Behind the Scenes at Jungle Disk - Lessons Learned When Moving from Tech Support to Development

Hi, my name is Jonathan and I’ve been a developer at Jungle Disk for about a year now. I want to share with you some words of advice and helpful suggestions that I would’ve appreciated having earlier in my career… What to stay focused on when trying to move from tech support to development.

I can’t promise that what I share here will help you to do the same, but these principles have helped in my experience, so I hope they can help you as well!

Principle 1 - Be driven and communicate your drive.

Find out what your boss wants out of the next level up (promotion-wise) and go for it - exceed expectations if possible. This question usually sounds something like this: “What do I need to be doing to be promoted?”

This isn’t a cash-grab: you’re discovering and executing on what will help your boss and your company to succeed. Think of your relationship with your boss as symbiotic. Helping your boss to be successful can only help you in the long-run. The other side of that is also true - a good leader will empower his/her employees and help them succeed.

Principle 2 - Learn your new skills and be willing to learn them without getting paid for it.

What to learn

I’d encourage you to start by learning or working toward something that can (if possible) make you more effective at work. For example, we use Zendesk as our ticket system. In the early days, I learned how to interact with Zendesk’s REST API and built a few widgets within its App platform in my spare time to process customer tickets a little more efficiently. Building a tool or something that can help you perform better at work is good - building one that can help your whole team perform better is great!

When to learn

If your job involves taking calls all day, then work probably isn’t the right place to be learning about software development… but if your boss is encouraging it during slower moments of your shift, then definitely learn at work! Just keep in mind that those slow moments alone are likely not enough to get you where you want to be in a reasonable timeframe.

Principle 3 - Be diligent.

You shouldn’t let your current job requirements or performance slip during this time of learning and growth.

No matter how great you’re becoming at your new interest, poor performance with what your company is currently trusting you with will only serve to hinder your progress in the future. Any new skills, tools or information you share with your team and boss may leave a sour taste in their mouths if your work performance has been slipping. Even if you don’t plan to move into development within the company you’re currently at, an interviewer’s call to your boss may convince the new company to not take a chance on you.

How responsible you are with your current tasks does make a difference.

Principle 4 - Interact with the development team.

Find out the direction that the development team is headed in and stay aligned with them.

From time to time in meetings, I would mention a tool or feature I was working on in my spare time. Eventually, the developers started offering advice or sharing articles for me to check out. It probably goes without saying, but always voice your appreciation when someone is willing to help you out.

I also learned from our developers that they were wanting to move toward using Go for service-level programming in the future. I didn’t know it yet, so I studied Go and wrote a few programs with it to try and make myself more desirable. This turned out to be one of the best decisions in retrospect since I spent this past year programming almost completely in Go.

Learning Resources

Today’s online learning resources are fantastic and I’ve tried to take advantage of them whenever I can. Here are some of the resources that I’ve used and have found to be helpful.

  • Try Ruby - This site really blew me away. It’s super interactive, which is perfect for the way my mind works. I don’t program a lot in ruby currently, but that could change in the future since we do have some websites and services running on top of ruby here at Jungle Disk.
  • Regular Expressions 101 - In situations where you need to rely on regular expressions, having a tool to help you tinker with and perfect your expression can be vital. This site is the one I usually turn to when I need to tweak python/go expressions.
  • Free Dev Books - I like having books around for reference, particularly on the ‘right’ or ‘accepted’ way to do things for a language. This site has reverences to a satisfying number of free books that I found out about recently and can hardly wait to dig into.
  • Code School - Let me start by saying this is a paid service (the only one on this list) and is not sponsored. Code School takes the approach of teaching a concept via instructional video and having you complete exercises based on that concept before moving on to more learning. They’ve typically focused on front-end programming (ruby, html/css/javascript, etc.), and recently invested more in Python and Go. The first chapter of their courses is typically free so I’d encourage you to check those out first to see if the service works with your learning style and preferences before committing to the monthly fee. Also at the start of each school year, they typically put their yearly subscription on about a 50 percent sale. That is a great time to commit if this service works for you!

For those of you aspiring to move to development, I hope something in this post has helped to encourage you to chase after your dream. I am excited to come into work everyday. I have a blast doing what I love to do with people I love to work with on challenging projects that benefit our customers. I know that technical development isn’t easy or fast. I spent my entire adult life working my way to this point but it’s definitely worth the effort.

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