Four months ago, I graduated from a code school that taught me the basics of Ruby and Ruby on Rails. A week later, I had two interviews. Two weeks following the interviews, I declined the first company’s offer and accepted an offer from an amazing team, a group I had been eyeing since six months before attending code school. Besides learning how to code for eight weeks and using the last four to build my graduation app (a job board), what actual experience did I have that could land me a job? Zero. Nevertheless, here is how I went from a dead-end job to junior software engineer in four months.
First Things First. Just Do It!
Wow… I love that video. You first need to put aside your fears; next, take the risk to pursue your dreams. Quitting a well-paying job and going into debt from the school’s tuition was a scary thought, but it wasn’t my biggest fear. My biggest fear was the idea of going through it all and coming out on the other end with no job. What if I fail? What if I don’t get a job? And, if that did happen, why would I do that to my family? How humiliated will I be, knowing I didn’t make it? Perhaps I should give up on these dreams.
Stop Giving Up!
That right there is the negative thinking that poisons your dreams and aspirations. You need to cut that shit out now. You also need to cut out the toxic people in your life who are nothing but dead weight. Break through these two roadblocks whether you decide to pursue your dreams or not. It took me a hot minute to figure that out, but when I finally recognized how detrimental these barriers were, I took a risk that soon set me off on the path to my dream job. I quit my dead-end job, enrolled in school, and had a supportive wife who picked me up when I was down and encouraged me every step of the way.
A few days before class started, I connected with Coleman McCormick, the Vice President of Spatial Networks. I started by sending him a message on LinkedIn to introduce myself. Within that message, I mentioned that I was preparing to attend a code school and wanted to come work for him and his team when I graduated. He replied to my message, thanking me for reaching out and inviting me to meet up for lunch. I highlight that part because it’s a key component of this post. I haven’t even started school, and I already have an invitation to meet up for lunch with the VP of the company I desire to work for. It’s actually pretty easy to network effectively:
- Make the connection.
- Introduce yourself, and tell them why you want to work for them.
- Give them a reason to write back.
While I was in school, Coleman posted A Quick Guide for New Developers, a blog aimed at advising newcomers on what they should focus on when starting off in development.
The world is full of blog posts, podcasts, books, and videos that purport to “teach you to code”. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an awesome world we live in where this stuff’s accessible, but I think people get priorities twisted during that early impressionable stage by thinking they can make a successful iPhone app from scratch in a few months. Even if it’s possible, is that really a life goal? Or do you want to actually become an engineer?
To me, this was a cheat sheet. I held in my possession the things a potential future employer was looking for in a junior developer. So, I went to work by re-reading the guide and following the suggestions daily because I definitely wanted to become an engineer and most certainly wanted to work for Spatial Networks.
Understand the Difference between Building Products and Writing Code
You need to approach your coding with a product-oriented mindset. What value do you bring your company if you fix a bug at the cost of diminishing the user experience? You need to place yourself in your customer’s shoes and ask if what you’re doing adds value to the product. If the answer is no, try again.
Build Your Online Identity and Reputation
So you want a job in the tech industry but don’t have LinkedIn, Twitter, or your own personal site? Tisk tisk. Failing to have a LinkedIn or Twitter account in today’s job market is as suspicious as having unexplained gaps in your work history. I have spoken with many hiring managers who indicated they have thrown out resumes that don’t list LinkedIn or Twitter.
- Read 5 Ways to Use Twitter to Land a Job
- Blog about your journey into web development and the things you’re learning
- Read How To Create A Killer LinkedIn Profile That Will Get You Noticed
- Contribute to GitHub by creating issues on open source projects where you notice something isn’t working correctly (notice how no coding was involved in this?)
- Read Seven Things You Can Do To Build An Awesome Personal Brand
By building your online presence, you’re giving potential employers a view of your aptitude, domain knowledge, and core competency in your field.
Sharpen Your Soft Skills
Bottom line: don’t be an asshole. Aside from that, Monster.com says these are the Six Soft Skills Everyone Needs. Once you finish that quick read, glance over to The University of Cincinnati’s The “Soft Skills” That Will Land You Your Dream Job.
Familiarize Yourself with the Tools of the Trade
Being a subject matter expert (SME) in every programming language or tool is unrealistic. However, your willingness to learn a new language for the company you’re applying to might get you the job over the senior level java programmer who applied, yet isn’t open to learning new things to secure the job. Below is a list of several technologies you should familiarize yourself with. You don’t have to download them all or become proficient in using them. Even so, the more you know, the better you can analyze and respond to a question during an interview.
Cheesy real-world example:
Have you ever used HipChat? - Interviewer
I have not used HipChat, but I am familiar with it and understand it is comparable to Slack, something I have used. I recently checked it out, though, and feel it is something I would have no issues becoming proficient at. - You
That’s great to hear. We also use Bitbucket and understand from your resume that you used GitHub to manage your personal projects and homework assignments while at code school, building your portfolio, and freelancing. Do you feel this is something you can learn as well? - Interviewer
Absolutely. - You
Great Programming Resources to Bookmark
- Front-End Frameworks
- Job Search
Sidestep your fear for a moment, take a calculated risk, become smart on the essentials, and work on creating your best self. It won’t be easy, but if you’re determined, motivated, and work hard, I guarantee you’ll be interviewing for a job you desire. I’m more than happy I made the choice. I hope you’ll feel the same as I do soon. God speed.