Think back to your first job. You were probably curious, excited, and ready to put all that education to good use. But if we’re being honest, more than anything, we were all clueless the first few months on the job. That job probably knocked you down a few times, showed you what you didn’t know, but eventually gave you the confidence and skill set to move on to a more challenging position.
Entry level or junior positions are designed to help new professionals get started in their field or industry of expertise, but what if that entry-level job that helped get you started was suddenly gone? How would you learn the skills and gain the experience necessary to move up professionally? It sounds pretty unlikely, but unfortunately, it is a very real situation for many developers. You might be asking yourself, how could an industry sustain itself with no new talent entering at the bottom level? The simple answer, it can’t.
No Positions to Fill
In the not-so-distant past, junior developers were critical to organizations for doing the tasks senior level employees didn’t have time for or were too skilled to do. Now, however, automation and outsourcing removes those tasks from the workload, leaving a gap in tasks for a junior position, and a gap in necessary experience building for new developers. So why outsource or build an automation for tasks that could easily be done by a staff member? It’s an investment. Many companies see junior developers and see an expense, sometimes even a loss. Training, mentoring, development, and pay, for what? For them to leave in a few years for more money? Investing in any employee is expensive and many employers don’t see the tradeoff as a very valuable one. But that’s where we start to see cracks in the foundation. Without investing in inexperienced employees, another gap is created in skilled employees for the senior positions when it comes time to fill them.
Signs of Things to Come
For the industry, this is a bad sign of things to come. By cutting down the skilled labor force at the base, eventually, the capability level won’t be enough to sustain the needs of growing companies. We all have to start somewhere, and the skills and education gained from those early years are crucial to the success of professionals. There will be a need for skilled developers, and without junior positions, we run the risk of filling those positions with under qualified, underprepared developers who don’t have the experience needed to be effective. The technology community is growing in Indianapolis, and the need for skilled workers will only increase. What are we going to do if we don’t have the talent to meet the needs?
Knowledge in Action
There’s no replacing experience, and there’s no getting around it. Knowledge is much different than application. We need junior developers gaining experience and mentorship that enables them to become senior-level employees. If that experience is unavailable, there will be serious consequences in terms of skills gaps. To combat this issue, junior developers need to be creative in finding ways to gain that experience.
Breaking the Barrier to Entry
Listing areas of study is necessary on an application, but in reality, they don’t communicate any hard skills. Complex and rich projects give applicants an edge. Whether in class or independently, projects create the opportunity to apply education. Another great way to gain skills is to volunteer or intern. Volunteer opportunities simulate the experience of employment in the workforce. Timelines, expectations, and real-world situations give new developers a taste of what working on a team would feel like. New developers have a huge opportunity in open source projects. Make a contribution of time and hone skills at the same time.
Meet Your Mentor
Another thing ALL developers should have is a mentor. Mentorship from someone who has been in a similar situation helps shed light on shortcomings, room for improvement, and what important proficiencies might have been missed in college. Mentors also help open doors to break into the industry, and a personal network is beneficial in all stages of a career. It seems overwhelming, but it can start with a professor, mutual friend, internship supervisor, or maybe someone working on the same open source project. Another way to find a mentor is by attending events or conferences. Getting out in the community, learning a few new skills and meeting people helps increase visibility, show eagerness to land a great job and hopefully set new developers up for success in meeting people who can help.
Bringing in a ‘green’ employee does sound like a lot of risk and a lot of investment, but in the long run, training new employees serves both the new hire and the team. Teaching helps senior employees gain deeper insights and understand the concepts more completely than they would without teaching. Of course, these senior-level professionals already have a depth of knowledge, but teaching is a great exercise for revisiting concepts. It helps fill knowledge gaps and sometimes sheds light on a part of a process that can be improved. Not all developers are excited by the prospect of teaching, but there are ways to implement teaching in an organization that keeps senior developers working on their important tasks while improving the skill set of newer developers. Teaching days or guidance on a specific task are small ways to improve the workforce without designating a lot of time to professional development. Offloading tasks to junior developers and having senior developers go over the code when finished and walk through solutions are also ways to integrate teaching moments into the workday.
Investments Pay Off
Think back to your first job again for a moment. What would have made you stay? More money, more projects, more difficult tasks maybe? Imagine working for an employer prepared to support your professional development and move you up in the organization. Employers who implement education as part of their work culture are much more likely to retain employees. Lower turnover saves time and money. Lots of money. Professional development attracts and helps keep great employees, creates loyal employees and strengthens the internal pool of workers to move up to management or more challenging positions.
As we look to the future and prepare for explosive growth in the Indianapolis tech community, we all need to focus on the strengths, weaknesses, and potential pitfalls facing our community. Continued education is the key to our collective success. If you’re new to development or looking for learning opportunities to prepare for your future career, contact Eleven Fifty Academy to find out how we can help you achieve your dreams.