Five tips to help you become a well-rounded developer

Published on: June 1, 2020

This week I wanted to write about something non-technical. And while the topic of this week's post isn't a technical one, I think it's an important topic for developers who want to expand their knowledge, and deepen their skills.

I have been a developer professionally for more than ten years at this point and in these ten years there are some fundamental lessons I have learned that I believe have helped me get where I am today.

In this week's post, I will share five tips with you that have made into the developer I am today, and I strongly believe that these tips can help you become a more well-rounded developer.

Tip 1: Read books

Some of my fundamental knowledge and programming principles come from books like The Pragmatic Programmer, and Design Patterns. None of these books are about Swift, or iOS Development. In fact, they predate iOS and Swift by many years. However, these books contain fundamental knowledge and experiences that apply to virtually every project you will work on.

The books I have mentioned specifically, will not teach you how to do X or Y. Instead, they contain tons of lessons, examples, principles and information that can help you see programming in the bigger picture. These books can help you put what we're doing today in Swift in a much broader perspective.

And even if you pick up a book about Swift development, like the ones Paul Hudson writes, or one of the books from or Ray Wenderlich, you will grow as a developer. By reading a complete book from an author you don't just learn the skills they teach. A good book about programming will also give you a glimpse inside of the author's brain. You will learn how they think about programming, and why they teach the code the way they do. Daniel Steinberg is an author who, in my opinion, is exceptionally good at this.

Over the years I have read dozens of programming books and the one thing that they all had in common is that I learned something more than just the concepts I read about. I learned new ways of thinking. I learned new ways to approach problems. And, equally important, my knowledge on the topic I read about got a huge boost.

2. Don't rely on tutorials all the time

Tutorials are a fantastic way to explore something new. Or to learn if you're just getting started. But there comes a point where following tutorial after tutorial won't teach you a lot anymore.

Where books will often help you understand something in depth, or help you see the bigger picture, tutorials are often much shorter publications that simply show you how to get the job done.

Tutorials often don't go too deep into any trade-offs, the reasoning behind certain decisions or how to apply the skills learned in a different context. The tutorial starts with a cool example, the code needed to implement the example is shown, and in the end you have replicated the example 1:1.

This is great because it gives you a sense of accomplishment, but how often do you come out of a tutorial having actually learned something new? Of course, if you're just starting out you will gain tons from tutorials. But there comes a moment where tutorials don't introduce you to any new tools, or where they don't introduce you to new language constructs anymore.

If you feel that this is the case for you, it's time to stop relying on tutorials. It's time that you move on learn how to figure out how you can build those cool tutorial demos on your own. And just follow the occasional tutorial for fun, or just to figure out how something specific was done before you move and and explore the how and why on your own.

This segues nicely into my next tip:

3. Learn to navigate the documentation

Once you stop relying on tutorials all the time, you will need a new way to learn. Picking up a book every time you want to learn something isn't very beneficial so luckily there is an alternative; documentation.

Granted, Apple's documentation for iOS hasn't been great the past couple of years. But regardless, learning how to navigate the documentation, or even learning how to browse the headers for Apple's frameworks can be a huge boost to discovering and learning new frameworks and technologies.

Once you understand how you can learn and read the documentation for the frameworks you use, you will feel far more confident about the products you're building. Instead of just replicating what you saw in a tutorial, you will be able to look up the frameworks and APIs used in a tutorial, and you will be able to reason about the choices that were made.

4. Participate in the community

There's a community around virtually every framework, programming language or tool. Participating in these communities can be scary, but from participating you can gain a ton.

Simply reading along on a community forum like the Swift forum, or being a member of a Slack group like the iOS Developers Slack and reading some of the conversations that go on in there can be eye opening. You don't have to actively participate immediately, but from just soaking up the knowledge that flows writhing these communities you can grow so much.

When I first started reading along with the Swift mailinglist, which later moved on to the Swift forums, I didn't understand half of the conversations that went on. And to be quite frank, there's still a lot of comments and explanations I don't fully understand all of the time. Either way, seeing what goes on and learning from it is a growing experience for me.

Slowly but surely my confidence has built over the years to the point where I enjoy participating in communities all the time. It's why I write this blog, and it's why I'm a workspace admin for the iOS developers group. Helping people figure things out isn't just fun. It's also a great way for me to learn.

So by passively reading conversations I don't understand well enough to participate in, and by actively helping community members where I can I have learned more than I could have in any other way. I can only say that I strongly recommend to find the community for your favorite framework, programming language or tool and start participating. Maybe just read along at first, and at some point you will have the confidence to start contributing. I know you will.

5. Step outside of your comfort zone

The last tip on my list flows nicely from the previous tip. Participating in a community might mean you have to step outside of your comfort zone. But that's not why I put this tip on the list.

What I mean by stepping outside of your comfort zone is that I think it's very beneficial for you as a developer to try new things. If you're an iOS developer, try building something that runs on the server. Maybe use Swift, or maybe learn a different language to do it, like Python. If you're a JavaScript developer, try working on an app sometimes.

By taking a look at new programming languages and platforms, you will learn more about the worlds you exist in as a developer. And more importantly, you will understand your (future) coworkers much better if you have an idea of what they work with.

If you've learned to step outside of your comfort zone, and learned to develop in more than a single language and/or platform, you will feel much more confident. And questions like "Will iOS development still be in demand in a couple of years" suddenly aren't as scary. You'll know how to adapt. You've learned to be flexible.

Bonus tip: Go beyond development

Once you're proficient at writing code and building apps, it's time to starting focussing on everything that happens around development. Try to gain a deeper understanding of the company you work for, it will help you understand the work you do much better which in turn means that you'll be able to make much better choices while coding. Maybe you can try mentoring or supporting junior developers around you or within your company. Helping others grow and learn is a fantastic way to solidify your own understanding of topics, as well as think about the way you work in a different light.

Just to clarify, I'm not saying go into management. Not even close. Of course, management is a viable career path but if you want to grow beyond senior levels of development you'll need to do more than just work on tickets you're assigned.

Some of the best developers I've worked with hardly stood out due to their coding skills (even when those skills were amazing). What stood out about these developers is that they had tons of connections in the workplace. They know loads of people, and they knew exactly who they needed to go to for which questions. And people also know exactly what to come to these skilled developers for. Whenever tickets were shown during a backlog refinement session, they would be able to discuss these tickets in far greater detail than just the scope of the ticket. They know what's going on in the company, where it's headed, and where it's coming from.

Knowing a lot about the context of your work, and having a solid network can really be a superpower as a developer.

In summary

Everybody's journey towards becoming a developer is different. For some is a long and hard journey, while other are lucky enough to come from a place where learning how to program was made easy. But there's one thing we all have in common. We're all constantly learning, growing and evolving.

In this week's post I have shared five tips with you. These tips are what I believe to be important because I believe that following these tips has helped me grow, learn, and evolve into the developer I am today.

The reason I say this is that I don't believe these five tips are the magical five tips that will help everybody. These are just my five tips. And I hope that they are useful to you. And if they're not, I hope you can find your own five tips. We're all different, and that means that different things work for everybody.


Soft Skills

Subscribe to my newsletter