Having gone through an IT technical school, I realize they push a lot of information and technology at you. There's a lot to assimilate in less than a year (depending on the school). On this page I'd like to point out some technologies that perhaps weren't covered much in classes that are widely used by good shops in the industry, and also offer some career advice for the future. Before I delve deeper, let me say that this information is based on my experience, which is mostly on the Java technology side of the fence.
The first part of this article will have technical content. The second section will cover soft skills and career advice.
Technical Heads Up
1. Design Patterns. One thing many of the technical schools don't have time to cover in their curriculum is code design patterns. It doesn't matter if you doing .NET development or Java development, design patterns can really make a difference in organizing, maintaining, and the reusability of your code. A great book to pick up for an introduction on design patterns is published by O'Reilly and called Head First Design Patterns. If you don't have access to the book, a good place to start is to google some popular patterns that are being used in code now. Dependancy Injection is a pattern that is really big right now. Two frameworks that use it a lot are Spring and Google's Guice. Other pattern I've seen used frequently are the decorator pattern, the abstract factory pattern, factory pattern, the singleton pattern, and the proxy pattern.
2. Using a Repository. Using a repository, or a version control system, should be required by every development shop. Frankly, if you're in a company where they aren't using one, either push to get one installed, or start looking for another place to code. A repository is basically an application that functions as the premier source/bank/datahub/repository for all code. This application should be on a server with lots of disk space and accessable to all developers in the company. Repositories allow developers to manage code changes at many different levels allowing many developers to work on the same code base at the same time. Some repositories I've used in the past are Subversion, CVS, StarTeam, and Perforce. Googling any of these will give you more information.
3. Unit Testing. Unit testing is the development practice of coding 'tests' that validate individual classes or 'units' of code, to ensure they are functioning as required. This practice has developed over the past 4-5 years or so and has been found to be very effective in giving developers the confidence to refactor their code and ensure that it's functionality stays consistent over time. Some unit testing technologies are JUnit, JWebUnit, HttpUnit, DBUnit, and NUnit.
4. Continuous Integration. Continuous integration is a process that automatically rebuilds and tests (with unit tests) an application or code base. Continuous integration employs an application like CruiseControl or Anthill Pro which is configured to automatically check out the code base from the repository, compile it, run it's unit tests, and sometime even deploy it to a test environment. It allows developers to check for integration problems in the code, and warns developers of broken code, allowing and reminding them to fix it ASAP.
Soft Skills and Career Advice.
1. Change is GOOD. Once you've gotten your feet wet in the industry, being a Java developer in one company can mean something quite different that being a Java developer in another company. There is such a vast variety of Java technology that two Java developers can have quite different experiences in developing applications. Whole development processes and methodologies can be very different in differenct companies. One company could be flying by the seat of their pants, developing with not backups or repository, and manually pushing out code, while another is totally immersed in Agile methodology and outsourcing everything but development.... etc. Keeping this in mind, my advice is to not get comfortable in any one company but move around a bit - that is, after 18 months or two years at one place, get a different job. You'll be put into a position where you'll either learn a lot of new stuff, or you'll be mentoring. Either way, it'll be an experience that will likely teach you more then if you had stayed put. It'll also give you some motivation to brush up on your resume writing, interview skills, and expand you network.
2. Walk & Talk While software developers, for the most part, end up working in cube farms, it should not mean that they need to stay in their cubby hole all day and do work. This may be just my style, but I find when I'm working on a big integration project or on a project with a lot of departments or teams involved, getting up and talking to people really helps things move along. Whether it's getting socializing a new means of managing your server configuration in the code base, or talking to a DBA about a script that you'll need to release with you new code, talking face to face is far more effective than emails, I've found. I generally use emails if I can't find the person, or I want to make sure there is hard documented proof about a decision that is being made, or if I want to include a bigger audience in my communication. Successful software development is more about relationships that a lot a people realize. Relationships are more apt to be cultivated face to face... plus it's good exercise.
I hope you enjoyed my advice. If you have questions or comments, please send them to me @ firstname.lastname@example.org.