Congratulations! If you’re reading this, you have not only managed to complete a coding bootcamp program, but have also now been hired as a software engineer or related position. As exciting as that is, beginning your first job in any career can always be daunting. Sure, you’ve probably built some of your own projects from scratch, but how are you supposed to suddenly hop into the middle of an already-functioning codebase? Here are a few tips I wish I had known when starting my first job as a software engineer.
Imposter syndrome is real -- and normal
You’re probably already familiar with the term, but just in case; imposter syndrome can be summarized as that nagging feeling that you have no idea what you’re doing, and you’re afraid of being found out as a fraud. In addition, a commonly-pervasive thought that accompanies imposter syndrome is that you’re the only one that feels this way amongst your colleagues.
Coming from a bootcamp program, I believe, can compound these feelings. When I first started as a software engineer, I felt like I had not gone the ‘correct’ route to reaching my career, as if I had snuck in the back door and was just waiting for someone to figure out that I didn’t actually belong. But I’m not alone in feeling that way! Imposter syndrome is a well-studied phenomenon and, according to this TechRepublic article, over 50% of software engineers polled reported having Imposter Syndrome at some point in their careers.
One thing that I have found that helps is seeking avenues for consistent feedback on performance. For example, see if you can set up bi-weekly meetings with your manager to discuss your progress. Even if you’re not being showered in accolades and praise, receiving constructive criticism (and creating small, concrete goals that you can work towards!) shows that you’re dedicated to learning and improving, which are both signs of a valuable employee.
Find Colleagues You Can Trust
Finding people around you that have gone through similar experiences can help to normalize your own feelings. If you’ve been hired from a bootcamp, there’s a good chance that some of your co-workers might have also come from a similar coding program. Find out who has and might be willing to talk with you; from my experience, bootcamp graduates are often more than happy to help out others from bootcamps, because they already know how difficult the transition can be. If you really are the only bootcamp graduate, you could try contacting the program from which you graduated to see if there are any fellow alumni in the area.
However, just because someone might have completed a more traditional degree program does not mean that they won’t be willing to help. As bootcamp programs have become more prevalent, people have begun to accept people more for their merit and work ethic than their history.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions
If your company is aware of your experience, then they should be aware that you will have a lot to learn. Therefore, you shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions, and it’s better to do it early than to wait and let others assume you already understand. Your imposter syndrome might try to tell you that if you ask too many questions about at the beginning, you’ll be found out as a fraud. Don’t listen to it! Your first job in any career is going to be a learning experience; it does you and the company you work a disservice not to learn and develop yourself as much as possible.
In particular, there will likely be many parts of the code base or other technologies that are specific to your company, and you will likely not have any exposure to these prior to starting the job. On numerous occasions I found myself worried to ask about something I didn’t understand well because I thought it was something I should have already learned, only for it to be something unique to my company.
All that being said, it can still be difficult to not feel like a nuisance when you’re first starting. A way to mitigate that is to be conscientious of your coworkers’ time. Take plenty of notes when having a coworker explain something new to you so that you can avoid having to ask again, or can at least come back with more specific and shorter questions next time. In addition, when it comes to writing code, it can be more helpful to approach a colleague with your problem along with two or three possible solutions you have considered. Even if none of your solutions are ultimately the best one, it shows others that you take the time to consider your options and aren’t expecting them to solve everything for you.
Learn What Makes Your Company (and its Codebase) Unique
As I mentioned up above, there is likely going to be a lot of things that are specific to your company and how they have chosen to organize their products, and it only benefits you to become familiar with those features early. First, take time to view as many parts of your website or app from the user’s perspective. It may sound obvious, but take the time to start from your home page and interact with the site or app as if you were someone completely unfamiliar with the product. If you know what it’s like to use the product, you’ll be more effective at coming up with solutions that benefit your users (and will show the people you work with that you take the work seriously!)
Secondly, find time to poke around from the opposite side of things. When I first started my job, I liked to spend a little bit of time every day finding a random page on the site and then tried to find the corresponding code in our application, and even tracing back many of the resources that provided the information for that page. This made it that much easier to hop right in when I finally received my first ticket!
Being able to finally start working in the career you’ve been working towards is an exciting opportunity, but it can also be equally intimidating. Remember to take time to congratulate yourself on your accomplishments up to this point, you deserve it! As long as you understand that many people feel overwhelmed at first, find people around you that you can trust, ask as many questions as you can, and are proactive at learning your company’s product, your first job (and any thereafter) will be a success!