How You Can Succeed At Your First Engineering Job

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Your first dev job won’t be easy. Hell, even your second job won’t be easy. You’ll leave work feeling exhausted every day and imposter syndrome will absolutely be part of your life.

But all engineers have been there. At my first job, I had no social life for the first six months. My weekends consisted of taking online courses and work — and I felt like all that I did was never enough. But my hard work paid off — I was promoted to a senior software engineer within a year and a half.

Here are my tips to excel:

Take notes

When another engineer at your company shows you how to do something, take detailed notes. Your goal should be that when an engineer has taught you something — you never ask them again how to do it.

Review your engineering notes at the end of every day and create a summary at the end of the week. Not only will this help you survive your first engineering job, but it will help you remember everything you accomplished at the company. And helps you document new skills for your resume. It will also help you if you advocate for a promotion because you will have documented how you’ve helped the company.

Play the association game

Write down your team members names and note something to help you remember them. I use a simple trick: I associate a new person’s name with something from a movie or book. For example, there was a friendly guy at the coffee shop next to my office named Andy. Andy… I made the association to Andy from the movie Toy Story and I always remembered Andy’s name.

Put your phone away

For deep work I use an app called Be Focused that allows you to set time increments where you do nothing but give complete focus to your work without distractions. No email, no texting, no coffee breaks, etc. I suggest a 45 minute head down coding session and then a five minute break as your reward. After completing three or four coding sessions, take a longer break.

During meetings, do NOT check your laptop or phone at all. Not only will this help you focus, but it will show your manager that you are there to make a difference and participate in the meeting. Consider taking a notebook to meetings and jotting down things you need to remember instead of a laptop.

When you get stuck, ask for help

Instead of spending an entire day stuck on a coding problem, ask another engineer for help. This will help you to get unstuck and has the added bonus of helping you make more connections.

Even engineers who have years of experience need help during onboarding at a new company. I admit that I felt ashamed to ask for help at my first job. I had to actively force myself to ask for help. But once I did, I realized that the other engineers didn’t have the solution right off the bat either. And sometimes they would get stuck — just as I did.

Don’t leave work at the office

The first few months on the job will be exhausting. Why add to that stress by feeling like you’re getting behind? Instead of crashing in front of Netflix when you get home, continue learning with a Udemy course or getting a head start on work for the following day.

Obviously not everyone can follow that advice (i.e. if you have a family, etc) and that’s fine! Instead, practice deep work even more relentlessly and make the most of your work hours.

And last of all, take a deep breath

Engineering is hard. You’ll feel like a failure more days than you’ll feel like a success. You’ll question why you went into engineering and why the company hired you. But I have never met an engineer who didn’t feel imposter syndrome at one point in their career. I’ve talked to founders of companies, CTO’s, and the most brilliant engineers I’ve ever met — And guess what? They all struggle with imposter syndrome every single day. If you keep throwing yourself out of your comfort zone every day, you’ll keep growing and excelling until you become a senior software engineer at your company.

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