Advice On Beginning A Career As A Developer

Taking care of business
Young businessman contemplating the future. Yes, I have used this image before. Since I paid for it, I'll probably use it again too.
© rangizzz - Fotolia.com

Recently a young man who helped greatly with the Give Camp I ran back in 2011 reached out and asked if I had any advice for someone entering the field as a new developer.

After writing a fairly lengthy email, I figured other people might benefit from the advice as well and turned it into this blog post.

FYI: The young man is David Anderson and you should hire him if you need a hard-working, smart beginner.

These are my observations and opinions of course, so take them as such.

My Advice (For What It's Worth)

What kind of development do you enjoy? Web? Mobile? Games?

Which language stack do you prefer?

My observation is that you can group technologies into two groups (from a jobs perspective):

1) Ultra Cool/Cutting-edge

Used by start ups. Gets all the press. Relatively few jobs.

2) Boring/Mainstream

Used by established companies. Looked down upon by the cool kids. Lots and lots of jobs.

Good News!

Oddly enough the pay tends to be pretty darned good for both.

Examples of the cool kids tech would be (at the moment: changes rapidly) Node.js, MongoDB, Angular, iOS, Android.

Examples of the boring guy tech would be (and has been for a while) Java, C#/.Net, SQL (SQL Server, MySQL, Oracle), Angular, iOS, Android.

There is some cross over.

My advice would be to figure out which kind of tech you want to work with and what industry you would like to explore.

At that point do some research to see which companies in the industries you like are using the technology you like.

I don't know your financial situation, but at your age I think I'd take a chance on a start-up.

The vast majority will fail, so save, save, save!

That way if the company you work for fails, you can survive to find another.

You might get lucky with stock options. However, never take stock options as salary!

Most stock options will be worth exactly zero, but IF you are getting a decent salary AND options, you might come out in very good shape.

If you don't want to go the start-up route, I'd try consulting. The opportunity to work on a series of projects, often with newer(ish) technology, can gain you experience quickly.

Above All To Thine Own Self Be True

No matter what else you do, be mindful of the concept of personal brand. The old adage about "sell yourself" is more true today than ever. Not only must you sell yourself, you must market yourself.

Start a blog if you like to write. Contribute to open source. Join the user group community (hint, hint). Help people on Stack Overflow if you know the answer. Attend conferences. As soon as you feel confident, speak at conferences. Start by speaking at your user group(s).

At the end of the day BE VISIBLE.

Make sure that an employer who Googles your name finds links to work you've done and information you have contributed. Make damned sure they don't find anything negative (Woo-hoo! Spring break!).

Also, use side projects to learn new technologies. I've never needed a new blog engine, but I've written several to try out new languages or frameworks. I like the blog engine because I can measure what I create against known quantities like Wordpress.

If you combine that experimentation with a) blogging about what you're doing and b) possibly selling something (especially mobile apps), then you get a win-win. Possibly win-win-win.

People, People, People

Always remember that companies are made up of people. Some will screw you over. Some will help you. The trick is you won't always know which are which.

I have always tried to help those around me. My philosophy is that if I help someone today, they may help me (or someone else) tomorrow.

Good Luck!

I hope this helps.

Fun Friday: July 25, 2014

Hiking on Skidaway Island, Georgia
Hiking on Skidaway Island, Georgia.

Change of pace for this week's Fun Friday.

Today I'm talking about some of my favorite places in Georgia.

My nostalgia was kicked off by Explore Georgia on Twitter with their post about Georgia State Parks.

I've long been a fan of the State Park system in Georgia. I think it's really one of the best things about the state.

When our kids were younger we camped quite a bit. Here are my three favorite parks.

Important point: these parks are not presented in order of how much I like them. I love all three.

Skidaway Island

Not far from Savannah is Skidaway Island State Park.

I would describe the camp sites as darn near palatial in size.

There are several awesome trails that lead you through the marshes.

Trail through the marsh
Trail through the marsh.

I'm a sucker for live oaks and Spanish moss, and Skidaway has them in abundance.

On thing I didn't expect was the 20-foot tall Giant Ground Sloth that was found on the island. Spoiler it was dead. Back during the ice age it lived and died here. A replica of its skeleton is in the nature center. Very much worth seeing. Unfortunately I can't find my photos of it. Bummer.

The various trails will lead you to Civil War earthworks, a moonshine still, and lots of Cherokee Roses.

One of my favorite things to do was to watch the fiddler crabs.

If you aren't familiar, fiddlers are the ones with one big claw and one small claw.

The males stand in front of their holes in the mud and wave their one large claw in the air, presumably to attract a mate. Each male is convinced he has the biggest, baddest claw on the mudflat.

Reed Bingham

In the center of the state near not too far from the Florida line is Reed Bingham State Park.

Reed Bingham State Park
Reed Bingham State Park

This is a great place to experience the coastal plain and in winter to see thousands of vultures.

That isn't an exageration, either. This is a favored winter home for both black vultures and turkey vultures.

There is a large lake which is great for swimming if you like wrestling alligators.

Seriously, there are alligators, and I wouldn't recommend swimming. Boating, yes, swimming, no.

One thing you can see here are gopher tortoise burrows.

FD Roosevelt

FDR State Park near Pine Mountain is a great place to spend a few days.

Camping At FDR
Camping at FDR.

The campsites are quiet and spacious.

In addition to about 40 miles of trails, there are lots of fun activities and sights.

The Liberty Bell Swimming Pool is literally the shape of a bell and made from local stone.

The stone reminds me of fall foliage in color. So much so that at first I thought the pool was full of leaves!

President Franklin D. Roosevelt spent considerable time here. I imagine it was quite a relief from the ungodly pressures he faced during the Great Depression and WWII.

I can't imagine many places more peaceful.

Overlook At FDR
Overlook At FDR State Park

From the park you can see the rolling mountains fall away towards the coastal plain farther to the south.

From FDR you can visit Callaway Gardens, The Little Whitehouse (where FDR actually stayed), and visit a number of really good restaurants.

As I said before, the State Park system in Georgia is one of the best things in the state.

I also recommend joining Friends Of Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites.

For a modest fee you get access to the parks and historic sites for a year and help keep them running.

Fun Friday: July 18, 2014

jeffa On Vacation
This is why I haven't written. Vacation by the river in North Carolina.

You Never Call, You Never Write

So, I missed last Friday's Fun Friday post. Technically I missed this week as well since it is now Sunday, and I'm pretending it's still Friday. I'm also not really doing a full "Fun Friday" post, just a bit of a status update because I know how you worry.

My apologies, but my family and I spent a week in the mountains of North Carolina.

The mountains around Sylva and Cullowhee hold a special place in my heart since it is where I grew up.

This was the first time we've spent more than a weekend there in nearly a decade.

It was quite nice to visit family including my neice and her daughter who were visiting from Dubai.

New Project Alert

I've been using Docpad for a few months now, and for the most part I love it.

Short summary: Docpad lets you write in Markdown and generate a static version of your blog or site that you can easily deploy. All processing happens at "compile" time, so users are just served up static HTML/CSS/JavaScript files. Super speedy for the user and highly scalable.

Docpad is written in JavaScript and runs in Node.

The one and only complaint I have is that when I'm writing and letting docpad "re-compile" the site, it can be a bit slow.

That's not enough of a problem for me to decide to write a replacement, but writing a replacement would be fun. As in Fun Friday, no?

Quirkety Blog

I've used the name Quirkety in the past for blog related work. I don't plan to make a general usage app that is all things to all people.

Instead I'm going to write an engine that meets my own personal quirky needs. Hence "Quirkety".

My goals for this project are:

  • Easier to set up than Docpad
  • Faster "recompiles"
  • Written in C#
  • Use ASP MVC Razor engine for dynamic bits
  • Run from commandline
  • Gain experience with OWIN/Katana
  • Move to ASP vNext when it matures a bit

To be clear I have nothing against Docpad. I love it.

My goal is to simplify. Where Docpad is almost 100% flexible in what it can do, Quirkety will be spectacularly inflexible.

Docpad has an amazing plug-in ecosystem that allows you to chain together transforms from darn near any format to darn near any other format.

Quirkety will be more opinionated. It will allow you to write in Markdown files then render them through the MVC Razor view engine out to static files.

Not sure how long it will take to reach the stage of replacing Docpad for my personal usage since I'll have to coordinate it with other things going on in my life.

Wish me luck!