What are the top pieces of career advice for future software engineers?
Some of our favorite answers are below.
Gayle Laakmann McDowell is the founder/CEO of Read the full Mashable article here. and the author of Cracking the *interview books ( , , and ).
- Code. A lot. Schools are great at theory, but not so much at practical stuff. The best way to be a great coder is to just practice — a lot. It doesn’t matter so much what you code (open source, iPhone apps, etc.) as long as you’re coding and pushing yourself.
- Be language agnostic. Language is just a tool. It’s valuable to know a language deeply, but it’s also valuable to be learning new things. The best developers tend not to identify as a ____ developer.
- Prestige helps. Having a strong name on your resume helps open doors and show competence. If you can get a name like Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, Dropbox, etc., do it. (But don’t stay long. See the next tip.)
- Leave the big companies quickly. If you want to build your career at a big company, then by all means, stay and build your career there. But if that’s not what you want, leave quickly. One or two years post-college at a company like Google is great. 10 years? Not so much. You will continue to learn, but there are diminishing returns of sticking around. (Unless you want to be a big company person.)
- If you don’t want to be a developer forever, then move on quickly. There is a lot of value in getting really deep technical expertise. But it doesn’t matter that much whether you spent two years as a developer or seven years. Within a few years of college graduation, make a choice. Do you want to be an engineer for the next 10, 20, 30 years — or not? If you don’t, start trying to move on now. More time as an engineer won’t help you that much.
Dealing with others
- Integrity matters. If you try to cheat and cut corners, it’ll haunt you. Do the right thing in life. It’s not only the good thing to do, but it’s also the smart thing to do. People will trust and like you more. More doors will open — and those doors might just be the breakthrough moments in your career.
- Be helpful. When possible, help people who ask for help. The people who ask you for help right now will be much more likely to help you in the future. That “help” might be introducing you to their friends who can help you more directly. So even if you don’t see how that person will be helpful, you don’t know who their buddies are or will be.
- Make friends. You actually can’t really be successful by yourself. If you’re an entrepreneur, you need employees and business connections. If you’re an employee, you need a job. Either way, it’s friends who will be key to opening up these opportunities. It’s friends, distant and close ones, who form the important part of your network, not that one person you met at a meetup and never talked to again.
- Realize — no, internalize — that we’ve all got impostor syndrome. Even the most successful entrepreneurs and engineers (with very few exceptions) feel like they just “got lucky” and aren’t nearly as good as people think, and that one day soon they’re going to get “caught.” Truly internalizing just how widespread impostor syndrome is can help you realize that feeling like you’re a fraud doesn’t mean that you are.
- Start stuff. Show initiative. Good things come to those who don’t wait. Seek out new opportunities. Start stuff — a hackathon, a club, a project, a company, a new running group, whatever. You will learn so much from doing this and it will open doors.
- Take risks. Seize opportunities. When you notice that little flicker of opportunity, seize it. Run with it. See where it goes. Don’t walk away just because you don’t know exactly where it’s going to go.
- Bias toward “yes.” A great career hinges on the “breakthrough” moments. The problem is that you often can’t identify those in advance. You don’t know where that coffee meeting that you don’t see the point of is going to lead. You won’t know that, two months down the line, that person will end up introducing you to a guy who needs some advice and winds up as your business partner. Maintain a strong bias towards saying yes.