How It Feels to be the Worst Developer on a Team and How it Accelerated My Career

Brian Jenney
4 min readJan 13, 2024
Siri — play “Tears of a Clown”

2 years after I joined my first company as a developer I knew it was time to leave.

The decision was not easy. I liked my co-workers, managers and the company. But I knew that in order to grow as a developer I needed to be exposed to a more modern tech stack and different ways of working. I successfully passed an interview for a very early stage start-up using EmberJS, Rails and Postgres. At this time I had been using C#, SQL and AngularJS.

My salary also doubled. Making the move was a no-brainer.

On day one I knew I was in over my head.

The co-founders at this 5 person start-up were featured in Forbes. They had worked at multiple letters in FAANG. The lead developer was the creator of a popular library for EmberJS.

And then there was me. I had no experience with Ember, Ruby or working in a start-up.

But at least I knew Javascript… or so I thought.

On day 1 there was no onboarding. I jumped straight into pairing with the lead developer and CTO.

There were jokes about Djikstra. Who the hell is that?

A bug with closure scope. Huh?

Hoisting was affecting a test. I had never written a test before.

Overall, the team was very patient with me. Until…

I finally got called out on my lack of fundamentals and performance

First there was the bug I caused from misunderstanding how enums work that resulted in a thousand emails being sent to customers.

Then there was the feature that took about 1 month longer than it should have because I didn’t reach out for help.

I simply could not keep up with my workload and concepts like closure, classes and testing still escaped me which made pairing with the other developers a chore.

I had a 1 on 1 with the CTO/co-founder and he told me some areas where I needed to improve.

  • learn the fundamentals of JS (closures, promises, es6 classes)
  • speak up and ask for help when needed
  • stop making quick fixes and investigate root causes of problems

These seemed do-able.

Then I had an epiphany.

I knew this wouldn’t be my last company. I was never going to be better than the super seniors around me so I made a resolution to suck a lot less. I would use this as a learning experience. What’s the worst that could happen, I thought.

Here’s what I did NOT do:

  1. Buy a bunch of Udemy courses (ok, bought 1 on EmberJS)
  2. Read a ton of articles and mistake that for progress
  3. Get lost in a YouTube rabbit hole
  4. Get mad and rage quit

Here’s what worked really well for me to improve my communication and coding skills.

  1. Asked the lead developers for book recommendations (more on that below)
  2. Read about classes, closure and promises THEN actually coded out examples using them to really understand the concepts
  3. Set a goal to ask at least 1 question per meeting and be very transparent with my status updates
  4. Volunteer to investigate critical issues to learn what was causing them

I never became the 2nd worst developer on the team 😿.

BTW — I work with career changers who want to learn to code and maybe NOT be the worst on the team. Join me and my posse here at Parsity.

Eventually I left the company to work at a larger startup where I got promoted to senior using the lessons I learned here. The CTO did me a massive favor by giving me that feedback even though it stung in the moment.

If reading is your thing… and it should be honestly. Here are a list of books that have made me a better developer and engineering manager:

  1. Clean Code in Javascript
  2. The Phoenix Project
  3. Functional-Light JS
  4. The Manager’s Path
  5. System Design Interview by Alex Xu

If you’re feeling like the worst developer on the team that sucks. It’s also a learning opportunity. I can throw a bunch of cliched advice your way but that won’t help.

Action cures anxiety.

Identify your weak areas, make a plan to strengthen them and maybe read some of the books above and level up.

Hope that’s helpful.

BTW — I work with career changers who want to learn to code and maybe NOT be the worst on the team. Join me and my posse here at Parsity.



Brian Jenney

full-stackish developer, late bloomer coder and power google user and owner of