Working Toward Your First Job: Mindset

Aug 27th, 2020

Reaching a goal like becoming an employed, self-taught developer is a major accomplishment. Once you do something as substantial as that, you realize that there is nothing you can't do. The level of empowerment that comes out of that enables you to go after any lofty goal you want without hesitation. You learn to get out of your own way and enjoy the process for what it is instead of calling your competence into question at every step.

The positive feedback loop is incredible once you get that first accomplishment. That accomplishment for you is getting that first job and validating you as a developer. To do that we have to get your mind right. Without it, this process can wreak havoc on you with stress, frustration, and decimated confidence. So please allow me to take you through some different mindsets that have been crucial for my success. These will help you from the learning process all the way to the negotiation process.

Persistence

Failure is unavoidable. You will get stuck trying to learn a new concept. You will be ignored or rejected by recruiters or employers. Your work will be criticized when exposed to the public. The only way to beat failure is to not let it beat you. The answer is always "be persistent" (when a different direction altogether is not the answer).

When you are stuck learning a concept and you feel the frustration building, take a break. Then come back and look at it again. Find another source that explains it differently. Try implementing it on your own to gain perspective. Reread the content over and over. Whatever it takes—just don't quit.

You only fail if you don't persist. Have you ever heard of someone being stuck forever? Do you know any developers who have said, "I'd love to get a job eventually, but I've been stuck in if-statement hell for 14 months and I just can't figure it out!" Of course not. There's power in knowing that the only thing you have to do is never let failure stop you completely.

You are a great white shark...

...and not only because you scare everyone that sees you. It's because great whites must continue to swim in order to respire or they die (I googled it, so trust me). This is how you have to think about yourself as a developer. To survive you need to perpetually learn, adapt, and improve. The cliche about "being forever a student" is a cliche for a reason.

This industry moves quickly, so that's the life you are signing up for. For some that's a dream come true, but for others a nightmare. If it sounds like a nightmare to you, a different direction might be what you need.

Strong opinions held loosely

The day your thinking becomes dogmatic and ideological is the day you stop growing. While you have your opinion, use it with confidence. Be open to opposition when it is presented, and, if it's convincing, replace it. The last two sentences are not mutually exclusive. In fact, if you notice that you hold an opinion that seems shaky, be proactive and go find something to unseat it before it deals damage.

You are a scientist

That's correct, you are now a shark AND a scientist—things are getting complicated around here. Experimentation is essential in figuring out the best way to do just about anything. For your learning, try doing a video course. For that course try taking notes, try not taking notes and listening carefully, try 1.5x speed, try 0.75x speed, try stopping and practicing after each video, after each section, or at the end of the course. Try reading articles, or books, or discussion with peers. When creating your resume try making it as short as possible, try fluffing it up a bit, try focusing on your credentials, or on your accomplishments, or on the results and the hard data.

You will never learn as much about yourself as when you conduct experiments. You may be missing out on a learning medium that is more effective by a large factor than the first one you picked and stuck with. Keep in mind that everything you read from other people is just their way of solving, thinking, or doing something. Just because it works for them does not mean it works for you. Try their way and, if you don't like it, discard it and try something else. Once you land on what really works, you'll know it.

Employment is a one-man business

For some reason people put themselves down. They, many times, will adopt the belief that they don't deserve certain things which can lead to behavior such as self-sabotage. A trick that I often use is to stop thinking of myself as myself (huh?).

Instead, I separate my work-self into a separate entity that I make myself responsible for. It's my own company of one.

This perspective is applicable top to bottom. It can benefit you in your learning because you suddenly become interested in making your company valuable by learning the most effective languages and technologies. It alleviates the feeling of intimidation or being lesser than the company you are interviewing with because it isn't you under pressure anymore; it's you representing your company in a business transaction and being invested in getting the best deal possible. It extracts you out a level, and gives you enough emotional detachment to handle all types of situations.

 

These techniques don't have to remain at the forefront of your mind the entire time. If you read these carefully and do your best to adopt them, they will carry you far. The great thing about effective mindsets like these is they benefit every aspect of your career and even your life. It would be wonderful if these can, at the very least, help you reach your goal of getting your first job. Then I hope you will teach me some of your own mindsets you developed along the way.