I’ve worked in HR for 16 years, and of those, 10 in IT. During this time, I’ve seen thousands of career stories and situations. As a recruiter who hired specialists, as an HR professional, who worked with colleagues and managers, as a manager and mentor, who guided people in their software development career path.
In this post, I’d like to cover the most common professional mistakes people make when pursuing a career in software development.
Most career mistakes IT specialists make are a result of a lack of experience in a specific area, for example, a lack of knowledge about how to best manage one’s career. But instances like these are opportunities in disguise. They can be used to build knowledge, skills, and strengths. I hope that this post will help you to do this. The 5 categories of mistakes we will cover are:
Mistake 1:Ignoring or Being Rude to Recruiters
“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.“— George Bernard Shaw
I understand why people can react this way. Developers get tired of constant messages, of every “Young Friendly Team” and “dynamic growing companies” with “cookies” and, of course, would it even be an IT company without bean bags?
But I would look at it another way, constant contact by recruiters means that your profession is in demand, that you don’t have to look for work, because work will find you. If your current job doesn’t suit you, you can easily go work for someone else and still make a great software developer career.
If you are a professional, it’s worth it to at minimum, behave professionally with recruiters. Communicate politely and respectfully. After all, the recruiters are just doing their job. Beyond that, it’s worth your time to befriend a few people in recruiting — it may come in handy later. Experienced recruiters are experts in the labor market, they understand exactly what’s going on at any given time, which means they can give you advice and help you to take concrete steps to secure a great offer. There are always career change options for software engineers, but advice from an experienced recruiter can help you to be sure that you have picked the right one.
MISTAKE 2:Overreliance On ‘Gut Instinct’
Of course, you do have to listen to yourself and your intuitions during any hiring process. But you need more to go on than just this. Over the last 9 months, I’ve had conversations with no less than 100 senior IT specialists (developers, QA, DevOps) and can recall only a few instances where the candidate had a system in place for evaluating an offer. “If you had several offers, how would you decide between them?” I asked. More often than not, the answer was “intuition”, “instinct”, choosing based on the company’s “general vibe”. This is not the ideal strategy for advancing in your software engineering career path.
I recommend creating a set of criteria for evaluating your career options. Of course, to do this, it’s absolutely necessary to have a clear picture of what you want from work, from an employer, what are your must-haves and what is just a bonus. Having a well-crafted strategy is the surest path for programmers to achieve fulfilling careers in software engineering and development.
MISTAKE 3:Using Salary as the Only Criterion
We give work a minimum of 40 hours a week, and our time is our most limited and valuable resource. No matter how much money we earn, there’s no way to replenish our reserves of time.
Choosing a new workplace based only on the amount of the offer, without considering other factors and evaluating the offer based on holistic criteria, we can end up in a position where we are doing work we don’t like, with people we don’t like. That’s not a position you want to be in. This situation can turn work into a source of constant stress and dissatisfaction, and you won’t be able to just shove this feeling down until it goes away. It will tug at you constantly, like a pebble in your shoe. Is it really worth trading the most valuable thing we have for that?
With the developer career path as with any other, you always need to consider more than just money when choosing your work.
MISTAKE 4:Not Having a Career Development Plan
In discussions with candidates I often hear the phrase “ I want career growth”, but when I try to clarify what exactly the person means by “growth”, they rarely can provide a concrete answer. The attitude among devs often seems to be “Well, I guess the company will offer me opportunities for growth after I’ve been in the role for a while”. And this is normal, to expect this from an employer. But if you don’t know what kind of career growth and development you want, then how will you identify what constitutes growth, and what is just taking on more work but without the chance to develop your desired competencies? It’s important to think carefully about where you will invest your time and effort.
You and only you are responsible for your career development. That’s why I strongly suggest starting to ask yourself how you see your career growth, what you want to study or what experience you want, why that specifically, where you want this experience to take you. Ideally, you will set a specific career goal — this can be a specific role or position (for example, becoming a CTO or QA Automation Engineer), moving into management from a technical role, or changing your career within the industry (for example, moving into product management). There are many alternative careers for software engineers out there.
“At Proxet, we make every effort to ensure there are clear lines of communication between employees and their supervisors, and that our programmers always have the opportunity to branch out into new tech stacks, skill sets, and even managerial roles if they show an interest and aptitude for it. We also host a monthly conference, Proxet Knowledge Sharing, where our team members have the opportunity to present their recent work, case studies, or explain new developments in their field. But providing these opportunities is only half the equation. The other, more important half, is striving to hire people who we are sure will take full advantage of every chance to develop.”— Vlad Medvedovsky, CEO at Proxet
The same applies to people who are looking to make a career change to programming. You are responsible for doing your own research and choosing the right educational program for your goals. If something seems too good to be true, such as a coding bootcamp that claims graduates will earn senior level salaries after just a few months of study, it probably is. That’s not to say making a career change to software engineer is not doable, but it does require careful thought and planning. The most important thing to plan for people trying to break into the field is how to get that first role and obtain software developer experience.
MISTAKE 5:Being Passive About Your Career
All the previous mistakes on the list are specific versions of mistake number 5. The biggest career mistake that developers make, and not only them, is not actively managing their careers, but floating through them passively. This is what creates by far the most problems.
Recently, I held a survey in my network on the theme, “Career and Work” ( 200 people filled out the questionnaire, 62% of which work in IT). One of the questions was, “How important is work in your life?” A quarter of those surveyed said that it is the most important sphere of life, and another 25% said that it is one of the top-3 most important. Interestingly, despite career being chosen as among the most important things by so many respondents, most people still choose work on the basis of intuition, don’t develop career plans (or expect their employer to provide one for them), and in general just “go with the flow”.
We aren’t born knowing how to be healthy, how to raise children or how to manage our personal finances. These are things we learn, and have to learn well if we want to be satisfied with these aspects of our lives.
It’s no different with careers. This is part of life that we need to learn how to manage. We can study it ourselves (self-awareness, reflection, self-analysis all help with this), ask for advice from an experienced manager or mentor ( this can be your direct supervisor or simply a person you consider to be knowledgeable and experienced). You can also ask for help from any HR or recruitment specialists you know (if they have experience with these specific issues), work with a career consultant or coach (this industry has really expanded in recent years). I wish you success in finding the method that works best for you, and of course, a successful and fulfilling career!
About the Author: Alexandra Pavlova is a HR consultant and career mentor with 16 years of experience in HR, 10 of which have been in the IT industry. She has experience leading teams as well as strong mentorship, coaching and consulting skills. Her personal and professional mission is helping people in unleashing their potential and having the best career (and life!) possible.