (if available) work for you?
  • Who is going to be your go-to for technical questions?
  • Who should be your go-to for questions about the company or building?
  • Is the office coffee enough to get you through the day or will you want to find a nearby coffeeshop to get your fix?
  • Speaking of coffee, how much coffee is too much coffee for you?

This list isn't exhaustive, but try and vary your workflow up a bit in the early days too see what works best. Of course it's changeable, but you should start thinking about what's going to help you both as a person and an employee, with all points of overlap.

The Future

I'm sure I'll have more to say as time goes on. I've heard that the first step of breaking into tech is the hardest, and I can believe it. Regardless of the future, from this point it feels like there's nowhere to go but up. Even if there are obstacles in the future, I feel confident now that I have the skills and mindset to tackle them head on.

Clay Matthews Sack