How To Become A Valuable Programmer

Zachary Minott is a 6x Certified Salesforce Developer at Revolent Group. In this article he shares his experience on how he became a valuable programmer, and how you can too, in just six months.

I came into the Salesforce development industry knowing nothing, absolutely nothing, about Salesforce: how it was used in business nor how to even develop on it. I was as clueless as a newborn baby seeing the light for the first time — I suppose most of you understand this feeling when tackling a new programming language or framework.

That being said, I was very uncomfortable starting and was afraid that I wouldn’t fare well in this uncharted territory of cloud development.

Boy, was I wrong.

Come my first week of training and I fell in love with this technology almost immediately. I was baffled and bummed that I wasn’t able to cross paths with this powerful tech sooner.

I started setting long-term goals early on. I spent time outside of work relentlessly trying to learn and understand everything I possibly could about the platform, and I started teaching, mentoring, and inspiring everyone around me with my quick accomplishments and gained knowledge.

I found my niche. I found an opportunity where I had the potential to provide an extraordinary amount of value to businesses, my peers, and to myself as the Salesforce development space supplements the perfect mixture of both business and programmatic skills — a standard that I could easily get behind as I recognized myself as not only a good communicator (thanks to years of athletics), but also a passionate tech geek.

If you’re not aware of the Salesforce ecosystem, you should know that this is a space where certifications actually matter. Certifications are always relevant in Salesforce, and depending on what certifications you get, they are a very clear marker of competency, drawing eyes and value to yourself as an asset in this ecosystem. This is because the exams are hard. Very hard. And to pass one of these exams is to show that you know what you are doing and that you can at least convey to the public eye that you are relevant.

I am telling this story of certifications because in my first week of the nine-week training program I was put in, I was told that I’d only be receiving two certifications at that time. I said I wanted four, and they told me that it was unheard of and that it couldn’t be done, especially for someone so junior and new to the technology itself and the tech industry as a whole. Even seasoned Salesforce professionals would struggle to do this.

My reaction? I’ll prove them wrong.

Fast forward 9-weeks later. I set a company record for achieving four certifications in that period of time, which almost immediately led me to achieve a company-wide award, speak on the company podcast, be a designated mentor for new hires, have the opportunity to speak in front of an audience during a company-wide zoom call, and get contracted immediately out to a fast-growing startup consulting company where I was given the opportunity to stretch my skills on a daily basis. Keep in mind that this company has hundreds of employees and was voted to be one of 2020’s top 25 companies to work at for new grads.

Fast forward 6-months after I first got hired. I achieved two top-tier certifications that only people with upwards of three to five years of experience are recommended to take — and still people with that amount of experience fail and struggle to get those achievements.

Now I’m on the fast track to potentially become one of the youngest ever to be deemed as a technical architect (not quite there yet, but will be), a position that only a handful of people in the world are worthy to call themselves. What’s baffling to me is that there are almost fewer people with that certification than there are certified astronauts in the world (astronauts are still more extraordinary though — this number will surely rise over time).

All of this, and I have become one of the most valued and decorated programmers in both my parent company and the consulting company that I’m currently positioned at. Thing is, I still have so much more to grow and a long road ahead of me.

So this poses the question: How can you do the same? How can you become a valued programmer not only in your own eyes but also in the eyes of your company and the people you work with? How can you drastically accelerate your learning to the point where you can’t be ignored and become respected as a skilled and competent programmer? Someone that everyone can depend on and trust?

Set a Goal, Write It Down, and Break It Into Pieces

When I was first familiarizing myself with the technology of Salesforce, I tried figuring out where this career path could take me. I started scouring the internet for information and eventually found that the most renowned position that I could possibly land in is getting certified as a technical architect ($6,000 to even take this test — yeesh).

I immediately set my sights on achieving that.

When researching further, I saw that there was a large set of prerequisites needed to even take the test, among a plethora of different certifications available that were considered of high value.

What I did with that information was then write down an actionable, time-restricted plan that clearly defined the path of learning I wanted and needed to take in order to distinguish myself enough to be able to get to that point.

I let my goals drive me and set tiny, achievable milestones to ultimately propel me closer and closer to that goal without getting discouraged.

That’s what you must do. It doesn’t matter what field of programming you practice — be it web, game, app, or whatever type of development that you do — there is always an ideal vision that you can work towards.

Goal-setting is proven to be linked with higher achievement as it instills an inner sense of motivation, confidence, and autonomy. Not only that, but a Harvard study found that ten years after graduating, those who wrote down their goals with no concrete plan ended up making twice as much more money than those who didn’t set goals, and those who wrote down their goals with a concrete plan ended up making ten times more than the rest of the study group.

Goals are absolutely powerful.

You must allow yourself to become goal-oriented. I can attest that setting these goals, writing out a plan, and sharing it with my peers allowed me to become engulfed in a constant state of motivation to keep working towards what I envisioned for myself.

Therefore it is absolutely essential that you sit down and really ask yourself, “Where do I want to be in a year, 5 years, or 10 years from now?” Then write that down and break apart every single step that would be required to get you to live that vision. Steps so small that they could be separated into daily, weekly, or monthly milestones.

Maybe you always dreamed of building a world-changing application. Hold that vision in your mind and work on it every single day, one step at a time. Maybe start off by just setting up the work environment one day. Then build out a simple component the next — like a button or text on a screen. Then add the next smallest thing. Then the next. And after you’ve built your prototype, reiterate and refine. Next thing you know, you’ll find yourself closer and closer to that vision you shaped in your mind.

All it takes is one step to find a way to level-up your skills and value. Start with defining and writing down that goal that you believe will generate that amount of value.

Learn to Capitalize on Your Time

The sad thing is that a vast amount of people waste their time without even noticing it, while time exists to be the most valuable constant and limitation in our lives as it is well known we will not live forever and can leave this life at any given moment.

You might be one of those people that always complain about not having enough time in your day to pursue any habitual self-improving or self-educating activities that could bolster your programming career.

If you want to be productive at anything, first start by taming your time.

What allowed me to generate an immense amount of value so quickly wasn’t that I was a superhuman gifted with the intelligence to catch on to things in a split second and was endowed with a neverending supply of energy and productivity. I still slack off regularly too, but I attribute all of my quick successes to my ability to capitalize on my time and find something valuable to do every waking hour.

My typical daily schedule looks like this:

  • 5 a.m. to 7 a.m.: Wake up and go to the gym
  • 7 a.m. to 9 a.m.: Make breakfast for myself and my girlfriend, write, or read a good nonfiction book (programming, philosophy, psychology, science, etc. — anything that’ll make me think better and learn something)
  • 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.: Work eight hours for my programming job, meetings with clients, and other work stuff
  • 5 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.: Write and study something programming related
  • 7:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.: Hang out with my girlfriend for the rest of the night and ensure that I still get at least seven hours of sleep

As you can see, I generally set aside at least a few hours of my time a day towards self-improvement and learning— intentionally trying to one-up my skills so that I ensure that I end this day better and more knowledgeable than I was yesterday. All that, and I still have time to work out, focus on my relationships, eat healthily, and get a good night’s sleep.

You need to find those gaps that you can fill so that you can constantly increase your personal value to the point where no one else can ignore what you have to bring to the table.

Everything I do generally supplements my ability to sit down and program every day with a clear mind, applicable knowledge, and loads of energy and momentum.

Once you make the time to increase your personal value, be it replacing an hour of television or social media scrolling with a bit of self-education, then you’ll only be able to provide more and more value on a daily basis, no matter how small your progress is. Eventually, it’ll compound, and you’ll evolve into a more improved and happier version of yourself.

Remember, the Jeff Bezos and Elon Musks of the world have the same amount of time in a day as you or me. The difference is how they decide to spend their time.

Read, Watch, Listen, Ask Questions, and Apply With Determination and Vigor

As a programmer, it is vastly important that you fully embody the mentality and lifestyle of a continuous learner. If you don’t do so, you are potentially running the risk of becoming irrelevant a few years down the road and becoming overshadowed by the high energy, youthful programming talent breaking into the industry. The programming battleground constantly shifts and changes with the inclusion of constant updates and new technologies.

What made me distinguish myself among my peers was my ability to always stay a step ahead in my learning and come prepared and knowing more on a daily basis.

While their learning was only linearly growing based on what they were exposed to on a daily basis, I was up early in the morning and after hours, aggressively and intentionally filling my head with new and valuable ideas and ways of doing things, making my personal development not only in the Salesforce ecosystem but in programming generally exponential.

That’s why I was able to cross the line of what no one else in my company was able to do before.

I stayed vastly curious. I paid very close attention to my lecturers and mentors. I observed what other, more accomplished people in my field were doing, and I copied them. I read programming books and spent hours doing hands-on projects and activities delivered through online learning resources. I asked questions an annoying amount and always tried to understand everything I was exposed to at its most granular level.

I then would take what I learned and find instantaneous ways to apply that information.

You need to keep on learning and adopt the mind of a beginner. When you have the beginner’s mindset, you’ll always be driven to learn more and understand more deeply. In our modern world, there is so much information and so many resources that we have at our disposal — more than any other time in history — you just need to go out, look for it, and start laboring away with passion and determination.

Final Thoughts

What it comes down to is that if you want to generate more value in your life and your work, you must first focus on yourself.

You can’t expect the world to just one day notice how great a developer you are. You have to show them through your self-improvement and personal transformation on a daily basis. You have to constantly be willing to shift your mind openly and never be married to a singular way of doing things.

You must understand that there is always a way to grow, there is always a way to do something better, there is always a way to improve, and there is always a way that you can make yourself more productive and valuable all around.

You must simply create that value yourself.


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