Three Better New Year’s Resolutions for Developers

Better New Year's Resolutions for Software DevelopersBy this point in January all those New Year’s Resolutions to lose weight, read 100 books or train for an Ironman are starting to look a bit less appealing. And studies show that committing to a big lifestyle change on Jan. 1 isn’t particularly effective.

If you’re a developer, it’s likely that you’re making 2017 the year to learn a new programming language or get a new job. Good for you! But let us suggest a few modest changes that are perhaps more likely to benefit you this year.

Don’t Learn a New Language – Learn Something Else

Every year someone puts out a list of which programming languages are hot, or which pay the highest salaries. The reality is that unless you are going to start coding in that language, learning it isn’t that useful. Adding it to your resume without haven’t actually written something that’s running in production is not a particularly strong selling point in an interview. Most likely if you haven’t used it daily, in six months you’ll be struggling to remember the basic syntax.

Instead, consider learning something related to your work that actually could be useful. Perhaps it is reading up about blockchain. Or maybe you’ll attempt to understand when and how your application’s database backups run. Sure, you say, but my company is never going to use blockchain technology. Yet knowing enough to be able to give a cogent explanation of how it works and why it won’t work for your shop could be helpful when a senior executive floats the idea. (And in 2017, there’s a good chance of that happening.) Understanding the schedule and procedures for backing up your databases is always good to know, especially when something goes wrong. The goal here is to deepen your knowledge of something that might impact you, so that if it does, you can be part of the solution, not a bystander.

Forget Networking as a New Year’s Resolution

Everyone says they need to network more. If you are a phone-avoidant developer, you probably want a reason to stop making small talk at an event full of strangers. So don’t. Instead, find ways to reach out to your application’s end users. Give advice, get feedback or just to say hello. If your application uses a BI tool for self-service reporting, you might know of a report one of your clients finds incredibly useful. You’ve got other clients with similar data – why not ask them if they could use it as well?

You don’t have to be using analytics to do this. I worked with a DBA who would call me up the day after we worked on something and ask two simple questions:

  1. Did I resolve the issue to your satisfaction?
  2. Is there anything else you need from me on this?

We tend to blow off these questions when they are part of a call script recited by a phone representative. But they were very impressive coming from a colleague. He was busy (like all of us), yet always took a minute or two to check back with me.

Don’t Look for a New Job – Take Pride in Your Work

Finally, even if it’s entry level, or involves the most boring legacy application, resolve to take more personal pride in your work this year. Programming and other IT-related work are incredibly difficult. Deadlines and production problems are stressful. Even on a good day, it involves banging your head against complex problems. Few people have both the brainpower and the focus to do this.

I had a coworker who was responsible for a system that was critical for our company. She was competent but did not take any personal pride in her work. She saw her role as a burden. This was very clear from her tone, her approach to projects, even from her body language.

Eventually, she transitioned out of the position and a new programmer took on her responsibilities. His attitude transformed the role. She used to show up to meetings and dutifully take down a long list of changes without complaint. In contrast, he acted as an advocate for his application. That meant pushing back against unnecessary work, pressing management for more resources and negotiating priorities. I think he could do this because he understood the value his application – and he himself – offered the organization.  Remember that your work is valuable to your organization.  Or at least, to paraphrase a friend, remember there is always someone out there who would love to have your production problems.

This year, resolve to resolve a little less by making a change that you can actually stick to.

Have a tech-related resolution for 2017? Let us know in the comments!

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