Achieving a big goal like transitioning into a new career can be extremely challenging and overwhelming.
The amount of information isn't the problem. We have access to more information than we ever have. The problem is knowing how to effectively execute on the information available to us.
The more I progress in my life and career, the more convinced I am that the path to success does not lie in setting massive goals, and then cranking every day to reach them.
The path lies in choosing your goals, then designing simple systems built with small habits that will facilitate achieving those goals.
But one crucial component is to not measure your success when you reach your goal, but measure your success each time you successfully execute on your system.
This means that you are in a constant state of success instead of being in a state of failure 99% of the time with brief spurts of success.
This not only is better psychologically but leads to a higher likelihood of you actually achieving your goals.
In this article we'll go over how to apply this philosophy to the goal of getting your first developer job. Although I should note that even if you are already working as a developer, these strategies will still apply to anyone looking to build a more fulfilling, robust career.
This note is important, so I'll reiterate. We are not looking for short-term wins here, we are looking to design a system and build a collection of habits that you will continue throughout the life of your career as a developer.
These habits will allow you to not only land your first job, but as you progress further and further, they will help you grow your network, influence, and skills. The byproduct of this is finding work you enjoy that pays well, and having abundant opportunities at your disposal.
Most of the ideas here have been adapted from Tiny Habits by BJ Fogg, Atomic Habits by James Clear, and my own personal experience getting my first dev job without any experience or education.
I'm currently reading Tiny Habits right now and I really like the focus on simplicity here, so we'll focus a lot on Fogg's technique for this article.
Let's get to it.
Overview of the Tiny Habits Method
Very briefly, let's go over the philosophy and methodology of Tiny Habits. At its core, the system follows the idea that the best way to make consistent, lasting change is to make that change tiny – embarrassingly so.
Fogg argues that motivation is a poor tool to rely on when making lasting change. It fools us into thinking we can make significant change, because significant change is possible for a short time when we feel motivated.
The problem is that motivation doesn't last. So when the motivation wanes, you don't stick to the large, ambitious goal you set for yourself. Then you feel like a failure, so your motivation tanks more, and the cycle repeats itself for most of the big changes you want to make.
Instead, you should create the smallest possible action you can in working towards your goals.
So instead of trying to create a habit of doing 50 pushups per day, set a habit to do two.
Again, the idea rests on the habits being very very small. The point is that it should take almost no effort at all to do it. Then you instill the habit, and gradually increase the amount that you do.
As a general rule, the habit should take less than 30 seconds to complete.
Another crucial concept focuses on celebrating your wins immediately. You want to make the connection in your brains between successfully completing the habit and positive emotions.
It's cheesy, but I do a little mini dance every time I complete mine, a little something like this:
The other key component of creating Tiny Habits is the recipe. Tiny Habit recipes follow this formula:
After I [anchor action], I will [tiny habit].
This anchor action is crucial. This is a task that you already complete and that is already a solid part of your schedule that you anchor your new habit to.
It should be in the same location and have the same context as your new tiny habit.
So here's an example of a bad anchor and tiny habit:
After I take the dog out, I will floss one tooth.
Because the location and context are so different, this is unlikely to stick. Here's a better option:
After I brush my teeth, I will floss one tooth.
Again, I highly recommend you check out Fogg's book, Tiny Habits, for a much more thorough exploration of this method.
For now, let's look at how we can apply this method to launching a successful dev career.
Tasks to Focus On
We want to focus on three main components for building out our dev career:
- Develop your skills
- Establish an online presence
- Start networking
Let's briefly go over these, and then we'll cover how to translate them into the Tiny Habit methodology.
Develop Your Skills
This one is pretty self-explanatory. You need to grow your development skills if you want to be a developer. The key here is to make sure you don't get stuck in tutorial hell forever.
Tutorial hell is appealing because following tutorials and courses does not take nearly as much mental or creative energy as building something from scratch does.
So you fool yourself into thinking you are learning when all you are really doing is copying what someone else did.
But building that out, having it work smoothly, and then seeing the finished product makes your brain feel good, so the habit solidifies and the cycle continues.
Here you want to start building the tiny habit of writing your own code and building your own things so you can replace that feedback loop with a more useful one.
Establish an Online Presence
Building an online presence encompasses a few different things. The most important are social media and your portfolio site. When I say social media I mean Twitter and LinkedIn.
Say what you want about them – and I definitely have my issues – but they are invaluable when trying to start and grow a career.
As with most things, the key to growing on these platforms is to be consistent. So this is a perfect fit for the Tiny Habits framework, too.
Engagement on these platforms is huge, especially at the beginning when your account is still small, so you really want to make sure you are showing up every day.
Finally we have networking. Although there is some networking included in our online presence component because of interacting with other people, the networking we want to focus on here is more direct.
When you are first starting out, it can be very helpful to start reaching out to companies you admire directly, telling them so, and introducing yourself.
This is a bit of a secret weapon because very few people do it, but it's very powerful.
Let's look at how we can create some Tiny Habits around these three main goals. Remember, the goal is to start embedding the habit in your brain. Then you can increase the amount of each of these things over time.
How to Develop Tiny Habits
You'll need to come up with the anchor actions on your own. Anchor actions are specific to each person, because they consist of things you already do as part of your routine.
So I'll give you recommended Tiny Habits, along with my anchors, but ultimately you'll need to come up with your own.
For skill development, I recommend something very simple:
After I take my first sip of coffee, I will write one line of code in my own project.
Remember, the anchor action should be specific to you. I already make coffee before I start working in the morning, so the first sip is my anchor.
Don't discount this because of the simplicity and ease of the task. That's the point. Make it ridiculously easy to start and the snowball will grow as you gradually increase the task.
Now, for online presence:
After I check my email, I will write one thoughtful reply on Twitter.
Again, I'm using what is an existing part of my routine and then anchoring my habit to that.
Finally, for networking:
After I check Twitter, I will write down one person I want to reach out to.
Same concept here.
These are just examples, and I recommend you start with just these three for a few days while you get used to how this works. Then you can gradually start to expand the habits and start to add more for the particular tasks you have.
Please don't overcomplicate this or try to add anything more. The goal is to make it so small and so easy that it feels stupid and pointless to not do it. These will begin to compound as you begin to build that habit and execute on it every day.
And don't forget the celebration! That part is crucial for forming the pathways in your brain that will make executing on these actions sustainable and fun.
So much of why people struggle to make progress on their goals is because they go too big too fast or struggle with information overload.
This simple system solves both of those problems, but we naturally resist it because it seems too small to make a difference.
In reality, when we go overboard for a day or two, then burn out for a week or two, we are taking one step forward and two steps back. No matter how big the steps are, we aren't making progress.
But when we implement the Tiny Habits method, we might be taking miniature little baby steps, but we're taking them every day and always forward.
Finally, if you would like a step-by-step walkthrough on how to land that first web developer job, I have a free 10-day email course at LaunchYourDevCareer.com. It covers a lot of what we talked about here plus a lot more in order to give you a concrete path to that first job.