You got the job! Now what?Strategies to pass the probation period

Johannes KettmannPublished on 

In today's increasingly digital world, a significant number of junior developers are vying for coveted roles in the tech industry. The competition is steep, with computer science graduates, bootcamp alumni, and self-taught developers all striving for the same opportunities. As a result, you may find yourself sending out hundreds of applications, only to receive a handful of responses in return.

When you do finally land a job offer, it often comes with a probation period, typically ranging from one to six months. This is the employer's chance to see your skills in action, to ascertain if you are indeed a good fit for their team. But it's also your time to prove your worth. If you don't meet the mark, the harsh reality is that it's relatively easy for them to let you go.

That said, securing that first job and successfully navigating through the probation period can have a substantial impact on your career trajectory. Once you've gained a year or two of experience, landing subsequent jobs becomes exponentially easier. So, this initial phase can be seen as a crucial stepping stone to a prosperous career in tech.

However, an important question arises here: how do you ensure your survival through this probation period? The truth is, it depends.

What You Can Expect on Your First Job

The experience you'll have during your probation period is heavily influenced by several factors, including the team you join, its size, resources, and its onboarding, management, and mentoring practices. To illustrate this, let's consider three different scenarios through the experiences of three junior developers: Sam, Maria, and David.

Scenario One: Proper Onboarding Including Mentoring

Sam's journey starts in a team where there is a well-structured onboarding process, including mentoring. He begins by shadowing and pair-programming with more experienced developers. This direct experience with senior colleagues allows him to learn quickly, absorb best practices, and become familiar with the team's workflow.

After a couple of weeks, Sam starts to work on small tasks that are suitable for his level. This transition is smooth and structured, ensuring he feels comfortable and prepared. This scenario is most common in larger teams that can allocate resources to develop a structured onboarding process, including mentors, onboarding buddies, and suitable tasks for junior developers.

Scenario Two: No Structured Onboarding, but a Helpful Team

Maria, on the other hand, joins a team where there is no structured onboarding process. The team lacks the resources and time to prepare suitable tasks or spend much time on pair programming and mentoring. She finds herself working on tasks independently just days into the job, a stark contrast to Sam's experience.

Yet, even without a structured process, Maria's team is eager to help. The experienced developers are supportive and approachable, providing her with guidance and assistance when she needs it, even though they can't dedicate significant time to pair programming due to their own deadlines.

Scenario Three: Being Thrown into the Deep End

David's experience is quite different. He finds himself in a team that either lacks the resources to support him or simply doesn't prioritize it. He experiences a "sink or swim" approach. He is expected to learn on the fly and become productive without much assistance, a very stressful situation for any junior developer.

If David manages to adapt and deliver, he'll survive. If not, he may not make it past the probation period. This is a challenging scenario, but it's also one that can spur rapid growth—if he can handle the pressure.

Practical Steps to Ensure Success During Your Probation Period

While you may not have much influence over the scenario you find yourself in, you can take proactive steps to set yourself up for success. Here's how:

Preparation before your first day: Reducing cognitive load

Regardless of the scenario, you're likely to be overwhelmed by the wealth of new things to learn: the potentially enormous and unfamiliar codebase, new technologies, complex project setups, workflows, team dynamics, and processes. The first few days can be especially challenging with an influx of information from numerous meetings. The goal of preparation is to expose you to as many elements as possible upfront, thus reducing cognitive load during your initial days and weeks.

  1. Researching the tech stack and workflow: Reach out to your future team member or contact in the company, expressing your desire to prepare. Ask them about the tech stack and workflows they use, such as Scrum or Kanban. Learn and practice the tech stack as much as possible and read about the workflows. The goal is not to fully understand everything. But this early exposure will help familiarize you with the basics, making them less daunting when you officially start.
  2. Understanding the company and domain: If possible, test out the product or application. Familiarize yourself with the company through LinkedIn and its website, and read about the industry and the company's competitors. This will help you better understand the company-specific words and industry-specific language used during your onboarding. This again will help reduce cognitive load during your first days.

The first days on the job: Clarify expectations and establish a timeline

As a new hire, especially as a junior developer, you'll require resources from more experienced team members. The most important expectation, therefore, is for you to become productive and independent. The timeline for this varies significantly, as seen in the different scenarios presented earlier.

Understanding the expectations of your team leads and managers is crucial. It gives you direction and guidelines. During onboarding meetings, ask a simple question: "What would make me a successful hire at the end of the probation period (after 1 month/6 months)?" This will establish a timeline of expectations and encourage the other person to reflect on their expectations.

But don't limit your queries to your managers; your peers can also provide valuable insights. In the first few days, it's beneficial to be proactive and set up short meetings with each team member to get to know them. This not only helps establish a relationship but also gives you the chance to ask about their expectations. These conversations can provide a broader perspective and help you understand what it takes to be successful on the team from multiple viewpoints.

After all, your teammates have been in your shoes before and may have practical advice on how to navigate this new terrain. Plus they might be part of your evaluation at the end of your probational period.

Striking the Right Balance Between Asking for Help and Becoming Independent

Striking the right balance between asking for help and becoming independent can be tricky. There's no set rule, like "asking 10 questions a day is too much." It depends on the team's expectations, the task you're working on, and the project's complexity.

There are two extremes of junior developers:

  • One rarely asks questions, maybe due to shyness, embarrassment, over-confidence, or a reluctance to disturb seniors. They might take longer to learn and become productive, and at some point, they could block other developers from doing their work.
  • On the other end is the developer who always asks questions. They seem eager to learn at first, but the number of questions doesn't decrease even after weeks. They constantly need assistance and don't seem to do their own research. Their questions lack detail and initiative, like "The product image doesn't work. What am I doing wrong?" This pattern indicates a lack of striving for independence, which could become a burden to the team.

In summary, asking too few questions can prolong your learning curve and delay your productivity. Asking too many can consume excessive resources and hinder your growth toward independence. Striking the right balance is key.

Humility Over Arrogance

Most junior developers approach their first job with a healthy dose of humility, recognizing the magnitude of what they don't yet know. However, there are some who, despite their inexperience, carry an air of arrogance, thinking they know it all. It's essential to note that this attitude can be counterproductive.

As a new developer, you might have high expectations for what "production-level code" should look like, only to discover that a lot of it seems to be held together with proverbial duct tape. This can be shocking, but there are many valid reasons for it:

  • Tight Deadlines and Priorities: In the real world, there isn't always time to write the most elegant code. Deadlines and business priorities often dictate a need for speed over perfection.
  • Evolution and Scaling: Codebases evolve over time. What was once the perfect solution may no longer fit as the project scales, leading to layers of fixes and patches.
  • Team Changes: Developers with different coding styles and preferences come and go. The original intention behind certain pieces of code may be long forgotten, adapted over time to "make it work" with new features.

So, instead of adopting a judgmental attitude and wanting to rewrite everything, remember that a long-running project has a history. Things are the way they are not because previous developers were incompetent (though this can be a fun topic for gossip), but because software development is a complex and evolving process.

Humility is key. Recognize that there's always more to learn and that understanding the "why" behind existing code can be as valuable as writing new code. This approach will make you a better developer and a more appreciated team member.


Navigating the probation period of your first tech job can seem daunting, but with thoughtful preparation, clear communication, and the right attitude, you can successfully secure your place in the industry.

Let's recap the main points we've covered:

  1. Expectations: Depending on the size, resources, and practices of the team you join, the expectations and timeframes for you to meet these expectations can vary significantly. We outlined three scenarios to illustrate potential environments you may encounter.
  2. Preparation: Before your first day, try to familiarize yourself with the tech stack, workflow, company, and domain. This will help reduce cognitive overload during your initial days.
  3. Communication: During the first few days on the job, clarify expectations and establish a timeline for your progress. Be proactive, reach out to your team members, and build relationships.
  4. Balance: Try to strike the right balance between asking for help and working independently. Neither extreme—asking too few questions or asking too many—is beneficial.
  5. Professionalism: Lastly, approach your job with humility, not arrogance. Recognize that there's always more to learn, and understand that existing code might be the way it is due to many reasons, including time constraints and evolving project requirements.

Starting a new job in the tech industry can be overwhelming, but remember, everyone has been in your shoes at some point. The probation period is a chance for you to learn, grow, and demonstrate your potential. It's an opportunity to set the foundation for your career, and with the right attitude and approach, you can turn it into a launching pad for your success.