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The Developing Developer is a blog series giving advice for early-career developers.

If you've been following my blog, you may have thought I'd forgotten all about this series. It's been a while, but Developing Developer is back! Sorry for the long delay, I have been getting sidetracked by work and other projects.

In the previous two posts in this series, I discussed how to apply for jobs (Get Hired, Application Cheatsheet). So, you've submitted an amazing application, nailed the interview, and gotten hired for the job of your dreams. What comes next?

Day 1

Two people in business suits

Ok, first day on the job. You've just been through a gruelling interview process and jumped through a bunch of HR hoops. By the time you've gotten through the door, you're probably feeling a mixture of stressed and excited. You're jazzed up about the new job, but there's also a lot of pressure. What if you make a complete fool of yourself, and your boss regrets hiring you?

Is it possible to get fired on your first day of work?!?

If these kind of thoughts are running through your mind, take a deep breath and dial it down. Keep in mind that they have picked you above the other candidates - that means that they think you are right for the job. There is also pressure on your employer as well. The first day at work is kind of like a first date. Both of you are worried about impressing the other person, and making them feel like it's a good fit.

Realistically, it's unlikely that you are going to blow your colleagues out of the water on Day 1. That said, you still want to make a positive impression. Some simple tips for surviving Day 1:

  • You've attended the interview, so you've met some of your future colleagues, and have probably already visited the office. Pick a Day 1 outfit that fits the tone of what you observed. It's usually better to err on the side of formality if you aren't sure.
  • Plan to arrive around 5-10 minutes early. Make sure you know where you are going and who to ask for. Some organisations can be spread out across many locations, and your office won't necessarily be in the same place as where you went for your interview.
  • Scope out a good spot for lunch, or bring a packed lunch. This ensures that you won't starve if your office is far away from everything else.
  • Review the information that you put together for your Application Cheatsheet to remind yourself about the job description and key points that may have come up in your interview.

I also highly recommend Michael Lopp's article 90 Days for further reading. It's aimed at people slightly later in their career, but still has loads of useful advice for new folk as well.

Staying organised

Once you are in post, the key to keeping on top of your work is staying organised. Let's imagine that you have a 1:1 meeting with your boss. What should you do to impress?

  • Make a note in your calendar of the meeting date and time if it isn't already there. Set a reminder so you won't forget, allowing time to get there (e.g. if the location is 10 minutes from your desk, set a reminder for 15 minutes before the meeting starts).
  • Before the meeting, plan out any points you want to bring up. Remind yourself of what work you have done since your last meeting. An easy way to remember this is to keep a diary where you note the tasks you have worked on each day.
  • Come to the meeting with something to take notes. If your boss brings up any tasks for you during the meeting, write them down. It's easy to forget what has been said if the conversation wanders.
  • At the end of the meeting, recap the tasks you have listed. Ask your boss what the priority is for completing them - some may need to be done more urgently than others.
  • Use your notes as a "To Do" list to make sure you complete everything. Make sure your boss stays aware of your progress, and knows when you need more work to do.

If you are working on multiple projects, it can be very hard to maintain a single "To Do" list for everything. Luckily, there are many apps which can help you with this. I personally use Todoist, an app that lets you have multiple "To Do" lists and set priorities and deadlines. You can also sync your lists across devices.

If your organisation already has tools that they use for these types of things, make sure you use them. This will have the added benefit of making sure you are on the same page as everyone else.

Speaking up

Ok - you've now got some work to do, but you discover that you aren't getting along as well as you thought. Maybe you're stuck on that one little bit that doesn't quite work. Maybe you don't really understand what the task was in the first place. And oh yeah...wasn't there a deadline?

It can be tempting to soldier on by yourself at this stage. After all, they've just hired you. You want to look super competent, and it feels embarrassing to go hat in hand to your boss. Trust me when I say this:

Do everyone a favour, and ask for help.

As a manager, I vastly prefer being asked for help or clarification, as opposed to reaching the deadline and having the nasty surprise of discovering that they haven't completed the work!

With new hires, it is also difficult to judge what their working speed is - so don't be surprised if you find yourself with too much or too little to do. Speak up and explain the situation. Your boss should be able to adjust your workload to fit.

If you're not sure about whether you can approach your boss with questions, ask them. Usually, there will be someone who is tasked with getting you settled in (either your boss or another senior member of the team). This also removes any awkwardness about seeking this person out.

Playing well with others

For many people who are entering their first job after studying (or working while being a student), it can be a struggle at first to adapt to the workplace. As a student, you are usually working alone. Learning to work well within a team is one of the most important things to learn when starting your first job.

We've already covered communicating with your boss - remember that you also need to communicate with your team. If you are working on a project, everyone on the project should be roughly aware of what you are working on at any given time. Keeping everyone up to date is key to making sure that no one is wasting time by working on something that isn't needed, or conflicts with other work.

You'll also need to compromise sometimes. You won't always agree with your teammates, and feel free to argue your case when this happens. But once a decision has been made by the group, stick to it. There is nothing worse as a manager than discovering that someone has decided to go off and do their own thing without informing anyone.

In particular, make sure you follow your team's coding styles and standards. If your team doesn't have their own standards, follow general best practice and take the lead from your teammates. Otherwise, you'll end up with code that looks like bad patchwork (and doesn't work very well, either). Sticking to team styles also allows you to easily pick up work from other people - you can skim something and quickly understand what it does, because they are using the same conventions as you. The best compliment I received from a teammate in my first job was that they couldn't tell the difference between code I had written and code they had written themselves.

Finally - enjoy getting to know your team! These are people who you will be working with day and day out for the foreseeable future. Building good relationships will make your working life more pleasant and help you do well.

Read more: All posts from The Developing Developer

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