8 things I didn’t realise about development before I started working in it

I’ve been learning Javascript in evening classes and weekends for the last two years. It wasn’t always easy to fit in the practice alongside my old job, running a 5-strong team on Ampp3d.

But anyway I made a jquery widget where my head bounced around a webpage and a customised game about my colleague Conrad’s insistence on margin alignment. It wasn’t a threat to Grand Theft Auto, but anyway.

Javascript was fun, I was hooked. It was like when I learned photoshop but 10 times better. It moved. I could do so much more than paste speech bubbles on people’s faces, or write 300 words in the middle of a page. I’ve been code-curious since starting work as a tech journalist back in 2009, but it was four years before I actually got up the motivation to start learning it.

If you are interested in my code journey it is this:


Do Codeacademy courses on HTML, CSS, Javascript and Jquery- Buy a book on Javascript and work through all the exercises- Make a few small terrible games- Do 2 x 10 week evening courses on Javascript at City University- Start learning PHP. Stop learning PHP because it is a nightmare- Get a job as a UX designer and developer, via the Silicon Milk Roundabout recruitment fair- Start to learn Ruby and D3.js- Get job changed to Web Developer- Continue to learn Ruby and D3.js- After that I also want to learn Python, Angular.js and Node.js, C++ and iOS programming

Throughout this process I also read several books on the bigger concepts behind programming and computers, endless Quora articles about which language is the best language and various inspirational articles about people who thought they couldn’t learn to code and then they did learn to code.

I also went to Meetup groups some very good, some less good.


Now that I’m there, here are 8 things that surprised me about technology and the tech industry

1. Developers talk about communicating with each other ALL THE TIME

Functional, gruff technical types – just getting on with it? No developers talk to each other all the time. And they talk about communicating with each other all the time too. It’s almost tender.

No newsroom has ever witnessed men talking so much to each other about communication problems.

2. You do not need a maths degree.

You barely need a Key Stage 3. Sure it depends what kind of programming you’re doing, but if you remember a bit of geometry, understand that this “>” means “greater than”, then for a lot of coding you can figure the rest out on the fly.

You do need to understand basic logic – yes - but the kind of logic which you use when deciding whether to go to the shops after work or not.

if (food in house) {go home} else { go to shop} 

The rest of learning code is just remembering how you have to write things.

When I learn code I’m channelling the part of me that loved learning foreign languages. Like human languages. Like French. Syntax and then just learning the way you have to write things.

Any sub-editors reading? The other half of code is all about the anal attention to detail that makes a great sub-editor: “That lineation is wrong – there’s a missing semi-colon” etc etc.

3. The worst thing to be is “not agile”

You can make mistakes in your code, you can fall behind on your sprint goals. But when it’s bad, people will screw their mouth up, and say “um well thing is, that’s not very agile.” I didn’t really know what agile was before. But by god, if you want to work on code projects or even really talk to coders in any professional capacity you should learn what agile is. Just read about it. You’ll get the gist.

4. Agile is really great so you should be agile anyway

Before joining tech world, I had the impression that agile was just a fancy techie way of saying you have meetings every so often. But it’s kind of a philosophy / life choice. Honestly, read about it.

5. There are lots of terrible mixed metaphors

Okay one bad thing about Agile is the language in it:For two weeks you are on sprint, but every morning you have a standup, where the scrum master passes a ball around. In the sprint you can be a pig or a chicken. In the sprint there are stories. During the sprint the pigs will move these stories from the backlog to acceptance, to done. And then usually done done.

It starts to sound normal after a few weeks.

6. There is so much work around planning and delivery that requires not one single line of code

I refer you to point 1, why communication is important. Also point 4 – you should work in this way. As a side note there are so many jobs in this area of tech I didn’t even know existed. Product owners, Tech Delivery, Product managers, scrum-masters. And projects live or die on how good those people are.

7. Really, there are few women

I’d been expecting it. I’d intentionally joined a company where I had not one but two female bosses.But yes I am still shocked by how few women there are. That’s why groups like Women Who Code and Women Who Hack for Non-Profits are brilliant and a vital supplement.

8. You have to keep learning all the time

“You go on holiday and your skills are out of date”, a CTO said at one talk I went to. It’s good if you can see that as an opportunity.

Learn more about your main languages, learn about changes to your languages, learn new languages.

This is why motivation and interest in self-improvement are actively recruited for in tech jobs. You could be a master of XYZ but they will still need you to learn ABC or a new framework for X and that’s much easier when you want to learn new stuff.

That’s another reason why self-taught people are welcome in the industry. Teaching yourself to code proves you have that motivation.

And finally…

A final thing that surprised me about the tech industry was how much more it is than just code knowledge. Yes that’s the core of it, and one of the most exciting bits. But so many skills are needed around it - management, communication, grasp of details, planning. And I just didn’t know that.

And the code bit you can learn. If you want to, and you put the work in. I got a job at a recruitment fair, but I’d actively recommend beginner-friendly meetup groups as a good way starting place to get a feel for the industry / skillsets / opportunities out there.

There are so many opportunities.


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