If I can go back 5 years and meet my younger self, I'd give him one piece of advice.
Your professional growth can happen outside of work.
Looking back, I really believe that this mindset would've helped my younger self a lot. Let me tell you why.
The tech industry grows so fast!
5 years ago, my mindset was very linear. My strategy was just to gain enough experience at one company then, bring that experience to the next one. Outside work, it was all fun. I didn't spend any time studying or researching what's up in the tech space. Then, reality kicked me hard.
The first few roles I had were very similar in terms of the core tech stack used. I was introduced to some new frameworks/platforms along the way. At the time, I thought that being loyal to a single tech stack was enough.
After a few years, I moved to a start-up company. The tech stacks they were using were from everywhere! That's when I realized that most of my technical knowledge was no longer up to date. Azure was everywhere. It was the first time I heard about AngularJS but, Angular 2 was already booming. It felt like I was left behind.
I'm not discounting the experiences I gained from my first few roles. My knowledge of their respective tech domains improved a lot. Plus, I was also able to sharpen my soft skills during those times.
The point is, my personal choices have led me to play catch-up with the rapid changes in the tech industry. That wasn't fun to do. With all honesty, that's on me.
We all have agendas...
The thing is, companies have agendas. People do, too. The moment a person gets employed, the company's and that person's agendas are intersecting. Their technical interests are aligned at this time.
The only thing permanent is change. Sooner or later, there's going to be a time when these two agendas start moving away from each other for whatever reason. This can happen more frequently at the start of one's career since this is usually the "experimental" stage.
5 years ago, this parting of ways happened to me very quickly (and abruptly!). Unfortunately, because of my mindset at the time, I didn't have any vision of what's next. That's when I realized that I should've ensured that I had relevant and up-to-date skills way before these things happened.
Find a way to your goals.
I shouldn't have been content with only the knowledge that's directly in front of me. I should've explored my other interests and should've checked out the trends outside the bubble I'm in. If I found something interesting and I felt that it was worth studying, I should've gone for it.
Here's an example. Let's assume I'm currently a web developer in a company focusing on web apps. Then one day, I suddenly became curious about mobile development. This curiosity grew further because I also discovered that mobile development is becoming the next big thing in the industry. What should I do?
I believe there are two options:
- I can talk to the management and ask if this learning path can be supported. I can check if there are plans to build a mobile development team and bank on that.
- I can take on the learning path as a personal improvement exercise. This can serve as a stepping stone for me to move to a mobile development role in or out of my current company.
There are a few other scenarios here but, let's not focus on them. Let's focus on the common factor among all of these scenarios — putting in the effort is a must.
My growth. My responsibility.
Even if there's a bunch of training and learning opportunities provided by a company, it is still my choice whether to grab them or not. This is more true if I had to find these training and learning opportunities outside of the company. Whatever the case is, it should be a conscious effort on my part.
How should I study?
So, what kind of training and learning opportunities am I talking about? These can be conferences, online/in-person training, or certifications. One big concern on this, especially if they're totally not company-sponsored, is the cost. I personally believe that paying for these things is a form of investment in myself.
Of course, it is never a good idea to force oneself to pay for something if they're not comfortable doing so. So, I don't force it if it's not amenable to my current financial situation. During these times, I check free alternatives and focus more on self-practice.
When do I study?
Another big challenge is finding a way to fit all these learning activities into my schedule without affecting the quality of my work. It's not easy but, nobody said it'll be.
Here are a few approaches to handle this that I'd recommend to my younger self:
Fit it during work hours. If the learning opportunities are company-sponsored then, this is doable. If not, try squeezing in some readings or watching some tutorials before the day ends. It would also be nice if there's a way to practice during this time. Of course, this is subject to company culture and policies. Check first before doing this.
Pour in some extra time outside of work. Now, this is more challenging than finding time at work since everyone has their own circumstances. The benefit of doing it this way is that there'll be more freedom and flexibility when it comes to studying. Note though, that it's very important to find enough time to rest as well as to attend to personal responsibilities. Make sure to always protect your personal life!
Be flexible. Not everything is black and white. If studying during working hours is not possible for a certain day, then probably do it outside work for that day. Of course, if you have to attend to some personal matters, then you can try to squeeze in studying during working hours — again, subject to the same conditions mentioned above.
Whatever approach is preferred, the ability to deliver quality work should not be affected in any way. Remember, the goal is to grow and not to get fired!
The key is finding the right balance to ensure obligations and aspirations do not conflict with each other.
And now, the end is near...
Thankfully, I'm already living by this mindset and I am always yearning for growth!
Honestly, I would've wanted to go back in time and physically tell my younger self all of these but that's not really possible, isn't it? Nevertheless, I hope this article can help some of the other younger developers out there.
Anyway, I hoped you enjoyed reading this article and learned something new from me. I'd be happy to hear your thoughts so be sure to comment down below.
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