How to Choose Your Path in Tech: 5 Tips from a Developer
The author is EPAM Senior Software Engineer Victor Zapata.
Recently, I had a conversation with a relative who asked me about the best path for his tech career. His main concern was what programming language to choose for his primary skill as developer, and what technologies fit well with this programming language.
I was tempted to give him my own favorite stack and my roadmap, but I tried to avoid projecting my wishes onto him. I think each person should pursue their individual goals and avoid being tied to other people’s preferences. My short answer was (and still is): do what your heart loves. This is an honest recommendation, but not a simple answer, and that is why I offer more detail in this article. The question I explore below is: how do you choose the best career path for yourself after getting involved in technology?
I identified some key aspects to focus on, based on my own experience, and then added other factors to consider. The result is not an exhaustive list or the definitive solution for everyone. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, only general guidelines that can help you on your journey. So, if you are new to software development, or if you want to explore some techniques to help you choose a different technology stack, or even if you don’t yet know what you want to do in your life, I hope the article will be helpful for you.
Tip 1. Do what your heart loves
Honestly, I believe this is the best advice I can give. We should be moved by passion, enthusiasm, and joy. This is possible only if we do things we love. In my case, I love to be in front of my computer and create innovative solutions using all of my abilities. I feel like an artist, and I navigate deep into the process of building solutions in the flavor of software.
There is a phrase, commonly attributed to Confucius: “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” I know people who are excellent professionals and don’t work for money. Their main purpose is doing what they are good at. The counterintuitive part is that they are successful in both: doing what they love while making money.
Identifying the things that we love might be difficult. Maybe we enjoy many activities, and it is not easy to pick up only one. Or, conversely, maybe we don’t find joy in any activity. A straightforward way to figure out what we love is to make a list of activities we enjoy. It could be a hobby like singing or crafting, or a specific talent like drawing or writing code. This list should include activities related to the path we want to build.
Once we find our passion, we should stay away from people who try to convince us not to do what we love. Avoid, for example, those who refer to some programming language or technology by saying ”ABC language is the worst, XYZ is the best.” The truth is that each solution is different and has a suitable programming language. Although some languages are appropriate for general purposes, sometimes it is better to build a solution using ABC instead of XYZ. Moreover, there are many solutions that don’t require a new software implementation.
Tip 2. Practice self-knowledge and never stop learning
The journey through the exciting world of technology starts with understanding ourselves. Accurately assessing our strengths and weaknesses is essential for finding the right path. If we understand ourselves, we will have an easier time choosing a path that resonates with our interests and abilities. We will know what things we should learn and what things we shouldn’t. For example, if we are good with maths, numbers, analytics, understanding data, and explaining complex topics, becoming a data scientist might be a reasonable path.
We should also be eager to learn. Understanding our current skills is the best way to start our journey, continuous learning is the way to move on and progress in our career. But we need to learn wisely, since learning simply for the sake of learning is a waste of time. Instead, we should learn things that are interesting to us, and important for our career and the person that we want to become.
Tip 3. Be aware of market demand
There are many people who have similar skill sets. I think this is okay for most of us at certain phases of our lives. However, I think we should give ourselves the chance to be unique, make a difference, and find the spark that sets us apart and makes us shine.
This is the perfect moment to assess an overall picture of the market and try to find out how we can contribute to meeting the world’s needs. This is our opportunity to align our career path in a distinctive manner. If the world needs doctors, let’s become doctors. If the world needs shoemakers, let’s be shoemakers. If the world needs Python developers, let’s learn Python.
This applies not only to newcomers. Senior specialists should also be aware of market necessities and develop extra skills to cover them. This is how our profiles are improved while remaining unique and valuable.
Tip 4. Explore trends
I am cautious when discussing trending topics because trends change. The top technologies of today might not be used tomorrow. We live in a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world where everything is changing constantly. This is particularly true for tech. My advice is: watch trends, but don’t choose something just based on its current popularity. Of course, seeing many people adopting some technology is a good signal, but there are many other factors to consider. Floppy disks were the best at their time.
This is why I recommend conducting a deeper analysis, including a review of the current state of the industry (popularity) and the path the trends are taking (vision). I recommend this Gartner article to learn more about current tech trends.
Tip 5. Use the ikigai concept to understand what brings you pleasure
The ikigai concept is a powerful tool to help us realize our purpose in life. It can reveal what we should be dedicated to, giving order to our lives. I wish I learned of this technique before starting my career. It is not that I didn’t have my purpose in life. I do. But by applying ikigai, my path would have been clearer from the very beginning.
Ikigai is divided into 4 principal areas:
- what you love,
- what you are good at,
- what the world needs, and
- what you can be paid for.
By identifying these components in your own life, you can find your purpose. Of course, sometimes it is not as easy as we would like to figure this out. If you experience difficulties, it is convenient to break down each component by asking some questions. For example, to find “what you love,” you can answer related questions such as: what do you never get bored of, what things make you happy, what things can you do without being aware of the passage of time?
The content of this article might seem a bit generic and slightly different from the promised topic. My goal, however, was to identify things that we should consider without tying the answer to any one stack or profession. This way we can avoid biases while emphasizing that the process is unique for each person.
Remember: do what your heart loves, never stop learning, and don’t choose something solely based on popularity.
I want to conclude by bringing your attention to the remarkable speech by Steve Jobs at the 2005 Stanford Commencement. I find it inspirational, and it summarizes how to merge passion, vocation, mission, and profession.