The Journey To Becoming A Confident Software Developer

4 February 2022

Having worked with Instil for 3 years, I want to share with you how I have grown as a software developer.

The software industry is booming.

More people than ever are entering the industry from non-traditional backgrounds. Many tech meetups and networking communities exist today and companies are beginning to realise that it is smarter to invest in students from school age and give them the tools they need to become the next generation of developers. There are plenty of opportunities for job progression and salary negotiations, coupled with first-class treatment from employers.

If you are reading this, you are possibly looking to start your career in Software Development or are considering a career switch. Rewind to 2014 when I was sitting in this position, having graduated with a Bachelor's in Media Arts and Design and considering a move into Software Development to learn and understand how to make my own apps. Looking back, it has been the best decision I ever made, and I want to share with you some of the things that helped me along the way.

The aesthetics of salary, shiny Apple products and more are big draws but equally so are the job and career prospects, including:

  • What is the work like or going to be like?
  • Are there opportunities to develop your learning and understanding?
  • What software processes are in place?
  • What is the internal team culture like?

These factors will affect your ability to develop your skills and influence your overall experience as a developer.

What is the work like or going to be like?

It is important to do your research. I was well aware of Instil’s reputation locally and coming in as a Software Engineer with a bit of experience was frightening, especially knowing the importance that was placed on Engineering Excellence within the company. It was evident through the website blog content, the local meetups that Instil helped organise and the people I had spoken to that Instil mostly works with the latest and greatest technologies.

Are there opportunities to develop your learning and understanding?

Since I started my career I have focused on mobile app development, but through Instil I have been exposed to training courses in back-end serverless and front-end development. Each year I’m put forward for several training courses including Serverless, Architecture with Agility, Best practices in Refactoring and Security awareness. I’m fortunate as Instil places so much importance on training and learning on the job.

In the first two weeks, all engineers will be trained through the Instil training Academy, run by our world-class trainers, the same team who train recognised, global software teams. You quickly learn the best practices and gain knowledge and understanding of how you architect solutions as well as good coding practices. I often get persuaded and motivated into giving talks about technologies and approaches that I work with, which provides plenty of opportunities to improve my presentation skills and my colleagues are always on hand to help practice before I give a talk company-wide!

Having the right attitude to learn is key.

When I first started at Instil, I was lacking confidence but very quickly adapted and the key to this was the wealth of support from my work colleagues. You succeed in a team with its support to become an effective contributor. It’s incredible how much I have improved since I started.

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What software processes are in place?

Imposter syndrome is common in this industry. I felt like a real imposter when first starting Instil as, in my previous role, no consideration was made for good software practices but the combination of solid software processes and teammates who go out of their way to mentor alleviated my doubts. Clear constructive feedback through code reviews, mentoring and pair programming session from the team helped me to build up my confidence and to me, this is fundamental when starting on your software journey. It is very much the ethos that your code becomes the team's code.

The current project I am working on has a very self-driven team. We work to the product requirements but have the flexibility to discuss and weigh up various approaches, with a regular meeting where any team member can raise suggestions or new technologies that can benefit our project.

Although at Instil we live and breathe engineering excellence and clean code, we need a balance to ensure deadlines are consistently met with communication being vital to this. Our team has consistently succeeded to deliver new features and functionality while maintaining our large codebase and the clients are always delighted by our progress.

What is the internal team culture like?

There has always been a nice work-life balance in Instil that hasn’t changed even since Covid, enabled by the high level of trust both in the team and the organisation as a whole.

I aim for a 0630 start most days by starting my day answering messages and completing code reviews before setting off to the gym. By 0930, I’m back sitting (sometimes standing!) at my home desk to get stuck into the day. It’s great being able to work around my lifestyle.

Only a few weeks into working at Instil, having started very early and worked a long day, a team lead asked “Shouldn’t you have left by now? If you keep working at this you'll probably make more mistakes which will take even longer to fix, let's sort it tomorrow." This conversation has stayed with me, since it told me the right things about the company work culture.

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The future

Every two weeks I check in with my line manager. This is an informal chat to see how I am getting on day to day and what initiatives I would like to follow up on, and also provides an opportunity to ask for advice on any challenges faced in a project. I'm encouraged that should I need a chat in-between times, they are always there to help!

My current focus is on learning more about Kotlin Multiplatform Mobile, which is still in relatively early stages but looks very promising to work with. I take comfort knowing that in future Instil projects regardless of whatever technologies are needed, mobile or not, there's a wealth of knowledge and support internally to ensure I'll succeed in using it.

The journey

No matter the industry you are in, the journey should be one of always learning and being willing to learn. This advice has been key to my success in this industry.

I did not gravitate to the traditional pathway for a Software Engineer. My interests and works in Media, Arts and Design often involved technical elements such as 3D graphics and web that I struggled to create as I had no experience or teaching in Software. At the same time in 2013, I really really liked my Windows Phone but detested the poorly written and hastily ported apps from companies who didn't take the time to invest in a well-crafted experience. From this curiosity, I began attending meetups at Nokia and Microsoft, where I was inspired by budding app developers who took to the stage to present their apps and the technologies used to create them. While this was all new terrority, my curiosity remained and it was a key driver in enrolling onto a conversion Masters Degree in Software Development where mobile development has remained a focus for me since.

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Belfast benefits from a fantastic community of local developers that regularly meet through meetups and conferences. I've met so many great people who've kindly shared words of advice during my time at University as well as in the industry. Bash is one of the biggest meetups in the tech community or you will find a full list of meetup groups here

We are always on the look out for talented people, if you are interested in working at Instil, take a look at our current opportunities here.

Article By
blog author

Kelvin Harron

Lead Engineer