Keeping up with the latest trends and technologies, dealing with imposter syndrome, and finding your place in the community are just a few of the challenges developers face. Withal, for those who are passionate about technology, it can also be a rewarding and exciting career. In this article, This Dot Labs Co-Founder and Web Developer Tracy Lee shares how to stay ahead of the curve and thrive in the tech industry. Tracy’s insights are drawn from her own experiences as a tech worker and community leader passionate about helping others succeed.
Harnessing passion for public speaking, documentation, and mentorship
Tracy’s career in public speaking began shortly after getting into software development. Just three months into web development, she was invited by a college to give a talk about what she knew, and despite her doubts, she didn’t let her novelty dictate what she could do. From then on, motivated by her excitement toward work and technology, Tracy continued speaking and applying to conferences. She recommends public speaking for developers looking for exposure in the industry, being not only a medium to communicate our thoughts on a subject, but also a networking tool where we get to know people and participate in relevant discussions.
From her own experience, Tracy questions the belief that only experts are authorized to lecture. Excitement, says Tracy, is what motivates creators, who, to her understanding, “are just trying to solve their own problems in a sense, or solve problems that they see, things that they’re passionate about.” Likewise, she believes that this same passion is what gives you permission to participate, and encourages developers to share their thoughts on what motivates them instead of what they think other people care about.
What’s more, public speaking isn’t the only way you can capitalize on passion. As soon as the Angular Material library came out, Tracy took the time to figure out and document how it worked and share her knowledge in a blog series: “People were trying to use Material, and guess what? I was the only content out there. I wasn’t an expert, I wasn’t on the Angular Material team, but I was the only one that spent enough time documenting how the heck to use these components that you weren’t supposed to use yet.”
Similarly, Tracy believes that inexperience is more useful than detrimental to participation. She points out that vested developers who have the chance to share their thoughts might hesitate and judge their opinions as trivial or lacking. This mindset, Tracy says, “isn’t useful for you because it makes you not do anything right;” In turn, as a junior developer, “you have no fear because you just don’t know.” At that point in their career, juniors should regard every opportunity as an opportunity for learning; what matters is “taking the first step and finding those opportunities and just continuously going.”
What’s more, Tracy is confident that senior developers who have become jaded in their careers can benefit from mentoring junior developers “because their excitement is contagious.” While juniors benefit from being exposed to the experience and knowledge of seniors, the latter can be inspired by the fresh air of listening to someone who is enjoying what they are doing, plus getting to understand their craft even more by teaching it.
Navigating tech and tech communities’ evolution
“If you’re scrolling through the internet, you might as well give a like, you might as well give a comment, you might as well do something just to let people know you’re there because that’s where you start,” says Tracy, affirming that, whether in public speaking, writing, or building software, by putting yourself out there, you will “find your place” as part of a community of like-minded people.
The evolution and growth of online communities is a sign of their vitality, Tracy believes, yet conceding that the impact individuals can have on communities is proportional to their size. She explains that in smaller communities, individual members have a more significant impact because they can contribute to a broader range of tasks. However, as communities grow, the impact of individual members diminishes.
Still, in bigger communities, where having a general impact is more difficult, Tracy indicates that “there’s more little silos for you to be effective.” In the case of Node, Tracy recalls, a technical steering committee oversees the overall technical direction of the project, however, there are “tons of different working groups related to what’s next […] and they all do their own little thing because nobody can work on everything at once.”
Developer preferences and trends within communities can change as these evolve. Tracy brings up the case of React, which started as “just a library”, a not-opinionated framework that prioritized flexibility, leading to the emergence of various libraries, frameworks, and tooling within the React ecosystem to complement it. Yet, as the React community evolved, developers began to appreciate the idea of using a “Meta framework” to simplify configuration and provide a more opinionated approach. From this perspective, Tracy believes community preferences should determine technology choices and not the hype that often comes with new tools.
Besides, Tracy is confident that while technology trends force developers to adapt to changes, the need for technology migrations ensures that developers will continue to have work, although their work itself is evolving as well. While teams are traditionally divided into back and front-end, DevOps, and so on, the current tooling can integrate many role-dedicated functionalities into the job of a single developer. “Developers are expected to do more testing, do their own QA, do their own deployments,” Tracy says, while also reminding that in this new paradigm, developers will have to meet higher expectations.
Tools like artificial intelligence will ease the work of developers, Tracy believes, but also wonders if it would be only “old school developers” who will be tech-literate enough to understand what is going on beyond the surface. In this regard, the scope of new developer tasks is also defined by a preference for high-level languages. According to Tracy, this can raise contrary perspectives: “Some people will argue, ‘if you don’t know how to do it internally, you don’t know the internals of something, then you can’t debug it and how can you be a good developer?’ Versus ‘well, the tool is there; I’m doing my own deployments, but I’m also just clicking a button.’ ”
The bottom line
Follow Tracy on Twitter and Linkedin. For more on engineering leadership, take a look at her weekly series on This Dot Blog. You can also learn more about her on her website, ladyleet.com, and listen to the list of podcasts she participated in.
Additionally, Tracy says there are open positions at This Dot so she encourages those looking for job opportunities to take a look at their job’s section.