34 Tips To Become a First-Rate Software Developer

Introduction
We created a list of 34 tips to become a first-rate software developer and to build a successful career in the tech industry.
Some of these are targeted specifically for building coding skills, others are for developing career soft skills, and there are some in the list that may even help you become a better human.
1. Plan Your Approach & Write Pseudocode Before Jumping Into the Code
If you jump straight into writing code without any planning, you have the potential of wasting a lot of time and experiencing various levels of frustration as you try to build a project or complete a task.
Before you start coding, take the time to jot down the general structure of the feature or problem you will be working on. This will make the actual code implementation a much smoother process and will help you see potential pitfalls before they happen. And if you seek out feedback or ideas from a teammate or colleague, it will help you explain the situation better to them as well.
As a software developer, it's easy to get so focused on the details of the code that you can't see the forest for the trees (as the famous saying goes). Having a plan and writing pseudocode will help you see both. And you might just notice the birds chirping as well.
2. Always Be Seeking New Things to Learn
It's definitely a cliche to say this, but it's true: things change very quickly in the software industry. If you want to stay relevant as a programmer, you have to keep learning new things.
The more you go through the process of continuous learning, it will begin to feel natural to you and you'll learn to enjoy and feel stagnant without it. Follow some technology blogs or news websites and take some time to investigate things that are interesting to you or that you think may impact the industry in the future.
3. Don't Try to Learn Everything
Although it's important to be constantly picking up on new things, you only have so many hours in your day. So be selective of what you spend your time trying to learn.
You don't have to react to everything The Verge reports on, 95% of that stuff will go away after a couple of months and have a minimal effect on the industry. Be mindful of that fact when you spend your limited time learning or investigating new technologies.
4. Learn How to Learn
Everyone learns best in different ways. Some learn best from reading books and others like following video tutorials. If you figure out your learning style and use it, you'll have a much easier time learning new things.
Apart from your specific learning style, there are also fundamental ways to optimize your learning. Here is a free online course by Coursera that covers the learning techniques used by experts in art, music, literature, math, science, sports, and many other disciplines.
Illustration of a software developer working at a desk with headphones on.
5. Move Slow & Don't Break Things
The saying "move fast and break things" has been gospel in the technology industry for too long to remember. It was meant to inspire developers to deploy code and technology ideas fast while feeling safe in the knowledge that it was just code and any mistakes or bugs could be fixed easily when they made themselves known.
But software and digital products are no longer a glorified marketing department in companies or an economic sector in its own corner. Now it has become a layer over everything. Software is intertwined with billions of people's lives. Code is no longer completely harmless. Bugs and design problems can have negative ramifications on people.
So, move slow and make sure you don't break anything. The code you write can have a real impact on other people's lives. Make sure it's a good one.
6. Get Good at Reading Other People's Code
Reading other people's code is not an easy thing to master. When you start to become a good programmer, you start getting comfortable with your own code. But when you try to look at code written by other people, it's easy to become lost.
Luckily, this will get easier the more you do it and you'll be doing a lot of it. But, it will also help to seek out different methods that may make the process easier.
7. Take Pride & Hold Value in Your Work
Take pride in the work you do, no matter how big or small. Every line of your code should be good enough for you to feel good about it. It should both work and make you feel proud.
You'll never create perfect code and no one else will because creating perfect software isn't possible. But creating code you feel good about will ensure you consistently produce good work.
8. Be Openly Responsible For Your Mistakes
At some point, you're going to screw something up. And then it will happen several more times throughout your career. It happens to all of us, no matter what. When it happens, openly take responsibility and don't blame others.
Handling those situations in that way will build trust and respect amongst your teammates and colleagues.
9. Minimize Distractions When Working
Since you're a human (trigger warning to all the robots reading this), you only have a limited number of productive working hours in a day before you burn out and can no longer work at peak efficiency. Therefore, you need to optimize those available productive hours to get shit done.
These are different for everyone, but try out different methods to see what works best for you. Turning off any phone notifications (email, text message, etc.) may help. Or only checking your email one or two times a day. And not checking social media until you get home after work.
Illustration of a woman and floating social media icons.
10. Get Good at Googling
As a programmer, you will be continuously faced with problems big and small. And most of those problems have been faced by other developers and, therefore, you can find their solutions posted in various places online.
Get good at finding solutions to those questions and problems. Learning to Google effectively can save you a lot of development time. Embrace the fact that Stack Overflow will become your new lord and savior.
11. Don't Be Scared of Asking For Help
But, you shouldn't be afraid to ask for help if you can't figure something out on your own. There may be times when you are stuck on a problem and wasting time searching for a solution.
There is no shame in seeking support. There's a reason why some or all of your colleagues get paid more than you and it's because they have more experience. And most of the time, they will enjoy helping you out and jump at the chance to drop some coding knowledge.
12. Take Breaks From Comparing Yourself to Others
You'll never stop comparing yourself to others in your career and life. It's a natural way to figure out where you stand in the world and, therefore, helps you find out where you want to go.
But sometimes the best way to progress is to compare yourself to where you were yesterday or in the past. That way of thinking will ensure constant growth and minimize feeling down on yourself or having goals outside where you currently are.
13. Test Your Code
The final versions of your software products will be much more stable and predictable if you test your code. Learn different types of tests (unit tests, integration tests, etc.) and use them diligently. They are important.
The more testing you do beforehand, the easier your life will be later on. And the better you'll sleep at night.
14. Learn How to Debug
The code you write won't always do exactly what you expected it to. It's alright, that's normal. But, you'll need to master the process of figuring out why something isn't working and making the necessary fixes.
Figure out the process that works best for you when searching for bugs. And find some useful tools out there that make the process easier.
15. Know How Much You're Worth
Do some research on what other people in your area get paid and what kind of value they bring to the companies they work in. Knowing these things will give you perspective on your current working situation and help you understand what you're worth.
This applies to both your salary and the value provided to your company or team.
Illustration of a man and a human sized wallet with money.
16. Don't Build for Scale Until It's Necessary
Build and write your code with the knowledge in the back of your head that you may need to scale up someday. But don't start with scaling from day one as this is a guaranteed way to get overwhelmed by something that isn't even necessary yet and will slow your development process.
Be prepared to accommodate growth in the future and be ready to create strategies to do so, but don't bog down your codebase and team before it's necessary. If you add too much weight to the rocket, it might not be able to get off the ground.
17. Copy & Paste After You Know How the Code Works
Let's be honest, everyone has copy and pasted code before. Whether it was from Stack Overflow or a random coding blog. And it's okay to do this if you understand what the code does before you copy and paste.
Be intentional and careful about what you choose to introduce. Remember, move slow and don't break things.
18. Be Enjoyable to Be Around & Nice to Others
Life is a lot easier when you have people around you that are willing to help you or just simply support you. But this won't happen if people don't like you.
So be nice to people (as much as you can) and be enjoyable to be around on most days. If you do that, people will like you. And if people like you, they'll be more likely to help you out and you'll make more friends.
19. Take Breaks With the Goal of Boosting Productivity
It's nearly impossible to be 100% productive for the entire workday and will likely cause you to burnout if you attempt to do so. Set a timer to remind you to get up and go for a walk or refill your coffee. And systems like the Pomodoro Technique can help a lot with taking breaks and increasing productivity (we built a Pomodoro Timer if you want to give it a try).
Also, there have been numerous studies that have shown taking breaks to be a crucial component of any work or study session. And that taking breaks drastically helps students learn things more effectively and retain their focus for longer periods of time.
20. Listen More Than You Talk
Whether you're trying to win an argument, be more likable, or persuade someone of something, listening is a key strategy to pick up on vital information and it makes you seem trustworthy and respectful.
And you most likely work with really smart people, some of which even smarter than you. Therefore, they may have some coding or life knowledge they could pass on to you. If you're too busy talking, you may miss out on that.
Illustration of a two men having a conversation.
21. Take on Projects That Scare You
It's crucial to keep expanding your comfort zone with both your career and coding skills. By taking on projects that scare you a little and stretch your comfort zone, you'll become a better developer and progress faster in your career.
You'll need to experience a little pain and fear to grow. And to do this, you'll need to seek things that expand your comfort zone.
22. Give Functions & Variables Descriptive Names
You want your code to be as easy to understand as possible. One way your code will become exponentially easier for others to read is if you give your functions and variables names that describe what they do or what they represent.
For example, a function named aDopeFunctionIMade has a bad name and a function named calculateCartTotal has a good name.
23. Write Descriptive Code Comments
Another thing that makes your code more readable is to add code comments that explain "why" you did what you did in the code in question. This isn't hard to do but just takes effort to include in your code.
This goes hand-in-hand with giving function and variables descriptive names.
24. Get Used to Constructive Criticism
You're never going to enjoy receiving criticism for your work. But to get better, you'll need to get used to receiving criticism and not getting emotional about things.
If your code sucks, don't you want someone to tell you? The only alternative is for them to hide it from you, which is even worse. If you accept criticism with grace, you'll gain respect from others because of it and you'll improve your skills.
25. Find Your Niche
There are a ton of different areas in the tech industry for you to find success in. Find the area that interests you the most or that you're really good at and become an expert at it.
Being an expert in a niche is what gives you leverage and turns you from a commodity into a necessity for your company or the industry you're targeting. But this is easier said than done and it may take you a while to figure this out.
26. Learn a Little About the Business Side of Things
Spend some time to learn a little about the business side of the company or team you work in. What do the salespeople do all day and why are they valuable? What about accounting or marketing?
You don't need to become an expert in those areas. But understanding that side of the business will put your individual job in a better perspective and help you create more value for the collective company or team goal.
27. Learn by Teaching & Sharing With Others
The protégé effect is a psychological phenomenon where teaching or pretending to teach information to others helps you learn that information better than if you otherwise didn't. This applies to a lot of fields. but especially programming.
You could do this by teaching something to a teammate or colleague. Or you could start a personal coding blog and write tutorials teaching other people programming concepts. The act of formulating your teachings into something another person can learn will drastically improve your own understanding of the subject.
Illustration of a professor teaching
28. Take the Time to Write Good Documentation
This is something that a lot of programmers neglect. But good documentation helps you and others grasp what your code or project is all about.
If you write well structured, comprehensive and readable documentation, you're code or project will be easier to use and, therefore, people will be more likely to use it.
29. Avoid Unnecessary Meetings as Much as Possible
Although company meetings can be extremely helpful in hashing out ideas and establishing project goals, they can also be an incredible time sink if you let them get out of control. There will always be people where you work who love scheduling meetings whether or not they are really needed.
You'll need to learn ways to turn them down in a nice way that still salvages your work relationships. Or you may need to learn the art of just saying "no" to people and living with the consequences of that.
30. Be a Master of Your Toolbox
Any master of their trade has a toolbox filled with the tools they know inside-and-out that they use to get the job done. They know each tool inside out and treat them as an extension of themselves.
As a programmer, you should build yourself a bag of tools as well. Master your chosen text editor to maximize your productivity or find a testing framework that works well for you. Know which tools serve what purpose and learn when each tool should be used over another one.
31. Try a New Language Every Once in a While
Don't over-do this, but try a new language every once in a while. Using a different language will make you think differently in big or small ways compared to the language you've been using.
These new pathways of thinking will help your problem-solving skills across the board when using current and/or future languages.
32. Make an Effort to Maintain Your Physical Health
Programming is an incredibly sedentary profession. You will spend your days sitting in a desk (look into getting a standing desk by the way), staring at a computer screen. Over long periods of time, this will change your body in negative ways if you don't make an effort of staying healthy.
Schedule out two or three days a week for exercise. Get eight hours of sleep every day. And plan some activities out that don't involve coding. These will help you live a healthier life, which will bleed into your programming career.
33. Build Dope Stuff
Not every day at work will give you the feeling of walking on the sunshine. But if you spend your days working on things you find impactful or generally cool, you'll experience many more good days than bad days.
And the more cool stuff you build either in your free time or at your day job, the more recognition you'll get in your niche and the more opportunities that'll present themselves.
34. Never Give Up
Life is hard and programming is hard. There'll be many times when you get a strong desire to quit. When those moments happen, realize that everyone goes through them. And that you'll need to power through those moments if you want to keep growing as a programmer and in your career.
But remember that pivoting is different from giving up. If what you're doing isn't working or doesn't feel right and you need to try a new idea or strategy, then pivot to something new. But never give up.
This is the most important one. Everything else in this list is moot if you decide to quit.
Conclusion
There you have it, those are 34 tips to help you become a great software developer. Hopefully, one or more of those resonated with you well or will help you in your coding and/or career journey.
Thanks for reading and happy coding!