7 deadly career mistakes developers make

Failure may lead to success, but unthinking complacency is a certain dev career killer

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Mistake No. 6: Neglecting soft skills

Programmers are typically less outgoing than, say, salespeople. No secret there. But soft skills can be picked up over time, and some of the nuances of developing a successful career -- like learning from mentors and developing relationships -- can be missing from your career until it’s too late.

Ben Donohue, VP of engineering, MediaMath

“Soft skills and conversations with customers can also give a great sense of compassion that will improve how you build. You begin to think about what the customers really need instead of over-engineering.” -- Ben Donohue, VP of engineering, MediaMath

“It makes for better software when people talk,” says MediaMath’s Donohue. “Soft skills and conversations with customers can also give a great sense of compassion that will improve how you build. You begin to think about what the customers really need instead of overengineering.”

Talent Inc.’s Henderson says your work with other people is a crucial part of developing a successful dev career.

“All human activities are social, and development is no exception,” Henderson says. “I once witnessed an exchange on the Angular mailing list where a novice developer posted some code with questions. Within an hour -- and through the help of five people -- he had rock-solid idiomatic Angular code, a richer understanding of Angular nuance and pitfalls, and several new contacts. Although the trolls can sometimes cause us to lose faith, the world is full of amazing people who want to help one another.”

Automic’s Willson says a lack of soft skills is a career killer. Then when less proficient programmers move ahead developers who don’t have people skills -- or simply aren’t exercising them -- are left wondering why. Yet everyone loves bosses, he says, “who demonstrate tact and proficient communication.”

“To improve your soft skills, the Internet, e-courses, friends, and mentors are invaluable resources if ... you are humble and remain coachable,” Willson says. “Besides, we will all reach a point in our career when we will need to lean on relationships for help. If no one is willing to stand in your corner, then you, not they, have a problem, and you need to address it. In my career, I have valued coachable people over uncoachable when I have had to make tough personnel decisions.”

Programming is only one aspect of development, says management consultant Puri. “The big part is being able to communicate and understand business objectives and ideas, between groups of people with varying levels of technical skills. I've seen too many IT people who try to communicate too much technical detail when talking with management.”

Mistake No. 7: Failing to develop a career road map

Developing goals and returning to them over time -- or conversely developing an agilelike, go-with-the-flow approach -- both have their proponents.

Michael Henderson, CTO, Talent Inc.

“I recommend making a list of experiences and skills that you’d like to acquire and use it as a map, updating it at least annually.” --Michael Henderson, CTO, Talent Inc.

“I engineer less for goals and more for systems that allow me to improve rapidly and seize opportunities as they arise,” says Henderson. “That said, I recommend making a list of experiences and skills that you’d like to acquire and use it as a map, updating it at least annually. Knowing where you’ve been is as useful as knowing where you want to go.”

And of course maybe equally as important -- where you don’t want to go.

“Early in my career, I hadn’t learned to say no yet,” says Edge, of JAMF Software. “So I agreed to a project plan that there was no way could be successfully delivered. And I knew it couldn’t. If I had been more assertive, I could have influenced the plan that a bunch of nontechnical people made and saved my then-employer time and money, my co-workers a substantial amount of pain, and ultimately the relationship we had with the customer.”

Automic’s Willson gives a pep talk straight out of the playbook of University of Alabama’s head football coach Nick Saban, who preaches having faith in your process: “The focus is in following a process of success and using that process as a benchmark to hold yourself accountable. To develop your process, you need to find mentors who have obtained what you wish to obtain. Learn what they did and why they did it, then personalize, tweak, and follow.”

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