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How to be 'NOT JUST A UI DEV' at ThoughtWorks!

"Curiosity!" - The word I connect with the most and one that motivates me in life.

Right after finishing an engineering degree in computer technology, I joined ThoughtWorks as an application developer. The journey for every grad ThoughtWorker from around the world starts with a six-week training at ThoughtWorks University . It was one of the best phases of my life.

On return to my home office in Pune, my friend Shridhar and I got an opportunity to learn front-end development skills. ThoughtWorks did not have many UI developers as they were not so successful in recruiting UI Devs. The objective was to make home grown UI developers out of Shridhar and me. Unlike Shridhar who was always interested in UI-Development and was keen to learn it, all I wanted to do was learn something new and interesting. So that is how I ended up learning UI development.

We had a couple of months of mentoring by awesome UI Devs. It included us going through books and blogs to understand basics of HTML, CSS, JS. We got daily assignments to complete and at the end of each day, we did a code review. By the end of two months, our work was being appreciated more than it being criticised. We had improved and learnt a lot. Post that, we were ready to take on a challenge. And a challenge it was when I worked on my first green-field project out of ThoughtWorks Gurgaon as the only UI-Dev. I was part of a small team, from whom I got a lot of moral support and that helped me do well right from the start. Curiosity is a strong feeling. I was not satisfied with only being focused on front-end development. I wanted to learn the backend technology being used on the project. I took some of the UI-work home so that I could spent some time at work  pairing with others to learn the basics of Ruby on Rails (RoR). This project and my initiative to learn RoR helped me understand the building blocks of RoR.

Vishnu at work

For the next project I had to travel to ThoughtWorks Chennai. Analysing design mock-ups and building wireframes was all that was expected from me in a month. But as usual, I had to find something more to satisfy my curiosity. So, for the first time I set up a working Rails project from scratch and then built the wireframes into it. I was thrilled that the tech lead on the project used my setup to continue the project from then on.

After a year of hard work and learning, I was ready for bigger challenges. I was once again staffed on a project as a UI-Developer. This time, I was determined to to get a deeper working knowledge of  RoR. I set the expectation with my Project Manager and my Tech-Lead right from the start that in addition to UI-Development, I would also work on backend development on RoR. Thanks to the excellent support from the senior developers on the team, I improved much faster and soon I was ready to call myself a RoR developer. This experience helped me gain confidence and get cracking on my pet projects.

But throughout the journey there were always a few people who thought of me as "just a UI Dev". If I picked up any task outside the UI domain, there would always be someone who would pull me back from trying. “Just a UI-dev” was a description of me that I had gotten used to hearing. I wanted to challenge this mindset. Fortunately, I had the support of a few people who believed in me and I was able to achieve my goals. Now, my designation at ThoughtWorks is - Not just a UI Dev. It’s true!

I continued learning RoR and was a Coach for a Rails Girls event held in ThoughtWorks Pune. That gave my confidence a boost.

All this was perfectly aligned with my grand plan of being a complete developer, capable of working on frontend, backend and devops. It's challenging to have all round proficiency. I’m glad I chose this path for myself. It’s an exciting journey and there is still a long way to go.

Something that has kept me in good stead:

I follow the T-Model. In my case, each leg of the “T” is an area of development - frontend, backend, devops.

T-model

What the image above represents is the relative level of expertise in three areas of development. The longer the leg, the more expertise one has in that are compared to the other two.

Most people have one leg of the T-model long but other two legs very small. I strive to keep at least two legs of equal length. My backend leg is growing. It would be difficult to keep all three legs equally long. One who can achieve that is a genius in my opinion. That said, my recommendation to you is to develop two areas of strength. It not only gives one an edge, but gives you a wider view of your area of work.

My journey in ThoughtWorks has been a roller coaster ride so far and a satisfying experience. I have worked with some of the best developers on inventive and ingenious projects. It was a dream company back in college and it has been a dream come true indeed.