As someone who loves to write, both personally and as a programmer, there’s one thing I dread more than anything else: an empty screen. Nothing is more intimidating than a fresh page with a blinking cursor. No matter how great an idea you have, no matter how productive you feel, you open up that IDE or Word doc or (insert tool of choice) for the first time and your mind instantly empties. As blank as the screen in front of you.

I’m far from the only person who feels this way. It’s so common it has its own name: Blank Page Syndrome. It haunts writers of every genre and format. It’s been seen in countless movies, and there are a ton of tricks and tips to get past it.

This blog is about a similar phenomenon I’m calling Blank Mac Syndrome. You open that crisp, white packaging, go through the basic setup, see the desktop and … now what?

Tumbleweed being blown across an empty road

The first thing I do is install Chrome and completely empty the Dock of everything but Finder, Settings and Notes. Then I find Terminal and add it to the Dock. Then I open Chrome (I guess you could use Safari or Firefox …) and start loading up the essentials:

  1. Package Manager: Homebrew is how you get things onto your Mac. Once you have it installed, type brew install git in Terminal and hit enter—we both know you’ll need it. The Windows version is Chocolatey, which is very similar.

  2. Version Managers: What you use here will depend on your tech stack and personal preferences, but now is a good time to add version managers for Node or Ruby or whatever you’ll be using. Homebrew makes installing these super easy, and you’ll have far less headache switching between projects.

  3. VSCode: Again, you can use a different editor, but this is my go-to. I also immediately open it up and install some of my favourite extensions, including linters for every language I know I’ll be using, Markdown, Icons, and some sort of auto-formatter like Beautify or Prettier.

  4. Slack: Even if my company is using something like Teams, I install Slack first. There are countless dev groups (I’m 100% certain there’s one for whatever city/region you’re in right now), and networking through those is both useful and fun.

  5. Insert Password Manager Here: If your company provides one, great! Otherwise, you’ll want to foot the bill and grab something like 1Password to make your life both easier and more secure.

  6. Calendly: I’ve just started using Calendly to help with scheduling meetings/coffee hangs/one-on-ones, and I love it. It’s made life much easier, so it gets a strong endorsement. I’ve also heard great things about Reclaim for those who need to sync multiple calendars.

A dark tunnel leading to a bright light

This is definitely going to be the most controversial part of this post, but hear me out. One of the first things I do is switch everything that defaults to dark mode (this is getting more and more common) to light mode. Originally I did this because my eyes have a hard time if the contrast between colours isn’t big enough. Many programs now offer high-contrast dark modes, which I appreciate but still don’t use. The reasons for this are:

  • Looking at a dark screen then looking out a window makes me feel like a vampire whose burning starts with their eyeballs.

  • Screen sharing with a dark screen can be really hard to see. This is improving, but generally I find light mode is better if there are resolution or connectivity issues.

  • Switching between an IDE that’s in dark mode and a browser that’s in light mode (since website support for dark mode is generally not great) takes me out of whatever flow I might have had.

  • I’m old and dark mode is new and therefore scary.

This is the final piece of advice I have. If you have access to your company’s GitHub, grab something from there. Otherwise, find an open source project and pull it. Then, grab any issue they have and start getting something running locally. This is a great starting point. Grabbing an issue right away shows you want to start providing value day one and will get you out of the “new kid on the block” funk.

While you shouldn’t feel you have to actually solve anything your first day, it’s a good idea to push something small. This could be a patch version update to a package or gem, or even just a typo fix in a README. The goal here is really to ensure you have your SSH keys set up right, have all the permissions you need, and can get a feel for the workflow.

Hopefully this helps you get past the empty screen. It definitely took me a few job switches to feel comfortable on my first day, and this little routine always helps. At the very least, you’ll have some of what you need to get you through day two and month two. Getting comfortable takes a bit of patience—this is just the beginning.

Pam-Marie Guzzo

Hash An icon of a hash sign Code Name
Agent 00109
Location An icon of a map marker Location
Nepean, ON