Lessons from Returning to the First Project of My Career 2 Years Later

I remember a lot of feelings from my first project. It was challenging, interesting, and rewarding. I spent a lot of time on the project overwhelmed with the sheer amount of new things to learn. As I moved on to new projects and experiences throughout my career, I found myself looking back on my first project a lot. I thought about what it’d be like to work on it again and to be able to compare and contrast my previous self with my current self.

I sometimes struggle with determining just how much I’ve actually progressed as a developer. Sometimes it can be difficult to perceive your own advancement when you are frequently jumping on to new projects and constantly learning new technologies.

Recently, I went back to that project. I thought it’d be a great opportunity to be able to see just how much I’ve grown as a developer. Here are some things I’ve noticed in the last few weeks of being on the project.

I’ve learned much more, much faster than I had expected.

Career-wise, two years doesn’t feel like that long of a time. When you work around people with five, 10, and 15+ years of experience, two years just doesn’t feel like all that much. After spending a bit of time diving back into this project though, it’s hit me just how much I’ve learned. Looking through code that once overwhelmed me and flew over my head, and now being able to understand and add on to it, is such a validating feeling.

I have a better idea of how to mentor newer developers.

I’ve worked on this project now from two different perspectives. One was as a brand new, fresh-out-of-school developer, and one was as a more experienced developer. Remembering how some of the code confused me two years ago and knowing I understand it now helps me feel better prepared for mentorship. It allows me to better feel out how I should “translate” my way of understanding problems and solutions in a way that would have made more sense to myself when I was less experienced.

The skills I’ve learned translate to all tech stacks.

After I finished the first time on my first project, I worked on many other projects. Those mostly involved completely different technologies than I’d used on my first project. At the end of it, I didn’t feel very competent in the tech stack the project used. Going back, I fully expected to need to spend lots of time learning more about the tech and patterns used. But, I was pleasantly surprised to find out how quickly I could pick things up using skills I learned on other projects.

The biggest thing I’ve taken away so far is how unproductive it is for your growth to compare yourself to others. Everyone grows at their own pace, and everyone has their own unique skills and talents. As obvious as it sounds, I’ve learned that the best way to gauge your own growth is to instead compare yourself to who you were before.