Boost Your Career as a Software Engineer
This is your year!
Well–it can be.
I want it to be, you want it to be…
Everyone wants it to be, except for Bobby.
He's the guy that bullied you in high school and shoved you into lockers.
Bobby doesn't want to see you succeed.
Bobby wants you to end up flipping burgers, like he is.
Bobby want to see you fall flat on your face and fail.
Bobby does not want to see you driving your new car around town.
Bobby does not want to hear that you just got a raise or landed your dream job.
Nope, Bobby–wait, why are we talking so much about Bobby?
Enough about Bobby, let's talk about you.
Let's talk about how you are going to use this list of quick tips to make sure you can afford the new iPhone 5000 this year or the Droid Super Fandango.
In no particular order, here are 24 tips to help you have a break-through year, this year.
Good luck. (Bobby sends his regards.)
Onto the tips
Tip #1: Learn how to learn
As a software engineer, you are constantly bombarded with new information. There is always a new framework, programming language or technology which you must learn. They key to keeping up? Learn how to learn. Getting good at self-education will benefit you in all areas of your life. It's perhaps the most impacting thing you can do to improve your life in general, so get on it.
(Small plug here: I have a course on 10 Steps to Learn Anything Quickly, and I also dedicated a whole section to this idea in my book, Soft Skills: The Software Developer's Life Manual.)
Tip #2: Commit to a reading schedule
I don't care if you read one book a week or one book a month, but commit to some kind of reading schedule so that you'll be sure that you are increasing your knowledge. It's amazing how many books you can read in a year if you put a focus on committing to a schedule. By dedicating an hour-a-day to reading and listening to audio books whenever I run or drive somewhere, I read over 50 books in a single year.
Tip #3: Improve your health
What? Why this one, Johnny-boy? Well, I'll tell you why–besides being able to crack Bobby a nice one on the jaw–improving your health is going to have a positive impact on your career. By getting in shape, you'll not only have more energy, but you'll feel better about yourself. More confidence and more energy are a great combination for achieving success. Need a little inspiration and help? I have a podcast about fitness and health dedicated to programmers and software developers, Get Up and CODE.
Tip #4: Practice interviewing
I know it feels a bit awkward–especially if you do it in front of the mirror, like I do while stroking my mustache and saying “yes, yes… tell me more.”–but, doing mock interviews, or even real ones, is a great way to practice a skill that will come in handy whenever you apply for a new job. You can either practice interviewing by doing mock interviews with yourself–and your mustache–or a friend, or you can actually apply for real jobs and just go through the interview process to get more experience.
(Speaking of interviews, here is a book that might help: Cracking the Coding Interview: 150 Programming Questions and Solutions)
Tip #5: Create a blog
Sometimes I sound like a broken record when I constantly say, “hey, create a blog”, “you, yes you software engineer, you need a blog”, “Bobby works at McDonalds and HE has a blog, why don't you?” But, I only say it so much, because it is so valuable to your career. Creating a blog is probably the most beneficial thing I did for my career. I got tired of people asking me how to do it, so I put together a completely FREE, 3-week email course to show you how to do it, step-by-step.
Tip #6: Find a mentor
Luke Skywalker had Yoda, Rocky had that one dude who made him run up those stairs while he rode a bike, even Bobby had ment–well, ok, maybe Bobby didn't, he just had a pack of thugs that also beat you up and called you names, but if Bobby wanted to be a successful software engineer, he'd probably need a mentor too.
Tip #7: Launch a side project
A side project can do wonders for your career. Not only will you learn new things, but you'll also produce something that you can show off and interview and rub right in Bobby's face. (It's starting to sound like you might be the bully and not him… hmm.) Anyway, starting a side project can have some pretty big benefits, but you only get them if you actually finish it.
Tip #8: Wake up an hour earlier each morning
And dedicate that time to improving your career. Perhaps you use the time to work on your side-project. Perhaps you use the time to write a post for your new blog. Perhaps you use the time to read, network, or do pretty much anything on your list. The important principle behind this concept is to pay yourself first. Your pop told you to do it with money when you got your first paycheck, but I'm telling you to do it with your time. Give yourself the first, and best, hours of your day.
(Ok, I'm going to recommend this book even though I haven't read it yet, because it is near the top of my “to read” list and I have heard so many good things about it. Besides, by the time you read this post, there is a good chance I will have read the book: The Miracle Morning: The Not-So-Obvious Secret Guaranteed to Transform Your Life)
Tip #9: Start tracking your time
One of the best things I ever did to improve my productivity was to start tracking my time. I hated doing it. I swore I never would do it, but after giving it a try, I realized that it wasn't so bad and it also really helped me to become more productive by figuring out where I was wasting my time and how I could optimize it better. If you don't think you have enough time and you want to get more time, read this blog post I wrote about tracking your time.
Tip #10: Watch less (or no) TV
What! But, what will happen next week on Lost? (You can tell it's been a while since I've watched any TV.)
TV is a big time sink, and if you'll allow me to put it bluntly, a HUGE WASTE OF TIME.
There I said it, I've expressed my opinion on TV. No, I'm not weird. I used to watch TV quite a bit myself, but–quite coincidentally–the last episode of Lost convinced me that I was just wasting my time–what a disappointment. Since then, I've quit watching TV entirely and I hardly ever even watch movies.
The result of all this? Lots and lots of extra time to get a whole bunch of stuff done and enjoy my life.
Yes, it hurts at first, but you'll get used to it over time and you won't even miss it–I promise.
And while, I'll understand if you don't want to forgo TV completely, at least do yourself a favor and reduce it this year.
Yes, yes, I know I wrote a book on Soft Skills, so of course I am going to mention it here like 50 times, but seriously, you should work on them–and not just because I want you to buy my book. Strokes mustache But yes, yes, I doooo want you to buy my book.
Anyway, you'll see a huge boost in your career if you take some time to learn some soft skills or personal development. So, dedicate some time this year to improving your soft skills–even if you don't buy my book.
Tip #12: Join the community
There are a lot of software engineers just like you who are out there having a good time, chatting it up, sharing their experiences, learning from each other and eating cold pizza at code camps and user groups; why aren't you one of them?
Bobby is part of the community–no, wait, he's doing involuntary community service–but, same thing, close enough.
Get out there and find local user groups that you can join. You'll meet people, have a good time and start to grow your network. Which is something you absolutely need to do before you need a new job. You can't always do it alone. (Yes, the picture from that link is really me…)
Tip #13: Give a talk
At work, at a user group, at the dinner table–it doesn't matter where, just do it.
Public speaking can really help you to take your career to the next level. It's a bit terrifying at first, but so is sky diving or bungee jumping–wait, that's not instilling much confidence is it? I mean, it's easy; go out there and do it; nothing to worry about at all.
In all seriousness though, even if this one scares you a little bit, you should do it.
Start small and give a brown-bag talk at lunch or volunteer to speak at a local user group. I promise, you won't regret it.
Oh, and do I cover this is my book? Of course I do.
Tip #14: Be a mentor
Let me give you a little secret. No, it's not about Bobby and how he threw me in the dumpster and put a big rock on top of it so I couldn't get out for two whole days.
The secret is: I've learned more by teaching than I have by any other method.
That's right, by helping others and teaching what you know, you will gain a deeper understanding of that knowledge and you'll really start to see your career grow as you are planting seeds for the future.
(Covered in Soft Skills as well, I'm not even going to put the link this time.)
Tip #15: Plan your year
I divide my year into 4 quarters. Each quarter I have a specific focus or big goal to achieve. For example, last year my first quarter was dedicated to creating my How to Market Yourself as a Software Developer course. My second quarter was dedicated to writing my book, Soft Skills: The Software Developer's life manual.
By planning out your year this way, it will help you to make concrete goals and to keep your focus… well, focused. Very important for productivity.
Tip #16: Learn a new technology
Each year you should strive to learn at least one new technology, programming language or framework. Over time you'll acquire a large set of valuable skills and the paradigm shift you'll experience from working outside of your comfort zone will help you to see the world of software development in a whole new light.
Try to expand outside of your realm of comfort. Don't get too religious about technology.
(For a good book on learning new languages, try: Seven Languages in Seven Weeks: A Pragmatic Guide to Learning Programming Languages)
Tip #17: Get to know your IDE better
Or if you don't use an IDE, your text-editor and programming environment. I'm not a huge fan of code katas, but here is one place I'd recommend them.
Learning the ins and outs of your IDE and the shortcuts to work faster can greatly improve your efficiency.
I use ReSharper when I code in Visual Studio and I became a lot more effective when I finally took the time to learn all the keyboard shortcuts for the tool.
Tip #18: Have your resume professionally written
Yes, I'm serious. No, it's not cheating. Do it for the same reason the CEO of your company hires you to write code instead of doing it himself: because he's not good at it. And neither are you, at least not at writing resumes. Unless you are a professional resume writer or have some other talent that makes you better than a professional, don't do this one yourself.
Your resume is a very important part of marketing yourself as a software developer, so make sure it is as high quality as possible.
Yes, it's an investment. It might cost you a few hundred dollars, but it is a worthwhile investment in your career. Just about every person who has followed this advice and had their resume professionally written, has seen a large salary increase as a result.
Tip #19: Make connections now, not later
I hate to use the word “networking” because it has such negative connotations. When I think of networking, I think of a dapper old chap twirling his cane and handing me his business card while stroking his mustache. (I'm on some kind of an early 1900s mustache kick for some reason today, so bear with me.)
Anyway, networking itself isn't bad–if the timing is right.
The problem is most people get the timing wrong. They network when they need something.
Nothing is worse than feeling like someone wants to meet you because they want something from you, so don't do that. Instead, start networking now, before you need a new job, and build up an extensive network that will help make sure you never have to hunt for a job again.
It doesn't matter if it's Getting Things Done, the Pomodoro technique or a hybrid of several techniques, like the one I use, but have some kind of framework in place for increasing your productivity.
When I started implementing the Pomodoro technique, my productivity skyrocketed and I felt a lot less guilty every day. Eventually, I developed my own technique that has made me even more productive.
They key is that you need some kind of framework to help you get and stay productive.
Tip #21: Develop a routine
You can't achieve sustained success and progress without some kind of a routine.
The better your routine is, the more consistent you'll be and consistency over time yields big results.
I have a daily and weekly routine that keeps me focused on my goals and heading in the right direction. You should too.
Does Bobby have a routine? No, Bobby doesn't. That is why Bobby is always late for work and has chronic insomnia. But, we don't want to be like Bobby.
Tip #22: Upgrade your equipment
Not only will upgrading your equipment make you more productive, but it will also make you feel better and make you more motivated and it might even make you slightly cooler–in a geeky sort of way.
Never before have high quality, large monitors been so cheap. I'm sitting here typing this post staring into two 38″, 4k displays that can be had for under $300 each.
SSDs are also a heck of a deal right now. At the time of this post, I picked up a 256 Samsung 850 Pro for under $200. It's pretty much the fastest consumer SSD out right now and it's UNDER $200. Insane!
Tip #23: Create a personal brand
If you haven't already created your own personal brand, now is a better time than ever to do it. If you're not sure what one is, I cover it in my How to Market Yourself as a Software Developer course and in my Soft Skills book extensively, but here is a quick summary:
A personal brand is basically how you represent yourself to the world. My brand is Simple Programmer, but a personal brand can just be your name. What counts is how you manage that brand. What kind of message do you convey? How do you portray yourself to the public?
Don't think these things matter? They do. Building a solid personal brand can help you get a better job, earn a solid raise, pull in more clients and even sell your products or services.
If you've never invested in developing your personal brand, there is no better time to start than now.
Tip #24: Specialize
If you really want to be sought after and be able to charge the big bucks for what you do, you have got to have some kind of specialty.
There is nothing wrong with being a polymath or even a polymer (so long as you are non-toxic and BPA free), but picking some kind of specialty will greatly help your career. If you don't pick a specialty it could be the biggest mistake you make in your software development career.
Of course you do.
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I hope you found this post useful; if you did please share it out, post it on viral news sites–hint, hint–, or just laugh maniacally as you keep all the best secrets to yourself and don't share them with anybody… just like Bobby would do.
(Oh and small disclaimer. I get paid for any affiliate links on this page. I'm sure you already knew that but the FCC makes me say it.)