Expectations for your first development job

A few years ago, I landed my first development job. Before that, I read tons of articles and advice on how to do it - advice like having a portfolio website, showing off your projects, and establishing a personal connection before applying. All valuable advice that I'm convinced helped me get the job.

The problem was, that I had no idea what to do next. I'd gotten the job, sure, but what did that even mean? What would I be working on? What if it turned out I wasn't good enough, or had oversold myself?

I had a lot of thoughts like this, and I imagine most people do when they land that first development job. It's an entirely new experience, something you haven't done before, so it's hard to know what to expect. That's why I'm sharing my experience here, to help you prepare for that first job, and so you're not going in completely blindfolded.

Regardless of the exact position, remember that it wasn't your decision to hire you. It was the company's. That means you're only responsible for what you say and do, and it's not your fault if there ends up being a mismatch in the technologies or culture fit. This helped me shake some early jitters, despite my lack of confidence. "If these people are smart, and they chose to hire me, that must mean something". Trying to let go of your nerves and just do your best is really all you can do, and all you need to do.

Your responsibilities will obviously depend on the position and company, but for me, the introduction was very gentle. I started out meeting everyone in my department, setting up my computer, and generally just settling in. Then came my first task: Fix a tiny bug in the footer of the company website.

Bug fixing or other small tasks are great ways to get your feet wet in a new position, and has been the way I started in every new job. It allows you to get the code up and running locally, while you begin diving into the codebase to figure out how it all works. I still remember opening the project in Visual Studio, and just being completely overwhelmed with the amount of files and folders. Imposter syndrome quickly reared its ugly head: Was I supposed to know all this stuff? Where do I even begin to understand how the code works? Where on Earth is the footer HTML?

I've since learned that this is a completely normal feeling. Every codebase is different, and you're not expected to know it all right away (duh). The best you can do is try to understand it, and ASK A LOT OF QUESTIONS. This is probably the best advice I can give you. In my experience, people love to help out new hires. They know that you've just started, that you don't know what's going on, and that it'll take time for you to get accustomed. And there's no way you can do that without asking for help, so make sure to use your colleagues as much as possible. By asking questions and practicing good communication skills, you'll also get to know your co-workers better, and more quickly start to feel like part of the team.

In the beginning, you can't be picky with the tasks you're assigned. You should accept any and all tasks, approach them with a positive attitude, and do your best work. You'll likely be put on tasks that needs to be done, but that aren't important enough right now for the other developers to do - so this is your chance to build a great reputation for yourself. It's your chance to get known as the person who fixes these annoying bugs that's been in the backlog forever, but that nobody ever has time to do.

With time, you'll be assigned bigger and bigger tasks and more responsibility. And if this doesn't happen automatically, you should ask for it. Again, it's all about communication. If you feel like the tasks you're given become too easy or mundane, don't be afraid to ask for bigger ones. This will help you grow, and showing initiative is always appreciated.

I hope these tips and experiences will help you prepare just a tiny bit for what to expect from your first dev job. It's hard to give general advice, as all companies and positions are different. But no matter what happens, the key takeaways are:

  1. They hired YOU. It's normal to feel nervous and insecure, but they hired you for a reason. Try not to sweat it.
  2. Always do your best. Approach every task with a positive attitude and do good work. Your new colleagues will remember that.
  3. Communicate and ask questions. Most people love to help, but you gotta ask! Never be afraid to reach out.
  4. Show initiative. If you begin to feel complacent, or there's something you're unhappy about - do something. Talk to your manager. They'll always prefer than over you suffering in silence.

Thanks for reading, and good luck!