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It’s not all about the code: The road to becoming a Lead Mobile Developer

"Ganton" playing hockey in an ice rink
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Everyone’s journey is different. Many of you junior developers may feel the need to jump between companies early on to get experience and work your way up. I happened to take a different path.

Exactly five years ago, on March 3rd, 2015, I began my career at TTT. Now, I’m the Lead Mobile Developer here. Staying here had many hidden benefits and I’d like to share some aspects of becoming a senior developer that I wish I knew when I was a junior.

Personal growth isn’t constant

To grow at an organization, you need to be able to learn new technologies. Learning new frameworks and languages allows you to stay current in the ever-changing tech industry. 

More important than coding well is building a solid underlying structure for your code. Making features is one thing, but designing code that allows features to be built on it in a readable and maintainable way is essential in large codebases.

Whether you’re getting faster at building features or getting better with code architecture, your learning won’t be constant. Staying up to date with different languages and frameworks is key to maintaining growth, and there’s no better place to do that than in an agency type environment.

Working at a studio like TTT

TTT is a digital innovation studio. 

This means we have many clients giving us a flow of new projects for our devs. I was hired for android initially, then took on iOS projects, backend work and even some web development work. Due to the nature of the work, adaptability is the key to success at a company like TTT. It’s as if my job changes every 4 to 6 months.

At TTT, there’s often one developer in charge of a project. This means we have complete ownership over our work. This level of responsibility is seldom found in single-product companies where you work in large teams.

This sense of ownership and a steady stream of changing projects was very important for my learning and personal growth over the years. Each project was unique and had different kinds of challenges. Some were more challenging than others. It’s natural to have some tasks that feel more procedural or monotonous. Your learning won’t be constant.

Getting past the plateaus

There comes a point in every developer’s career when you hit a plateau. Maybe you get stuck in the same role, or your learning opportunities decrease. When this happens, you might be tempted to jump ship and seek opportunities elsewhere, but this won’t necessarily solve the problem, especially if the issue is an internal one.

When I felt like I was at a standstill, I started to teach and mentor newer developers. Doing this allowed me to see things from a different perspective, and even made me hold myself to a higher standard of work.  

Instead of jumping ship, it’s a good idea to find different ways to work through the plateau. If you’re able to stick with it, you might find yourself moving past the plateaus and into steady long term growth. 

Speak with your manager, speak with the project lead or speak with founders to see if things can be changed to find more learning opportunities. Speaking with key decision-makers and having it work out in your favour gets easier the longer you’ve been at a company.

As projects and tasks get done, you not only gain new experience but familiarize yourself with the processes and procedures of your company – a whole other set of skills.

You’re responsible for systems, not just code

If you just started your first job as a developer, you’re probably very excited. Your eagerness might show as a willingness to try different ways of doing things. While being innovative and creative is good, one thing I’ve developed in my 5 years at TTT is an appreciation for the processes we have in place. 

I saw and understood why we made the decisions we made because I was there when these systems were established. If you’re around long enough, you’re less likely to propose a change that could revert back to the original issue. You’re more likely to reflect deeply on any issues or inefficiencies in the current system and make meaningful, well-thought suggestions. 
Another benefit of staying in one place is the relationships you build with people. Over the years, I’ve grown very close with Chris and Dave, TTT’s co-founders. Having taken the time to build trust and rapport, I feel comfortable sharing my thoughts and suggestions directly with them. This direct line of communication and trust has contributed to bringing me where I am today.

Mitch Ganton receiving a gift at TTT’s 2019 Christmas gift exchange
Me receiving a gift at TTT’s 2019 Christmas gift exchange next to David Hobbs, TTT’s co-founder.

Becoming a lead and becoming a leader

Being a Lead means making sure everyone is up to date and following their timeline. It feels good to share my understanding of the processes we have in place and why they exist.

For example, no matter the project, developers need to use the same coding style even if you’re the sole dev on a project. Why? Things can happen and occasionally people need to be swapped between projects. If there isn’t enough documentation and consistency between projects, swapping devs would be a big pain. 

Being a Lead also means being a leader.

The mentee becomes the mentor

When I first arrived at TTT, some of my training was through a mentor. This is common – you might have even asked about it in your interview. But did you ask about becoming a mentor?

You can learn a lot in 5 years. I certainly did. The knowledge I gained is the primary reason I’m in a lead position – but I’m not just expected to code. I’ve also become a mentor for incoming junior devs. 

Being a mentor means a lot to me. I really enjoy helping others and it shows how far I have come. After all, in order to teach, one must first fully understand the topic. 

Mentoring is more like being a guide. I make sure you have the latest project updates and are using the same framework. In the end, though, you still need to take ownership of your code.

Appreciate what you have

The one thing that stayed the same the last 5 years was my appreciation for the opportunity to do what I love – code. 

While the developer world glorifies working at unicorn companies like Facebook or Amazon and encourages young developers to hop between hot startups, patience is a value that helped me establish meaningful work at an awesome company.

They say the grass is always greener on the other side. At TTT, the grass is green and I’m having a good time. 

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