They cut the lights.
That 90s stadium jam blares over the intercom.
The office mascot starts break-dancing in the conference room.
“And now…..leading today’s daily standup……..it’s the backend developer in the corner with all those bobbleheads and weird sci-fi characters on his desk!!!!”
That’s what it’s like when you go to work, right? Well, it should be.
I was talking with a good friend recently and he mentioned that developers were a lot like athletes. We have marketable skills, amazing potential, and it seems we are in very high demand. Maybe we don’t appear on as many cereal boxes and highlight reels, but the glory is there all the same.
It seems everywhere you read, companies are scrambling to fill their positions. It’s nothing new, really. For the last few decades, software has shaped our daily lives, and someone needs to be around to write it. But lately, it seems as if the crunch is really hitting the industry hard.
So, guess what that makes you? A superstar! A finely tuned athlete, capable of leading any team to victory! A champion! Don’t believe me? Here’s why…
More alley, less oops
First and foremost, developers have skills. If you’ve been developing ten months or ten years, you have some amazing abilities that most people don’t possess. You may be the master of the latest technologies out there like Azure Functions or Vue.js. Or you may have vast experience in legacy technologies like ASP, .NET 1.1, or Silverlight. But, you are always capable of learning more, including the next new thing.
Some are better than others. But that doesn’t mean every developer is not skilled in some way. Try sitting down your dentist in front of your laptop and get them to understand a block of code. Maybe give him that funny gas first, just to see what happens.
When I was first developing, I was amazed at a developer at my company that “knew 12 programming languages”. Wha-what??? That’s amazing! Now, I can look at just about any code file and at least understand what’s going on. It’s not like I know every platform there. I just can interpret the logic. That’s the skill I’m talking about. Developing isn’t knowing a specific platform or language. It’s understanding how applications work, how to logically process information, and how to bury your Easter Eggs just deep enough for people to find them without being obvious.
But, just like any pro athlete, you need to keep your skills honed. Practice them. Attend a conference on something new. Review your work. Open something up from 10 years ago and shriek in horror at your egregious lack of garbage collection. The point is, make sure you keep using your skills and testing yourself. It’s the only way you’ll make the Varsity team and stay off the bench.
It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get back up
Hands up for everyone who was NOT 7+ feet tall and picked first for everything? Nearly all of you? OK, like me, you probably needed some coaching at some point in your life. There’s no shame in that! A great coach and trainer can sculpt nearly any lump of potatoes into a mountain (see… Easter Eggs). Great athletes learn from others who played their position in the past. The best developers work with mentors to hone their abilities, learn best practices, and understand that just about everything is iterative. The one truth is, the best athletes and developers are the hungriest ones that are never satisfied. They always want to better themselves and never stop learning.
You may be on the cutting edge of everything, but you still learned how to develop from someone who did it before you. And you learned a ton of stuff along the way. Maybe it was a professor in school or a guy sitting in the cube next to you. Or maybe you were just thrown into a classic ASP and SQL 6.5 application when the developer who knew it left. Developers often get a trial by fire, and the coaching and mentoring are what help you not get burned.
If you’re just starting out, find a good mentor. Someone who cares that you know how things should be done, and will work with you to make sure they are. If you’ve been in the game a while, help out the new recruits. You’ll be amazed at what they can accomplish, and inspired by their creativity.
Her palms are sweaty
Seconds left on the clock.
The roar of the crowd is deafening.
This is what every athlete dreams about. The pressure. The world on their shoulders. The chance for glory.
OK, maybe for developers the fanfare is a bit less exciting. But, I KNOW you’ve been pushed up against a deadline that seemed impossible to hit. You’ve had to work unspoken hours fixing a bug. Maybe you’ve spent the night in front of an Exchange 5.5 server that had to be rebuilt before the office came back in the in the morning. (Jet databases… shudder…..)
And you got it done.
That’s what developers do. We make the impossible possible. We make the improbable probable. We make the simple overly complicated by over architecting things.
We overcome hurdles on a daily basis. Our whole job is problem solving, and we’re damn good at it. It’s easy to score when there are no defenders in front you. True superstars leap, juke, and Ickey Shuffle their way to score, no matter the odds.
As a developer, you will be asked to “just make it work.” You may not know how, but you’ll find a way. When it’s crunch time, developers can do amazing things. Pressure can bring out true greatness in a person.
I coulda’ been a contender!
An athlete in their prime is a valuable commodity. When a superstar is looking to make a change, teams will fumble all over themselves, rushing for the chance to convince them to join their organization. They represent success, victory, and some sweet endorsement deals. And they can turn an entire organization around just by being on the field.
Developers are just as valuable. Skilled, talented programmers can build just about anything. And companies know it. Don’t believe me? Just go update your LinkedIn profile to say “interested” and watch the flood of recruitment emails pour in.
It’s easy for a developer to get carried away and dream of being the GOAT. But they’re not wrong. That aspiration is what drives innovation. It’s what fuels creativity. And it’s what strives developers to better themselves and always be improving.
So, should you test the waters of free agency? I have no idea. But, I can tell you that longevity is what wins championships. If you want to build a legacy, you have to put in the time to get there. You’ll always be offered more (ah, the early 2000’s were amazing like that), but knowing when to make a move will be critical to your success.
Always weigh your options. Do your research on any new organization. Make sure you can read their playbook and fit into their formations. And make sure they respect you for the awesome athlete you are. The game is long and you need to be able make it to the end on top.
Now get ready. It’s almost time for kickoff….