Being a Junior Developer is more than slinging a ton of code all day; it comes with it’s high points as well as struggles to further develop skills and career advancements in the industry.

One of our favourite Devmonth events this past April was the 'Dear Junior Developer Me' panel, featuring special guests: Pearl Chen, Trudy MacNabb, Jon Salis, Jasna Todorovic and moderator + Lighthouse Labs alumna, Maggie Moss. It was a fun evening jam-packed with insightful information for the audience of aspiring & Junior Developers.


We’ve compiled our favorite pieces of advice for you to enjoy!

Q: What is the most important thing to look for or value in your first year as a Developer?

Jasna: Work with other teams and find people that you can learn from. Do not study in isolation- being part of a team is invaluable.

Trudy: Find a mentor and a safe environment where somebody can guide you along the way.

Jon: There are two things to be mindful of. First, the ideal mentorship environment is where you “get” to fail. Second, let go of ego and stay away from becoming defensive about the work that you have done.

Q: What separates a Junior, Intermediate & Senior Developer? Do these titles really matter, or still have a place in 2016?

Jon: The difference between Intermediate and Senior are hard to define and are to do with more management. The higher up you become in an organization, the less time you spend managing code. It is a natural and at the same time unnatural progression of a Developer.

Jasna: Qualify the difference. Junior Developers should not be doing a project on their own, Intermediates should, and Seniors should do it faster. Seniors are generally a jack of all trades; when someone is a senior dev, the label on it’s own is not super descriptive. Are the labels useful? Yes!

Pearl: The line between Intermediate and Senior Developers is quite blurry. As a senior, you have enough experience and got rid of your ego (as you now know you don’t know everything).

“Fake it till you make it.” It doesn’t work. Ask for help and figure it out.

Q: What is the worst advice you ever received?

Jasna: “Fake it till you make it.” It doesn’t work. Ask for help and figure it out.

Jon: “Try the clams at the buffet.”

Pearl: “Keep your head down and people will notice your work.” As a woman and as a dev, communication skills are key. Know your value and hold your head up high to make sure your accomplishments are recognized.

Q: What is one thing you wish you learned earlier in your programming career?

Jon: To seek mentorship. Also, get yourself out there in terms of new technologies. Earlier on in my career, I did not diversify my experience in terms of exposure to tech.

Jasna: I wish I worked on a team in an agency or dev shop. The reason being is I’m more of a product person; when you are working on one product you are focusing on few technologies. I wish I had branched out.

Trudy: To be less intimidated to take chances and be a bit more bold in terms of trusting myself. Plus, taking bigger risks in the type of roles I’ve taken.

Pearl: I wish I worked with a bigger team and moved on sooner. I should have left my first position after one and a half years, but stayed for three. I would have progressed a lot sooner if I knew when to quit. Also, focus on strengths rather than weaknesses. I spent too much time fixing my weaknesses and felt like I had to be a specialist.

I should have left my first position after one and a half years, but stayed for three. I would have progressed a lot sooner if I knew when to quit.

Q: How do you continue learning?

Pearl: Don’t underestimate the value of hands on experience, there are tons of information out there for free. Find a side project- do it, fail at it and try again. I also learn best through teaching others. I take in the information, digest it and teach it to someone else.

Jasna: Talk to other devs! Go to Meetups and find out what others are excited about.

Trudy: My secret addiction is learning! I’m constantly learning through online videos and tutorials.

Jon: People have a hard time finding time to learn new things. At Functional Imperative, we try to follow the 80/20 rule. When given a new project, 80% of it is created based on something we already know, and 20% of something new that we want to learn more. This rule can be broken down into smaller projects as well. Find things you want to know and force yourself to use it.

By the end of the evening, guests were motivated by the panelists’ discussion and experience on how to best grow as a junior developer. We hope that the knowledge shared at the Dear Junior Developer Me panel can assist in building a framework for the early stages of all careers, especially in the tech industry.

About the panelists:

Pearl Chen

Pearl has over 10 years experience in building interactive experiences. She currently works independently as a Dev/Designer/Educator and previously was at Google, TELUS, Ladies Learning Code, and CFC Media Lab. Pearl also runs electronics and web development workshops under the umbrella of her own company, Karma Laboratory.
Twitter: @PearlChen

Trudy MacNabb

Trudy is a passionate back-end developer. She is an active member of the development community. When she is not busy learning she enjoys teaching others as a lead mentor at Hacker You and instructor with Ladies Learning Code. Trudy has also set out to share her passion for Ruby on Rails as one of the organizers of Rails Girls Toronto.
Twitter: @Dear_Trudence

Jon Salis

Jon is a software developer with a decade of experience, with a focused on Ruby and Rails. After working as the lead dev for a natural gas company, Jon joined the Functional Imperative team. When he's not contributing to open source projects or giving guest lectures at local colleges, you can find Jon having a beer after a competitive hockey game.
Twitter: @Func_I

Jasna Todorovic

Jasna is a full-stack dev for Muse: the Brain Sensing Headband. She loves JavaScript, hates software magic, and believes in human-centered development. She runs most of Muse's web-related endeavours. Outside work, she dances swing & blues, paints, and has a soft spot for fine single-malt Scotch.
Twitter: @JasnaTod