04-Mar-2014 by Allison McMillan

Read Time: Approx. 4 minutes

New Questions as a Professional Programmer

There are a few steps, I think, in my early days of learning to code progression, where I feel as if leaps were taken. The first is when you start coding. There’s a lot to learn just about the basics at the beginning. The second is when you start tutorials… going though each of the steps, really processing everything and beginning to figure out what to do when you encounter errors and issues. The third happens when you move from tutorials to building your own thing. You’re no longer following directions. You are in charge of scoping out features, thinking about architecture, and solving errors and issues that others may not have encountered exactly. The last (so far) is when you start coding professionally (and getting paid for it). This involves learning new workflows and processes, integrating into a culture, and learning new languages and technologies to name just a few. Through each of these stages, I’ve developed a new set of questions and new things to worry/stress about. I think these questions also change depending on what phase you’re in. Over the last few weeks of coding professionally on a small development team, here are some interesting things I’m thinking worrying about on a regular basis.

1. Learning on the job is tough. The specific project I am working on is mostly written in Ember. It’s been a fascinating language to learn (especially since I previously didn’t have much of a background in javascript at all) and I’m definitely learning much faster since I’m building components and working in the language while learning it. But it is tough to learn amidst deadlines and due dates. How much do you need to know? Am I building things correctly in this new language?

2. How much time should I spend on something? This is a tough question. I want to learn and make sure I’m implementing the best solution but at the same time, how long do I take on something before I either move on, ask for help, or just put the best solution I know in place?

3. What is the normal “getting stuck” level? I feel like I get stuck at least once a day. Whether it’s something confusing on git, or a test that is failing, or some functionality I’m putting in place, every day I spent at least an hour trying to figure out how to move forward. Is this normal? Is it not? How much time do I spend “stuck” before I ping someone?

4. This is related to the question above but… when am I learning and when am I spinning my wheels? There’s nothing I hate more than pinging someone for help only to learn that the solution is super small and silly. I know this happens to everyone, but it makes me feel like I SHOULD have seen the solution and not bothered someone else. But then, there are times where I am reading EVERYTHING out there and googling and researching and breaking a problem into pieces and I wonder, am I spending too much time on this?

5. How much of the process should you follow? There are lots of process “things” in the programming world. Whether it’s test first, write code in the red, green, refactor order, spend time refactoring in general, pair, do code reviews, etc. I love all of these things, but I find myself weighing what process I should follow and how strict I should be with the process, knowing that there are deadlines and things that need to get done. I know it makes sense to do something the long way and then refactor, especially since as a newer developer I’ll learn more that way, but is it always worth taking that time? Sometimes worth it? How long should I spend on writing code vs. refactoring it?

This first position is really fantastic. I feel lucky because in most initial programming positions, developers find themselves doing one type of job or spending months on the ramp up. I was thrown into the deep end a bit from the getgo (which I almost prefer) and I get to do different things every day… rails, ruby, database stuff, javascript, etc. It’s great… wonderful and challenging but also stressful. I look back at the last four weeks and think of the crazy amount of information I have learned. It’s so different than self-teaching and working on projects that I created or things from scratch. And yet, it raises a whole new set of questions in my mind. I imagine that other developers feel the same way… especially in their first position.

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