10 lessons from 10 years

by Darren McSorley on June 17th, 2018

It is strange that I live in Belfast - the same iconic city I studied in. The reason why I say strange, is that I don’t think I’ve ever fully forgotten my University roots. How can I forget? There are so many tangible memories that strike me during everyday life. I was walking through James Street South a few weeks ago and couldn’t help but notice the number of Graduates out with their families, celebrating the end of their University days. I notice this every year. But this year, it particularly hit me hard. It’s now 2018. I graduated from Interactive Multimedia Design in 2008. Although it doesn’t seem it, 10 years is a long time. So I thought I would put together my own lessons learned from the past 10 years. The things I wish I knew whenever I sat down with my own family in Bar Twelve ( now closed), before I stepped foot on the Career Ladder.

1. You Know Nothing

Coming out of University, there is a great sense of achievement and you do feel like you can take on the world. But I soon came to the realisation that, a bit like Jon Snow, I knew nothing. University is a great platform to start your learning, but you’re not finished learning after graduation. Three years in a classroom and one year on placement can never match ten - fifteen years of the industry experience of the people you’ll soon be working with. Even those guys will also say that they know nothing. “Keep Learning” is something I always say to graduates. Learning comes in different forms, whether that be Books, Videos or Podcasts i’ve always found videos that I can work along with to be the best form for learning ( I still read and enjoy listening to podcasts though). I’d recommend resources like Treehouse or Lynda. These do come with subscription fees. If you wish to avoid that, YouTube is loaded with free video courses on just about everything. Some channels that I subscribe to are LevelUpTutsGoogle Chrome Developers and Traversy Media.

2. You need to Get Involved

Belfast is a great city with a very talented web community situated within it. We have Conferences, Events and Meet Up Groups all year round. I do think back to whenever I first started out attending the likes of RefreshBuild and how it helped me cut my teeth in the community today. In Belfast now we’re spoilt for choice. With the likes of Digital DNAPHP BelfastBelfastJS to name but a few ( there are a good few free ones as well). I recommend attending as many as you can. It's a great opportunity to meet like minded industry folk, as well as expanding your own knowledge on a wide range of topics. These communities extend beyond Belfast, wherever your job is situated - it's worth digging out the local community.

3. Develop Relationships

No man is an island. This ties into the previous lesson. Beyond the scope of my own classroom, I knew nobody in the industry on graduation day. However, once you start working ( and attending ) - you will meet people along the way and develop close working relationships. These relationships will allow you to develop trust and reliability. Often this can lead to work down the line, so never burn a bridge and always keep the door open to people you’ve worked with in the past. It’s also good to have a friend in the industry whenever you need to bend an ear about the issue you are facing. You never know where a simple Twitter Follow or Email can lead.

4. Develop Soft Skills

These are the personal skills that don’t require any coding knowledge but are equally important. These can be - Positive Attitude, Good Communication Skills and Time Management Abilities. You’ll often find yourself working in team environments post graduation. Your coding capabilities won’t matter if you don’t have the soft skills that go along with it. I’ll let Mahesh Krishnan from NDC Conference explain it better.

5. Learn Languages First, Then Frameworks

This is particularly important I think in being a web developer. Frameworks will come and go depending on trends, but the language that sits in the background will always remain. Whenever I first started learning JavaScript, it would have been easy for me to follow the trend of learning jQuery instead. But I stuck with raw JavaScript, and these days that allows me to jump into whatever JS framework comes along. Over the past year I’ve been fit to jump into Angular, React or TypeScript projects, armed with just a bit little of JavaScript knowledge and able to take it from there. I don’t think that would have been possible if I took the shortcut and just learnt jQuery.

6. Embrace Change

The web is an evolving medium. I graduated within a period that was pre responsive design, before all the local businesses used Facebook and Apps weren’t a thing. These are all skills and tools I had to learn along the way. My workflow is very different now than how it was a few years ago, and I've no doubt it'll keep changing. It is important to keep your ear on the ground to see what new trends are coming. As web evolves, so should your skill set.

7. Imposter Syndrome

We’re all going to experience this from time to time. I’m in a fortunate position as the Technical Director of Reflex Studios. However, there are times whenever I feel that I’m in over my head. It could be as simple as being handed a website I never worked on before, and getting lost in the framework in which its built upon. I’ve no real advice on how to cope with this but to explain that it happens to us all. It ok not to know something, and don’t beat yourself up if you don’t. Lou Solomon of TedTalksgives a great talk on how to overcome this:

8. Portfolio is Everything

Yes, a good education does help. But at the end of the day, your portfolio will speak for you louder than any piece of paper. Great experience will always trump education. I know that can be difficult for new graduates who are just starting out and don’t have the previous experience to talk about. But my advice to that is to just build things. Design things. They don’t have to be finished or live projects, but give an employer an idea of what you’re capable of. I recently built a World Cup Sweeptake Generator App just because I wanted more experience with Angular.

9. Don’t Work Too Hard

It's easy to get overwhelmed in this industry. There are so many new tools and frameworks coming out on a regular basis, you’ll probably feel you have to work around the clock to keep on top of things. Hard work is important, yes. But don’t prioritise hard work over your own mental well being. Your personal health and family is far more important than any career. My own University Lecturer, Christopher Murphy gave his own incredible personal experience on this during a talk a few years back on “Managing a Mind

10. Don’t Give Up

I want to conclude this with my own story as I told during an episode of WebTalks NI earlier this year . I have a privileged position today as a Partner in Reflex Studios. But it didn’t land in my lap, I got there through many setbacks and sheer determination. We’ve taken several placement students in over my time in Reflex. I’ve watched them experience the same frustrations whenever the program just doesn’t do what its meant to do. But it just takes time. I’ve had my own struggles over the years. But don’t give up. If I can learn it, we all can. Keep at it, and the right breaks will come your way.

Hopefully you’ve taken something from my list. However, it's my own my personal journey and not a guide. We’ll have our own experiences after University. I’m sure all graduates are super excited and keen to get stuck in. Hopefully this blog will serve you as a wee ‘heads up’ for what lies ahead.

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