For product developers, it's important to think about ways to improve your professional performance and personal well-being alike in the coming year. Whether you're a junior developer or you have years of experience already, it's important to tune in to the world around you and work on ways to improve your own skills and enhance the greater developer community. Here are a few suggestions:
1. Mentor Others
Being a team player is great for your team and for your personal development. Invest your time in your team members by mentoring those who are less experienced in certain technologies. Identify your team members’ strengths and weaknesses, and support them by supplementing their skills and talents with your own, or providing them with resources to develop further.
Encourage mentorship throughout your company by sponsoring regular lunches or meetings where new developers can seek guidance from experienced devs. Team lunches allow you to build camaraderie in a casual environment while providing a no-pressure situation for new devs to show up and ask questions. Consider making this an official program within the company.
Mentorship doesn’t have to stop within your own company, either. If you’re serious about mentoring, consider participating with an organization that provides mentorship to developers-in-training. Your local developer community may have a similar program, or you can participate in an online mentorship community such as Thinkful.
2. Continue Your Education
When you’re a developer, your education and professional development never stops. As the industry grows and changes, so does your body of work and your skill set. This year, invest in a new framework, language, or technology to master.
Try enrolling in a flexible, free class if your schedule is unpredictable. edX offers free online classes from schools such as MIT, Harvard, Berkeley and Columbia, in a variety of subject matters that change quarterly, including programming.
Continuing your education doesn’t have to be in the form of a formal class, either. Try joining a Meetup group for developers in your area, where you can benefit from the outlooks and opinions of those working in different industries and using different programming languages.
3. Contribute to Open Source
How many open source projects benefit you as a developer? Open source provides you with a safe environment for experimentation and learning, and offers valuable building blocks for experienced developers.
Your contributions can be relatively quick and minor and still have an impact on others utilizing the open source project. Donate some money to one of your favorite projects to fund further development, or add some documentation to a library that needs it. Take a few minutes to submit a pull request when you find a bug. You could talk to your company about consistently funding open source projects it uses to power its products.
Additionally, taking a break from your regular projects to make an open source contribution offers you a welcome change of pace and renewed focus. Focus on a project based on one of your personal passions, or on an internal project for your business that can help you build a better work process.
4. Improve Your Health at Work
You often spend 40 or even more hours a week at the office, so why not invest in your future well-being and make it the healthiest work environment that you can? Moving around at work is a great way to maintain your health on the regular, by implementing a standing desk, a treadmill desk or even switching to walking meetings to minimize the time you spend sitting.
If a standing desk isn’t your thing, then make sure that you’re sitting as ergonomically as possible. Keep your feet flat on the floor with your legs at a 90-degree angle, your lower back well-supported by a comfortable chair back, and your elbows resting at a comfortable right angle with relaxed, loose shoulders.
Your monitor should be right in your line of vision without requiring any neck movement or strain in order to see your work. Keep any often-used items close at hand to minimize uncomfortable reaching that disrupts your posture. If you need your computer mouse, your notepad or your reference materials every fifteen minutes, keep them within a few inches of your hand.
Also consider your mental health, as constantly straining to concentrate amid background noise can be harmful and stressful. While you’re buckling down on a heavy programming project, use some noise-canceling headphones with white noise or relaxing music to minimize the outside distraction.
5. Get Involved with Diversity
Diversity in computer science is an ongoing issue. In 2011, only 27 percent of computer science jobs were held by women, 7 percent held by African American people, and 6 percent held by Hispanic people. In 2014, some universities were starting to see a gender flip, with an introduction to programming class at Berkeley enrolling 106 women and 104 men.
Despite improvement, there’s still a lot of diversity work left to do before development is as accessible to women and minorities as it is to white males. This year, educate yourself on the issues surrounding diversity in computer science and technology, and contribute to eradicating the problem. Seek out programs at your local university that aim to foster interest in computer science for young women and ethnic minorities, and volunteer your time and skills. Alternately, make an effort to recruit a diverse body of applicants next time you’re hiring at your company.
Think about your personal and professional life from a development perspective—look at what’s working and what’s not, and look at small ways to iterate and bugs that you can fix.