How to not feel like a value sink as a junior developer

After writing my surprisingly well-received reddit post on value, people have been messaging me privately about their concerns with demonstrating value as a junior dev on a team of experienced devs.

Most notably, this message jumped out to me as it really speaks to junior devs' frustration and pains in their work:

I’m a front end new grad with about 6 months in industry and I struggled (and to some degree still struggle with) feeling like I’m a value sink for my team or that I’m not learning fast enough to be a good return on investment. As a senior developer what are some valuable contributions you’ve seen from junior developers?

Boy oh boy, that sounds painful, doesn't it?

Yet, we've all felt that one way or another before:

Feeling worthless because you have the least experience on the entire team;

Feeling frustrated because you seem to get stuck on the stupidest little problems;

Feeling ashamed because you think you should've known these things already;

Feeling guilty because asking others for help is a huge waste of their time and energy;

Feeling overwhelmed because the more you learn the more you know you need to learn;

Feeling like a value sink instead of a value adder.

How about when you want to fit in with the rest of your team, but you are confused by their inside jokes and use of advanced technical jargons — yeah, that feeling stings you like a mofo.

My official title now is Senior Front-end Engineer, but don't let that fool you, I know full well that putting aside the ego-boost, these feelings that "I'm not good enough" are still there.

What can I say? Imposter syndrome is a b-.

That said, I'm not as affected by these feelings as I was when I first started out. The main difference is that I know how to respond to these feelings now and how to not let them hinder me as I improve myself and grow.

Get away from me, imposter syndrome!

The first thing to understand is this: everyone can be valuable to others through their own way.

If you are struggling to find a job now, it may be that your potential employers failed to see the value in you; it could be that you haven't found the best way to present your values to others; it could also be that you haven't found what others need so you don't know how you can be valuable just yet.

If you have a job now, no matter how "low" your position is, you are definitely valuable. Employers don't pay you for you skills — they pay you for the value you provide for them.

With that out of the way, let's talk about how junior devs specifically can be valuable.

Unique values of a junior dev

It may not be easy to spot on the surface, but junior devs have their own special way of adding value to a company.

Let's break the issue down and tackle them one by one.

1. Lack of technical skills

You are new to the industry, hence the "junior" in your title, so it's understandable that others who have been in the industry for years are better than you technically.

It's important to note that there are people who are better at what they do than even the most senior person on your team. In other words, if you compare yourself with people better than you, you will never be good enough.

But, you don't have to be, do you? You can still compare with those who are better than you technically, but let them be your inspiration and guiding post that motivate you to become more like them.

And what to do with your lacking technical skills? Practice, practice and practice.

I wrote about this through sharing my embarrassing experience learning the one-handed shuffle.

I also wrote about the best way I found to practice.

2. Lack of self-worth

From my personal experience and anecdotes I hear, a lot of times companies hire juniors and treat them as juniors.

By that I mean sometimes the more boring and mindless work nobody wants to do is assigned to juniors. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

From a less cynical perspective, it's not the company's fault to do that, but they often do need to find better ways to utilize skills juniors have and uncover their potentials.

In more cynical scenarios, people (managers, seniors, co-workers) could literally assign you impossible tasks so when things go south, you can take the blame for them.

Again, how you respond to this affects your mentality; if you treat it as a challenge that helps you grow, you can feel more excited and motivated to work through it. And hey, they expected you to not find solutions easily, so if you don't, then no harm to anybody.

Those people who you look up to got good at what they do by going through the same phase you are going through now. Problem is people tend to forget what it was like and what they went through to achieve their level of competence, so they appear less considerate.

3. Being a time and resource drain (a.k.a. value sink)

This one's interesting.

I think a junior dev should be able to bother a more senior person as much as he/she wants. If you don't ask questions, your teammates won't know that you are stuck, confused and having problems.

Of course, being respectful and considerate when doing so helps tremendously.

If you start the question with "would you be available later to help me with something quick?", then they have the choice of saying "sure" or "sorry, I'm busy with something right now, but I can help you afterwards." Either way, you have successfully signalled to them that you need help.

And after they help you, you have another chance of showing your gratitude and you being considerate by saying something like "thanks so much! I don't want to take any more of your time, so I will figure out the rest myself."

Heck, this is not How to Talk to More Senior Devs 101; this is simply how to be a good co-worker in general.

And this is your gentle reminder that they are human, too!

So unless they are real assholes, people generally don't have a problem with you asking a lot of questions — it's just a form of communication with your team.

In other news, humans like to feel good about themselves if you let them. So if you are being humble, asking questions and showing respect, others may even love helping you (or loving being recognized for their expertise).

And there you have it!

Feeling like a value sink is demoralizing, so I really hope this post can help some of you out there to overcome some of mental obstacles and burdens and start feeling happier in your job.

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