10 Tips for Software Engineers From a Nontraditional Background

Written by Sophia on January 30, 2020.

These are 10 tips I've applied throughout my learning journey as a software engineer from a non-traditional background:

  1. Build projects, any projects. Get out of tutorial hell, especially in the early stages of your learning. Once you've built a couple of mini projects, apply your knowledge to solve a problem that's interesting to you.
  2. Document your projects well. Recruiters and hiring managers may look at your projects. Write clear documentation to help them quickly understand what you’ve built, why you built it, and how you built it. Here’s a guide on writing a thorough readme.
  3. Pair program. Practice collaborating with other engineers, explaining your thought process out loud, and speaking technically. This will help prepare you for interviews and real world work.
  4. Build a community. Go to local meetups and conferences to meet people in the industry who you can learn from and also learn with.
  5. Teach others. You learn better by teaching others. Teaching a concept, even if you're not an expert, is a great way to identify gaps in your own knowledge, test your understanding, and deepen your understanding of the topic.
  6. Stand out. There is a sea of junior developers. Show your how your unique perspective and experiences will bring value to the team.
  7. Determine the right type of role for you. Do you need structure? Can you create structure out of chaos? Is mentorship a must-have requirement for you? Can you dive right into the weeds without structured support? These are some questions to reflect on to help determine if you should look for an internship, apprenticeship, or a full-time job.
  8. Understand your "why". Why do you want to be a software engineer? Your answer to this question will be your North Star. Your North Star is what’s going to guide you and keep you motivated even when you face rough patches.
  9. Hustle! Being a self-taught developer can be hard. You need to go the extra mile to network, keep learning, and ace all the interviews.
  10. Take care of your well-being. Schedule time each week to do at least one activity that brings you joy. Don't burn out.

Big thank you to all the folks who met with me for coffee and shared their learnings and advice with me. I hope these tips help you on your programming journey. Remember to find your North Star and keep building!

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