Developer Career Development
And you JUST CANNOT afford to push these issues under the carpet
Being a developer is both an easy as well as a tough task.
It is easy because you get an opportunity to follow your passion, work your magic in lines of code and develop applications that you can be proud of. Your creative juices flow like a torrent and there is no stopping you simply.
As Bruce lee has rightly said
“Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.”
So in a nutshell, you go along with the flow and unleash your creativity every single day.
However, there is also another side of the coin.
Developers live in a constantly disruptive world with technological upheavals happening every second day. Technologies become obsolete, work gets outsourced and “corporate restructuring” (read firing) can happen at any time. This is the harsh, naked reality of the times we live in.
In such trying times, it is important for developers to keep a close watch on their careers and find long-term solutions to some key career dilemmas which will torment them always. A single wrong decision has the potential to set back a promising career by several years and sometimes there is no recovery option also.
Here are some of the career dilemmas, I faced in my technological journey.
Will Certification(s) give you the Edge?
I often get two conflicting opinions on this question.
“I am an experienced developer. I know every in and out in my technology. Why should I invest 1000$ and time to clear some damn certification”?
“I have just started my career. I think I should do this certification to get a high paying job.”
Both are wrong here.
Let me make one thing very clear here. Any certification is no more than the icing on the cake of your experience and expertise that you have developed over the years. It is not a “one-cure-for-all” solution and will never be.
As an experienced developer, a certification gives your potential employer a “formal” validation that you are aware of the best practices in the industry and the knowledge you have acquired over the years follows standard guidelines and acceptable procedures for development.
No potential employer would want their developers to “cut corners” and a certification precisely helps them to judge your awareness.
On the other hand, as a rookie developer, a certification is just an addition to your journey of knowledge building and experience gathering. It helps you to focus your energies using the right framework and streamline your knowledge into a well-oiled competency.
It is not the ticket to a high flying job. Employers judge your worth solely based on your knowledge and nothing else.
So go for certifications by all means but do not make it just a cramming exercise. Implement what you have learned in your daily work and make it another potent weapon in your developer arsenal.
Should I specialize in a niche skill to avoid the pink slip?
I often hear developers boasting proudly.
“I am SAP HR developer with exclusive expertise in compensation management”.
“I am a Fiori developer with expertise in user interface building”
“I am a big data developer and so on…”
While focusing on a niche skill might be the flavor in the market now with people willing to pay big bucks for your expertise, you also need to consider the “sustainability” of your skill, a few years down the line.
Is there a growth potential in my niche skill?
Is it getting replaced by other technologies?
Am I getting saturated with my knowledge?
In Technology it is always better to be “the jack of all trades and master of two trades (one current and one emerging)”. This will not only help you to get the broader perspective but give you the added ammunition to steamroll into any big technological disruption that might come in the future.
Should I relocate for a job?
When you are young, bubbling with energy and enthusiasm, relocating to any place is cake walk for you. You just need to pack your stuff and buzz off in your car. You are excited to make new friends, explore new lands and of course taste exotic food.
But as you grow older, you need to answer some key questions.
Is the new place suitable for my family, their needs, and requirements.?
Is the new place having plenty of opportunities, big companies (besides my current employer)?
Will I be able to fulfill my objective of relocating (better money, great role or new technology to work with)?
Relocation is always a tough decision and should never be made on the basis of “gut” feeling or on the “spur-of-the-moment”. This decision needs to be backed by meticulous research about the new place, sound advice from peers and well-wishers and also alignment with your personal goals and aspirations.
Even if you are not 1% comfortable in relocating, don’t do it. It might not be worth the pain.
Should I opt for contract or permanent employment?
An increasingly common career dilemma is to whether to stay full time as an employee or switch as a contractor. Both have their own benefits.
As a contractor, you are mostly called to “solve” crucial problems and building solutions which are niche and “first time been done” cases. Organizations invest in contractors as they do not have to much worry about cumbersome organizational policies and decisions can be taken quickly. You also earn more money and get myriad opportunities to enhance your learning.
On the flip side, being a contractor means you are left to do all activities like insurance and pension benefits on your own. This might be a pain every time you switch contracts. Another issue can be the “potential” lead time before you get your next contract. Life can be unstable at times depending on market conditions.
The only thing that needs to be considered is your comfort level. If you don’t relish the “curator” and “caretaker” work of a regular employee, go with contract employment by all means but plan all contingencies accordingly.
You can opt to be a contractor or an employee throughout your life, but you cannot be cribbing throughout your life due to a wrong decision. That will never work.
Should I Job Hop?
This is a tough question and any wrong decision here can affect your future growth badly.
Moreover, Job-hoppers tend to be associated with the stigma of instability and recklessness by their potential employers. Some employers see this in a bad light while recruiting and have even strict policies in place to weed out such candidates.
On the other hand, some “enlightened” employers see job-hoppers as power-houses of knowledge and diverse perspectives who can add value to their organization tremendously. They feel an employee “staying” too long in an organization is a sign of lethargy and mediocrity.
There are many other conflicting opinions on this controversial topic but from your point of view, you need to answer these following questions before switching over.
Is my career getting stagnant in my current organization?
Will I achieve anything substantial by switching (better money, higher role, value for my expertise)?
Will I fit in the new culture (work-life balance, ethics, organizational hierarchy)?
If you are able to justify all the three points above, go for it by all means. It is your life and nobody else knows it better than you. However always try to exhaust all possible options in your current organization before switching to the new one. A known demon is always much better than an unknown devil.
Bringing it all together
It is not gold, real estate, bonds or stocks. The biggest asset in your life is your career. Whether you are a developer, executive or an artist, how well you do in your career depends on how much effort you have put in building it.
You cannot leave it to fate and expect magic to happen. Life is too harsh for such fairy tale endings.
You and only you need to take control here.
As rightly observed by Alen Arkin
You have to think of your career the way you look at the ocean, deciding which wave you’re gonna take and which waves you’re not gonna take. Some of the waves are going to be big, some are gonna be small, sometimes the sea is going to be calm. Your career is not going to be one steady march upward to glory.
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