Landing your First Programming Job

Photo by Sebastian Herrmann on Unsplash

I recently came across a post on a social media platform which intrigued me. The author was a recent graduate of a “bootcamp”–that is, an intense, short (say, 6 weeks) program designed to launch its participants into a career trajectory. This particular program is supposed to enable students to become professional computer programmers / developers. It’s an idea I am on board with, but I am concerned for the ballistics of these students after they have been shot from the gun of this program. How can they smoothly land on their target? Where do they go? And, how do they prove to a potential employer that they are qualified?

All of these are interesting questions. I look back to the start of my software development career. It almost seems to have begun by accident. Since I was 14, I have been a 100% self-taught software developer. I never took a single class on programming. After getting fired from a student job in college, I was lucky enough to find work as a programmer for the School of Engineering. Interestingly enough, I was a music major. After graduation, transitioning into software development full-time seemed like a reasonable proposition.

Many people are seeking a new career. Some are bored. Others feel overworked and under-appreciated. Most desire a higher income. All of this is good–but One must make sure that this career is correct for him/her. It requires intense abstract thought for days on end. Problem-solving skills must be second nature. And, if you don’t enjoy staring at a screen for 8 hours a day, perhaps you should consider something else.

However, if you are committed to finding your path in this career, and you have the basic skill set needed to succeed, there are a few more things you might need to focus on in order to find success and land that first job.

Here are eight thoughts I have for new developers seeking their first job:

  1. You must approach this career as if it is the one thing you will do for the rest of your life. I heard “Uncle Bob” (Robert C. Martin) once say something to the effect that you owe your employer 30-35 hours/week, but you owe your career 50-60 hours/week, minimum.
  2. You must become the subject matter expert. If you are seeking to be a JavaScript developer, you should know JavaScript better than everyone else (For JavaScript, I highly recommend this series of books, freely available online: https://github.com/getify/You-Dont-Know-JS). When I was a music major, we would get lectures on how you had to be as good as, or better, than the guy currently playing in the New York Philharmonic. Now, don’t get me wrong: programming is not that competitive. Yes, there is a lot of talent, but there are 10,000x more jobs than professional orchestral openings at any given point in time.
  3. Be confident! Employers want qualified, competent, and confident individuals.
  4. Have a very exact (but reasonable) salary range in mind. Yes, you probably just want to make more than you did stocking shelves, but that is going to happen no matter who employs you (and if they offer you less than $15/hr, run the other way).
  5. Always, always, always have a question to ask them! Ask the employer:
    1. Where do you envision the company going within the next 5 years?
    2. Can you describe your typical work day here?
    3. Who is your favorite superhero? (Okay, maybe–depends on the culture of the place)
    4. What kind of opportunities for growth would I have?
  6. Whatever your current skill set is, it’s not good enough. Ever.
  7. You’re already obsolete. No, seriously. This goes back to numbers 1, 2 and 6. Whatever boot camp taught, it’s great, but it was the technology of last year. It’s irrelevant now. Go study the latest ideas and documentation. I highly recommend O’Reilly Learning Online for a constant stream of relevant information to sharpen your skills.
  8. Program every single day. Every single day.

Now, these are just my thoughts, so you may take them with a grain of salt. However, this is a similar approach to what I took when I first entered the industry. One day I simply decided to change direction in my life, and that was the spark that lit the fire.

If you are in the position where you want to be employed in the industry, but just don’t know how, please contact me as I would love to speak to you personally.

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