Four Ways to Contribute as a Junior Developer

As a junior developer here at Atomic, I’ve learned a lot in my first few months of work. It’s certainly not easy to begin a career as a professional developer. Surrounded by smart and experienced developers, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by a feeling that you need to contribute to your team and project at the level of everyone else–but it’s hard to do that when you don’t share that level of experience. So here are a few things I’ve learned that have helped me to contribute at work.

1. Keep Asking Questions

In my first few weeks on the job, I was nervous about asking questions. I just had so many that I was afraid some of them would seem too “stupid” or “obvious.”

What I learned was that, sometimes, these were the questions that needed to be asked. Asking my tech lead, “Why are we using this?” or, “What made you choose that?” definitely helped me understand their decision-making process. But it also allowed my coworkers to think through and talk about their decisions in ways that more senior developers might not do otherwise. Sometimes, this process even led to a change in the decision itself.

2. Offer Your Input

This was something I struggled with early on. When just my tech lead and I were working to make technical decisions, I was surprised to be asked for my opinion on what we should do. Me? Fresh out of school? Helping make decisions on the technical direction of a project? I defaulted my answers to, “Whatever you think is best,” because I didn’t know what was best.

But as my tech lead kept asking, it kept me thinking: How would I make this decision? It turned out to be one of the more valuable parts of my education in these first few months at work. I started considering options, even with my limited experience. Then instead of deferring to a more senior opinion, I began to offer my own.

As it turns out, that was exactly what my tech lead wanted. Making decisions alone sucks. When I gave my input, it made the project much more collaborative and ultimately better to work on.

3. Don’t Stress the Pace of Work

This one seems specific, but it’s still worth considering, especially if you’re new to professional development. It’s tough transitioning to an environment filled with smart, talented developers. They just seem to crush features, solve problems in a fraction of the time it would take you, and know how to make the right decision the first time.

Part of that is your perception of them, and part is really due to their experience. In any case, it’s very likely that their pace of work will be much faster than yours.

The best advice I can give for this? Don’t stress it. It doesn’t do anybody any favors to compare yourself to a senior developer. Working at your own pace is the best way to make a contribution. Worrying about how many lines you write, commits you can push, or features you can add will only slow you down.

4. Maximize Your Strengths

You’re good at something. Whether it’s working within a particular framework, considering security risks, talking to your client, or another skill, there’s something you’re good at, even as a brand new developer. Focus on it.

Nobody’s strengths cover everything. As part of a team, yours will be able to fill a gap in experience that no one else can. Working to maximize your strengths on a project may not turn you into a well-rounded developer in the short term, but it will help round out your team, and as a result, help with your project.