by Daphna Regev

What I did this year to advance my career — and why you should do these things, too

Or: Breakpoint — a year in review

During the last year, and in light of my last job search, I started thinking a lot about where I am as a developer and where I want to be. I felt that I needed to become more professional, as well as decide where my career is headed. I wanted to be more proactive about my choices, and not (only) be swept along by random decisions.

Image credit https://pixabay.com/en/tree-tops-trees-branches-bare-trees-2991743/

So Now What?

Looking back, I’ve done quite a lot this year to advance my professional knowledge and my career. Some of these I decided I was going to do, and indeed I did. But a lot of them were opportunities that came my way, and the important thing for me was to learn to say yes!

A huge driving force behind my activities this year was a local community of amazing women in the Computer Science industry, named Baot. Finding a community gives you motivation, support, and connections. Making friends with so many talented developers led me in many unexpected directions.

One of the most memorable occasions for me was the end of year get-together. Right before I left, a friend asked if I’d heard about the technical blog writing workshop that was about to take place. I said I hadn’t, she said I should come. My automatic response was no thanks, sounded cool, wasn’t for me.

But then I got home, and I thought — why did I say no? It sounds intimidating, but why not try? So the next day I signed up. Not only was it fun, but I was shocked at the impact it made at work.

Here We Go

So what did I do this year, and why should you consider adding some of these activities to your schedule? In no particular order:

Image credit https://pixabay.com/en/literature-library-knowledge-3091212/

Read software development books

This is a great way to learn coding philosophies and practices even if you don’t have someone at work to give you an example. I read Clean Code by Robert Martin (Uncle Bob) at the recommendation of a friend from work, and fell in love! I felt like I had found the guidelines I’d been missing to answer the question “what should my code look like?” As well as the whole TDD philosophy which I find useful.

I’m currently reading Code Complete by Steve McConnell. I might be reading that for a few more years, for all its 960 pages! I also want to read Head First Design Patterns soon, to refresh and get a better grasp at popular design patterns. There are a ton of posts on “top X books in Y field” that can help get you started.

Listen to podcasts

This one is easiest to fit into your existing routine. If you have a commute to work that’s a great time to listen! For now, I’ve started with local podcasts but I’ll probably get to English ones soon. I’ve been listening to:

Podcasts can keep you updated on current trends. They introduce you to new concepts in software development or let you get a taste of a new domain you know nothing about.

Go to meetups

Meetups serve several purposes for me. At their base, they are a way of meeting people in your industry. At meetups, you hear about new and/or interesting topics related to your everyday work. But they are also a good way to get a peek at new fields you might be interested in. They let you try and get a feeling whether this is actually a direction you want to try out. I find meetups in meetup.com and local professional Facebook groups.

Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

And Now For The Heavy Lifting

These activities demanded more time, but they also had a larger impact on my career this year.

Write technical articles/blog posts

Remember the story about saying yes? Starting to write was hard. What could I share that would help people? The workshop opened my eyes to the fact that you can write about anything. There is always someone out there that doesn’t know what you know and will be glad to learn, even if you’re a beginner. It’s also a great way to get yourself to learn a topic in depth.

My posts haven’t reached millions but I know for certain they’ve been useful to people and that’s what matters. Now that I’m on the right path, I keep having new ideas for more posts! You need to take the first step.

Take an online course

After going to meetups and talking to friends, I decided I wanted to learn more about data science. I took the Coursera course Machine Learning by Andrew Ng. Since this is a lot of work when you’re juggling full-time work, family, etc, I felt it was a big help to do the course during a local Baot program I participated in called 30 Hours (the course took me much more but who’s counting?) where each participant worked on a different side project and we met online for updates. It really helped to keep me focused and motivated.

Alternatively, you could find a friend and take the course at the same time! Here’s a short talk I gave on the experience of fitting a course into your busy life. Hint: make good use of that commute time…

But why should you take the time to do a course? It can help you delve deeper into the domain you already work with and become more of an expert. This can of course help at work. Alternatively, you can take a course as a way of trying out a new field or technology to see if it’s interesting enough for you to continue exploring. In my case, it helped me affirm that I really was interested in getting into machine learning. This gave me the confidence to push for a move to a team that deals with data science at work.

Attend hackathons

I’ve been curious about hackathons for a while but they’ve seemed too intense, too difficult to fit into my schedule. This year I’ve finally attended one — and then another.

The second was a hackathon named DataHack, my friends and I joined the learning track and won first place in it! It was great fun. For me, it was an opportunity to experience the whole pipeline of data science in action. After learning the more theoretical part in my Coursera course, it gave me the motivation to continue learning this at home.

It can also be an opportunity to meet new friends and make connections. What better way is there to become friends than being stuck together in a room for 24 hours with no sleep?

Organize a meetup in your community

In my case, I felt like getting together with other software developers who are also mothers. I wanted to talk about balancing the different parts of our lives and how each of us chooses to do this. So I did! I’ve organized 2 meeting so far and I’ll probably organize more soon. My meetup had several results. I discovered a lot of people with the same interests as I have. I heard interesting perspectives different than my own. I realized that organizing a meetup is not that hard!

Share knowledge at work

Don’t keep your new experiences to yourself! Wrote a blog post? Share it! Your colleagues might learn something new, but more importantly, they could be inspired to write as well. Attended a hackathon? Tell people! Maybe they’ll want to join next time.

And most importantly, find something you’re passionate about or want to learn and give a talk about it at work. I started with a talk on unit testing and Python mocks for my group, and recently gave a talk on git to all the developers. Not only does this push me to develop my public speaking skills but it also means that now people come to me with questions on these topics. I get to think about more complicated problems that they encounter.

Photo by Jingwei Ke on Unsplash

Conclusion

At the end of this year, I’m in a new team at work. I am dipping my toes into data science and algorithms, in a position which is a much better fit to my aspirations and abilities. By stepping up and sharing my knowledge with my colleagues I feel more connected to my workplace, more helpful to my friends and best of all — more confident.

Some of these activities require a lot of time and commitment during a certain time frame. Others are sporadic and you can do them here and there when you have the time. It’s impossible to devote 100% of your free time to your professional life all the time, and you really shouldn’t! There are weeks where I do a lot and months where I do nothing. The important thing is to find what you can and want to do, to try new endeavors you didn’t think were possible, and make sure to say yes to opportunities!

What have you been doing lately to advance yourself? What ideas are you going to try? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

Don’t forget to clap if you got some new ideas, and take a look at my previous posts on git and pandas :)