Career Advice For Junior Programmers

An office with a beautiful view in Bangkok

As I have what many would think of as a dream job, working remotely from locations chosen by Tanya and myself, I am occasionally asked for career advice. I am not sure I have much to give but here is my best attempt.

Have projects outside of your job. This is an easy way to broaden your skill set, gain experience with new technologies and maybe even make a little extra money. If you want to be particularly mercenary, look at freelancing sites (freelancer.com, odesk.com and others), see what skills are in demand and learn them. Generally though, I would suggest working on stuff that interests you. Coming home from the office and doing more work will be much easier if you actually enjoy it, even if there is no immediately obvious path to making money from it.

Don’t stop learning after you graduate college or university. Go check out coursera.org, edx.org and udacity.com among others. They have plenty of free courses on all sorts of topics. Invest time in developing your abilities and your mind. If you can’t come up with any personal projects to pursue, these courses can provide inspiration.

In any job, regardless of what your job description says, your job is to make life easier for your boss. If you can make your boss’s life easier by getting rid of problems and removing stuff from their list of “things to worry about”, you will always be valued and that helps with job security and in negotiations about salary, the ability to work remotely or anything else.

Beautiful Chinese House and Shop Fronts

This isn’t technically career advice but, be smart with your money. The goal is to put your money into stuff that should make you more money in the future. Especially when you first start full time work and start receiving a decent salary it can be tempting to blow it all on stuff that may not really benefit you in the long term.

When I started work I immediately bought a small crappy apartment that I fixed up over time. Another person who started around the same time bought an expensive car. Our repayments were roughly the same as he had a high interest car loan lasting a few years while I had a low interest mortgage spanning decades. Within a few years I was able to rent that place out for enough to cover the mortgage repayments. After ten years I sold it for four times what I initially paid. That car would have been worth basically nothing by then.

The thing you put your money into doesn’t have to be real estate. If you are Australian, google “the barefoot blueprint” for a good intro to the share market. Regardless of what you pick, read books, listen to podcasts, learn all you can. No one can predict the future but put your money into stuff that at least has the potential to produce income and go up in value. Clothes, cars, booze, and shiny things from the Apple store never do.

I am not saying that you need to spend years of your life living in self inflicted poverty. You still need to enjoy your life and have your fun. Every time you get paid, set aside money for mortgage repayments, investments or whatever and get it out your main bank account. Then pay any outstanding bills and set aside money for food etc so that you don’t starve before your next pay. Whatever is left, you can then blow without any guilt or worry. Set aside the money for your future first, cover your basic living expenses then go be a foolish young person with the rest.

Beautiful Hand Painted Artwork at Mei Jen House

Be wary of any financial or life advice you receive including what you are reading now. Everyone’s decisions are half chance and people may not be fully aware of the factors that lead to their own successes or failures. And of course, no one will have exactly the same life goals as you. Be polite but critically evaluate what you are told and quietly disregard anything that doesn’t seem right for you.

Google “Hobo CEO”, “Tropical MBA”, “Indie Travel” and probably a lot of others that I can’t recall right now. They will provide you with advice that will serve as a counterpoint to the advice you get from your friends and family.

Getting life advice in podcast form

Getting life advice in podcast form

Get some exercise. Sitting at a computer all day (and night) puts you are risk for all sorts of health problems from heart disease to RSI. Go for a walk or run, do some pull ups, find out what a dead lift is, play football or whatever makes you happy. Lots of programmers switch careers after a few years because of the adverse health effects that come with a sedentary lifestyle.

I knew a guy who had a heart attack at twenty six. It was a mild heart attack but a heart attack none the less. I have also personally experienced the “hot needles being jammed between the knuckles of my fingers” pain that comes from too much time using a mouse. Prevention is better than cure so make time for exercise. I also learned how to use a mouse with either hand so I can swap the mouse back and forth to avoid overusing one hand. If you are dead or you can’t use a computer without enduring shooting pain then your career is over.

Be self directed. As a regular employee it is possible to float along year after year. I did for a long time. If you want to do anything different with your life, you have to be in the driver’s seat. You have to hatch a plan instead of waiting passively for a raise, a promotion or a transfer. Your plan will inevitably change over time but always have a plan for your own future.

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About Andrew

Andrew is a computer programmer and one time TEFL teacher. He is part of the Moodle development team producing course management software for schools and universities all over the world. He checks Tanya’s spelling and produces youtube videos of variable quality.