Bottom-line habit: Cultivate a professional social network. Share interesting articles, let your opinions be known about techniques and styles, and help other people when they are looking for gigs or work. Odds are, they’ll reciprocate.
In your professional social networks, you should cultivate “strong opinions, loosely held.” The next habit is a technical variation: You should be a master of some technological niche, but only for a few years. When I say “master,” I don’t mean maintaining professional competence in your technology stack. I mean being incredibly strong in some potentially employable specialty. For much of the first years of this century, I specialized in travel-reservation system back-end programming. It was hardly sexy work, but between referrals and good search-rank, I thrived even during bad economic times.
On the other hand, one year’s boomtown technology can be next year’s ghost town. Many developers incorrectly believe that, in a worst-case scenario, they can maintain codebases in their now-obsolete technology. It doesn’t work that way anymore: Those jobs go overseas to developers making less-than-First-World wages.
Bottom-line habit: Max out on some technology or niche, but always be learning something that seems to be of increasing value in the marketplace. Do not be complacent about your strengths!
Next month, I’ll talk about additional habits, including the single most important one you need to stay employable as a developer.