I was fresh out of college, ready to move to a new state and start a new chapter of my life here in beautiful Boulder, CO. I wasn’t sure what to expect from my first job and I learned a whole lot along the way. This is my best advice to new graduates who are also starting their first adult job with their degree.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that you are going to learn a whole lot at your first job, but I was still amazed at just how much knowledge I needed to absorb; I was almost constantly reading documents and Googling questions.
The best decision I could have made during my internship was to keep a detailed notebook of everything as I went. Every time I paired with another developer here at Foraker, I would bring my notebook and leave with at least three new pages of content to digest. Later, I would go home and review all my notes to make sure I had the concepts down.
This process helped me keep my head from spinning while debugging. Tracing back the source of an error can quickly become a quagmire in Rails; keeping notes of where everything was coming from, where it was going, and how it was being used gave me a clear picture of the architecture.
Learn to Generalize
It’s easy to get bogged down in all of the small details involved in web development. One strategy that kept me on track was taking the time to focus on the big picture. As my mentors explained new and important concepts to me, I drew flowcharts to help me visualize each process, such as following a browser request and its journey to a JSON response. These notes would later prove invaluable when I implemented them in code.
Be Ready to Lead
I was given the title of Project Lead for my main internship project, the office StatusBoard. I was in charge of scheduling important meetings for my project, preparing agendas, and making sure the “client” (Foraker) was happy, just as if I were leading a project with an external client.
While I was no stranger to responsibility and presentations, I still found myself a little wobbly in my first couple meetings. I was nervous, but I improved gradually, making solid agendas, planning goals to achieve during the meetings, and generally becoming a better project lead. I had to learn to trust my own knowledge and vision, but also to respect the expertise and insight of my more experienced co-workers. Foraker was a great place to learn these skills and practice them, both because of their encouragement and their helpful feedback.
Practice, Practice, Practice
In addition to my coding at work, I also had a couple personal side projects I worked on during the weekends to keep my skills sharp. I used these as an opportunity to try my hand at tougher features that would have been difficult to attempt on a client’s project, like writing my own user authorization and shopping cart system.
I found this not only helped develop my coding skills but also kept me excited about Rails and web development. I would always want to stay up later to add new features. Learning is a lifelong mission, not a chore that ends after college graduation. Your job does not have to be your life, but improving your skills and yourself is a lasting goal.
Foraker really understands this mentality and encourages learning with its Foraker Fridays, which are days where client work is not allowed. Instead, we are free to explore anything we have been wanting to learn, such as Go or Ember, or to work on fun side projects. Thanks to Foraker Fridays, I was able to set up a Code for America project called Cute Pets for Boulder, which tweets about animals up for adoption from several shelters here in Boulder.
At the End of the Day
As a someone who has learned so much in a short amount of time, both personally and professionally, my final advice to all new hires and post-college job-seekers is this: trust yourself, respect your co-workers, keep an open mind, and never stop learning. You went to college for a reason, a passion, and now it’s time to show the world what you’ve got. I know I was lucky to have my first job here at Foraker Labs. Nonetheless, flexibility is an important skill when you’re just breaking into an industry. Utilize every resource available, including your co-workers’ skills and your own intuition. The world is constantly changing, growing, updating. Especially here in the technology industry, it is important to always keep up and keep learning.