Tips From One Remote Junior Developer to Another

Becoming the Apprentice, and then Junior Developer at OmbuLabs was both exciting and nerve racking. Learning a new company can be challenging, especially when the skills are new and the work is remote.

Fortunately OmbuLabs made the journey a smooth and easy process. Here are some of the things that have been working.

Communication, communication, communication.

Communication is sometimes the hardest skill to excel in when working remotely. Here at OmbuLabs we use a variety of tools and methods to help make communication easier and more accessible.

Slack:

Communicating on Slack throughout the day is the quickest way to reach the team. As a Junior Developer it can be scary to post code and ask for help. You are constantly walking a fine line between figuring things out on your own so as not to take too much senior developer time, and knowing when it would be faster to ask for help.

A great way to conquer this is to set time limits and guidelines for yourself. When you come up against an error or general topic that you don’t understand, give yourself X amount of time to decipher it. Set a timer, and when that time is up it’s the moment to turn to Slack.

We have many channels on Slack. Choosing the appropriate channel helps to let the right set of Developers know that you have a question. For example, we have a general “learning” channel, but also separate channels for each project.

Sometimes you can just choose a specific Senior Developer to ask the question to. Maybe the Senior Developer has helped you with that area in the past, and you won’t have to re-explain the problem, therefore it can be a quick question.

Pivotal Tracker:

We use Pivotal Tracker to keep track of user stories, and set sprints for the week. Pivotal Tracker also allows for comments and this has become a useful tool when keeping track of what’s been worked on in a story with a Senior Developer.

You can explain the progress that has been made on a story so far. Then, when you need to ask a Senior Developer for help, you can point them directly to the story which already holds information on the problem.

Pairing:

Pairing is the most important tool available to a remote Junior Developer. At OmbuLabs we have a ratio of six Senior Developers to one Junior Developer at the moment. This has allowed for a robust paring schedule. Each senior developer gives two hours of time every other week, that way the Junior Developer receives a total of 6 pairing hours a week. This is invaluable time in the learning process.

Tracking Progress

On the journey to becoming a Developer there is A LOT to learn. Even when you finally make it to a comfortable place in your Developer career there will still be so much more to learn, so keeping track of it all is very helpful in the process.

Journal:

Keeping a journal (I use a google doc) is an important step in organizing all the things you learn or that you should learn. During pair sessions and throughout the day it is a good idea to take notes and jot down various resources and ideas that are thrown your way.

Backlog Grooming:

This is a term stolen from agile, but it also applies well when looking back at the information and projects you’ve been gathering. It’s a good idea to go through the journal or notes, pull out things you need to study or work on, and check off ideas or concepts that you have gained an understanding in.

Getting to know the team

When working in a remote environment it is difficult to form relationships and get to know your teammates, this is very important for the Junior Developer though because it helps you communicate better about work. A Junior Developer is much more likely to communicate effectively if they feel comfortable with the Senior Developer on the other end of the line. At OmbuLabs we have several tools that help to build relationships.

Retreat:

This year we held a team retreat, this has made all the difference in company culture. As the Junior Developer it helped me build relationships with Senior Developers so that feelings of awkwardness and nervousness began to dissipate. You can read more about our retreat here.

A Get To Know You Chat:

Instrumental in the onboarding process at OmbuLabs is the chance to set up half hour meetings with each of your colleagues to learn a little more about them as people, and what they specifically do within the company. Some of the most important things I know about my colleagues I learned in these first half hour sessions. It was a way to quickly have an understanding of the make-up of the company and how everything is structured. This is especially important in a small company, but could also be used in an adjusted way in larger companies.

Summary

As a summary, the most important things in working towards being a successful Junior Developer remotely are communication, keeping track of the sometimes overwhelming amount of information given to you, and getting to know your teammates to make interactions smooth and seamless. It also doesn’t hurt to be flexible, enthusiastic, and open to criticism!