Being in the tech space is really exciting, but it’s also really hard to navigate – especially when you’re trying to figure things out alone. As a self-taught developer, I had an idea of where I wanted my career to go but no clear steps to get there. I recently started working with a mentor, who’s given me some useful tips on how to make real progress.
My journey into tech has been far from linear. I started out as a software tester, before moving into mobile development, which I had to teach myself from scratch. I had no one to guide me, and trying to learn something new felt very overwhelming. At times, I felt like I had made a mistake moving away from testing, even though I knew I wanted to level up my skills.
This made me feel very isolated and I struggled a lot with imposter syndrome. I felt like I wasn’t a good developer because I was too slow and didn’t fully understand the systems I was working with. On top of this, I also couldn’t see how my career would progress, and my days felt too hard to be creative at work and happy at home.
I eventually decided to change companies, and started working for a tech-house where, for the first time, I had a mentor to support me. This opened my eyes in a big way, because I was suddenly exposed to new ways of thinking and working.
It was only with having someone there to guide me that I realised how challenging it is for anyone who only has themselves to learn from to really grow and develop.
I started working with my current mentor, Ewald, through Project Thrive, on the following things to approach my life and my career from a more balanced perspective so that I could get to where I want to be professionally:
- Overcoming imposter syndrome by changing my mindset
- Opening myself up to learning opportunities
- Establishing a wholesome approach to both work and personal life
Here are some of the things I’ve learned so far, and how they’ve benefitted me.
Your mindset is often your biggest barrier
Despite having been in the industry for six years, imposter syndrome was something that I still struggled with when I first met my mentor. As one of the hot topics that almost every developer goes through, it seemed to me that I’d never be able to shake it.
Ewald highlighted that we all go through imposter syndrome at some point in our careers and that I should go easy on myself.
Hearing someone who has a lot of experience say this has helped me accept that tech is hard but it gets easier as you grow and learn.
I needed to hear this to understand the fact that all of us in the tech space are constantly learning, and the overwhelming feeling is a lot easier to tackle when you break challenges down into achievable tasks. I’ve found that getting something done, no matter how small, really boosts my confidence.
Following this thinking pattern makes my day-to-day at work much easier because I understand that we are students of technology – something that is rapidly changing and can only be mastered one step at a time. I’ve found that changing my mindset from “this is difficult” to “this is a challenge”, has helped me see any problem as an opportunity to learn something new, and expand my knowledge on my journey to getting where I want to be in my career.
Learning never stops in tech
My mentor has taught me that there are many approaches to learning and there is no defined path for reaching a particular goal. We’ve explored multiple learning methods, from the conventional online courses to a much more hands-on approach, such as writing code to implement a particular idea that in turn will push you into learning certain concepts to execute it. This means that I can be more creative in my approach to upskilling myself, which was something I had been missing for a long time.
Side projects are not extra ‘work’
Ewald advised me to dedicate some time to working on side projects to keep my skills up to date, and improve my confidence as a developer. It has been very liberating, as I’m finally understanding that this is an opportunity to grow in whatever way I choose and not just extra work to take home.
Attend, or speak at, meetups to grow
Although I was already part of the dev meetup community, Ewald highlighted that attending meetups gives you an opportunity to learn from other developers, which I like. There is also the platform to give talks at meetups, and as a speaker, I like the idea that you have to do in-depth research on the topic to be able to speak about it easily, as well as respond to Q&As, which can also teach you a lot. I haven’t spoken at an event yet, but it’s on my roadmap.
Write about what you know
The idea of learning also extends to blogging because, as a blogger, you want to publish accurate and credible information that will be valuable to the readers. So far, I have published one blog, and am planning to publish a series about me building my own API regarding a tech I have never used before. In this series, I will share with the readers the process, lessons and mistakes on a weekly basis.
Don’t underestimate how important it is to have a healthy work-life balance
As software developers, we all want to finish our work in time and write code with no flaws, but that often leads to putting more hours into work and neglecting other aspects of your personal life.
I’ve been guilty of this, and Ewald pointed out to me that this would lead to burn out, which would affect my work. He shared some of his tactics to strike a work-life balance, and how I could do the same.
I had been so absorbed in my work for so long that I had got stuck into doing the same things when I had time over the weekends – more programming, gym, playing video games and watching sport – and this was really destroying my energy. I was always envious of how Ewald managed to take his dog for a walk on the beach every morning and how he never compromised on this. So, in our first few interactions, he challenged me to volunteer at an animal shelter just to break from my normal routine, and do something different.
Taking his advice and doing something I would never have considered has made a huge difference because now I know I have a ‘life’ commitment, and I have to put my work on pause to do it.
Doing something outside of my comfort zone has also helped free up my ways of thinking so much that by the time I go back to problem solving, I can work through challenges more easily and even rethink how I approach them.
It’s okay to be passionate about tech, but it shouldn’t consume our lives
The advice that Ewald has given me has made me realise that we should just enjoy life and not let our careers affect our personal lives negatively. Now, I try new things, I don’t work when I’m on leave and when I get home, I focus on making that time only about myself, my family and my personal growth.
My experience was eye-opening and confirmed my belief that we all need a mentor at the beginning of our careers to help us grasp that we are in the industry to fulfill our own goals as an individual so that we can, at the end of the day, maximise our full potential.
Velaphi spends most of his days working as a mobile developer for Dynamic Visual Technologies (DVT) and Discovery. He has developed a passion for creating solutions and offering a great user experience in the process. He invests in his own personal and professional growth as a developer by doing things like learning new technologies and being a member of the Johannesburg software development community. Outside of work, his interests range from expressing himself creatively through code, wildlife research and playing video games.