Experienced developers share their career advice for young professionals

Betheena Elgincolin, TELUS
TELUS and Suncor devs want young coders and IT professionals alike to celebrate success while embracing failure.

The explosion of new tools for building software reinforces the need for developers to continuously improve their technical skills. But growing as a developer is about more than finding new ways to ship code.

As the craft of software development continues to evolve, Microsoft Canada asked seasoned developers about their experience in the industry and what career advice they would share with junior colleagues. BetaKit spoke with two leaders–Ricardo Maldonado, a Development Lead at Calgary-based Suncor, and Betheena Elgincolin, Senior Technology Architect at TELUS–about their journeys so far.

The start of any developer’s career often features a singular focus on learning how to write high-quality code; it’s a priority, but shouldn’t be the only one. Maldonado shared that early in his career while working in IT support for a process improvement software company, he accelerated his advancement by proactively looking for “new challenges and opportunities to grow.” As a product owner now at Suncor, he knows that solutions for his organization come in many forms, ranging from complex pieces of code or external solutions to low-code/no-code approaches.

Elgincolin had a similar experience in her early career and noted the need to embrace both new technologies and new approaches.

“Embrace failure as an opportunity to learn and grow, and use what you learn to share your experience with your team,” Elgincolin said. “Celebrate successes, however small, as this will inspire and motivate your team to keep striving for improvement.”

Both Elgincolin and Maldonado pointed to the need for young developers to connect with the broader ecosystem to accelerate their education beyond personal experience. Maldonado said he continually learns through a steady diet of tech news, participating in workshops and collaborating with the large community of practice in the space of low-code/no-code. Elgincolin, on the other hand, said she gets exposure to new technologies through industry publications and attending conferences or webinars to learn from peers.

It’s a given that during your career you will eventually run into a specific problem that online research or conferences don’t cover. In those cases, Maldonado said a mindset of curiosity is critical. He shared the example early in his career when a manager instructed him to do his own research on a problem and come back with specific questions, rather than expecting the manager to provide all the information. This act, he said, taught him that “personal development starts with taking the initiative to learn and try new things, rather than waiting for traditional learning methods.”

“Every problem presents an opportunity to learn, whether it’s your own problem or someone else’s,” he added.

“Embrace failure as an opportunity to learn and grow, and use what you learn to share your experience with your team.”

Curiosity is something Maldonado still brings to his job–and it’s even more important now that he’s a manager, a role that requires helping teams at Suncor become more efficient. In order to help, Maldonado needs to deeply understand a team’s daily pain points, safety concerns, and process bottlenecks. His team also looks at frontline worker feedback and historical data and might conduct first-party surveys to gather more information. Only then do they bring in their technical skills to build a solution.

“Our goal is to find ways to mitigate the risk and improve the processes at the same time, using digital technologies to build software solutions that solve real problems for our ops/maintenance teams,” said Maldonado. Case in point, Suncor started using Microsoft Power Apps to digitize paper-based processes for large-scale maintenance programs. This improved the efficiency of their work, resulting in better communication and timelier execution.

Solving real problems is the dream of any dev, but the journey from individual contributor to manager is not always smooth. Looking back at her whole career path, Elgincolin shared her winding path as a lesson for new developers: when she first heard about computer science as a high school student in the Philippines, she didn’t have any computer classes and the internet was fairly new at the time. Despite those hurdles, she applied to a CS degree program at university, graduated, and got a job in IT. She then moved to Canada and worked at SAP before joining TELUS and ultimately being promoted to her current role.

Elgincolin’s career progression was aided by her ability to learn technical skills and stay on top of new trends. But she ultimately credits much of her success to “developing meaningful relationships and working effectively with others.”

Looking toward the future, Elgincolin noted that “it appears that artificial intelligence, machine learning and Internet of Things (IoT) are driving the way forward.” Maldonado felt similarly, and said that for coders, AI “will increasingly be part of the solution.”

For developers thinking about AI’s potential, Maldonado noted that the actual skill set they’ll need isn’t necessarily in building AI technology. Instead, it’s about cultivating data analysis skills. As artificial intelligence will exponentially increase the amount of data in the world, knowing how to analyze that data by leveraging AI models will make it possible to build better predictive models and make more data-informed decisions.

“While we have had advanced analytics and machine learning in the past, I believe that AI is the new low-code/no-code version of data analysis,” Maldonado added. “This will allow people like me and my team to build solutions powered by AI with less effort than in the past.”

Regardless of what comes, Elgincolin’s advice for career growth boils down to interactions with other people. She shared that she experienced many challenges throughout her career as a woman in STEM, particularly the inability to speak her mind and the need to prove herself continuously. However, she said she overcame those challenges through hard work and drawing from other inspiring women. This led her to realize a key factor of career progression: kindness compounds the results of hard work.

“The lesson learned that I would want to share with everyone out there is to always treat others with kindness and respect,” said Elgincolin. “People will not remember you for what you have accomplished. They will remember how you treated them.”

Check out Microsoft Build on-demand to learn about the latest AI tools for developers & read about each announcement in the Microsoft Build 2023 Book of News.

Stefan Palios

Stefan Palios

Stefan is a Nova Scotia-based entrepreneur and writer passionate about the people behind tech. He's interviewed over 200 entrepreneurs on topics like management, scaling, diversity and inclusion, and sharing their personal stories. Follow him on Twitter @stefanpalios.

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