You may be a superstar developer at your job, but you should always be striving to become the best you can possibly be. Here’s a list of things you can do immediately, involving very little effort, to become a better developer and a stronger candidate for jobs you may apply for.
Contribute to an Open-Source Project
One of the best things you can do as a developer is read through the source code of other projects (I learned a ton by looking at Paint.NET). Actually contributing to a project’s source code is even better. Today, with sites like CodePlex and SourceForge, there are endless possibilities to help out on an open-source project that interests you. Not only will you get real-world experience with development techniques you may not know and new technologies you may not have worked with, but you’ll meet new developers (read: networking is good for you and your career!) and probably learn some best practices and new coding techniques. On my first-pass through a resume, I consider contributions to the open-source community a huge plus. It shows a dedication to technology and code, team experience, and a willingness to learn something new. Even if you sign up for a project and only end up fixing a few bugs, do it.
Learn a New Technology
It’s very easy to pigeonhole yourself into only knowing the technologies your company works with, or the languages you’re most comfortable with. But it’s always beneficial to branch out and learn something new. So Java guys, set aside your differences and take a look at .NET and what it has to offer. .NET guys, stop whining about how you can develop apps in C# three times faster than Java and play around with some J2EE web services. Build an application with Ruby on Rails. If you’re a back-end logic guy, try out CSS and user experience (UX) design. If you’ve been working in high-level frameworks for a few years, jump back in assembly and remind yourself what the 1’s and 0’s are really doing down there (writing an NES game in 6502 assembler is always fun!). Corporate development is always about choosing the right technology for the right job. You’ll look like a superstar (and an attractive Architect candidate) if you can explain the pros and cons of a technology with even a small amount of experience to back it up.
Join a Local User’s Group
You don’t need to religiously attend meetings, but joining a user’s group is great for your career. It’s a great networking opportunity, will help develop your social skills (if you’re lacking in that area), and provide opportunities to see the latest technologies and techniques in action. And besides, what’s better than hanging out with people who love technology as much as you do? My user’s group of choice is the Connecticut .NET Developers Group. I was recently able to see Richard Hale Shaw talk about the upcoming changes in .NET 4.0. In roughly two hours, I received a full run-down of all of the new features and benefits of the new framework from a Microsoft MVP. Huge!
Read More Blogs
Blogs are literally the easiest and fastest way to keep up on the latest news, techniques, and tutorials available. If you need to know about it, somebody’s talking about it on their blog. On interviews, I often get asked what blogs I read. I like the question so much, I always ask it when I’m interview people too. It shows that a candidate is passionate about technology and interested in keeping up to speed on the latest industry topics. Create a Google Reader account, and start subscribing! The list on the right-hand side of the Caffeine Dependency Injection homepage is a good start.
Already have a healthy addiction to some RSS feeds? Find something new. There’s always more out there to be discovered. Take the new technology you started playing around with (you have been following the suggestions of this post, RIGHT?) and subscribe to a popular blog related to it. You don’t have to read it religiously, but it will help you grasp real-world industry trends related to it. Or, maybe you need to…
Why not? Having your own blog shows your commitment and passion towards technology, and is an automatic resume bonus – any decent interviewer will take a look at it and instantly be able to see what technologies you are into, your skill level, and even certain personality traits (resumes are often nothing more than a list of skills and experience – blogs can demonstrate your soft skills through your writing style and post topics). Plus, it will help develop your writing skills that may be neglected. So get some reliable, cheap hosting with WordPress, install Windows Live Writer, and get to posting! Sharing your knowledge and contributing back to the community makes you a winner.
What other tips do you have for improving your career in software? Leave a comment!