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How I Landed My First Programming Job

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How I Landed My First Programming Job

One of the hardest things that I've had to do in life was to convince a company, a money making institution, that they needed my awesome skills after college. Why was it difficult? Because I had just taken 5 months each of a bunch of random programming languages such as C, C++, assembly language, some extinct language from the 60's that was used to calculate interest rate and I had a resume that made me sound like Bjarne Stroustrup himself without the skill to back it up. And I had a pretty awesome static HTML website to boot. It had JavaScript hover states and everything. That website no longer exists, because I burned it.

That first programming job is the most crucial job you will ever get. It sets the stage for your career 3 or 4 years down the line. It's where you'll either crash and burn and get fired or will rise to the occasion and make a name for yourself. And this applies to any field really. It's difficult to prove you know how to do something, when more than likely you really haven't done it yet. This is what it took for me to land that first big job.

Getting Your Foot Through The Door

Quantity and quality, both equally important when starting off. But one outweighs the other by a long shot in the beginning. It's hard to get a job if you have 1 interview per month and alot of fresh grads are guilty of doing this. I recently had this conversation with someone:

Them: that guy that quit, yeah, he hasn't found anything yet
Me: how many interviews has he had?
Them: Well, none, they wont call him back.
Me: How many did he apply to?
Them: Like 2

It wasn't that this guy was sooo amazing and his awesome skills kept getting turned down. It was just that this guy had a total worth of 3 months work experience and nobody was looking for "3 months+" on their job postings, so he ended up applying to 2 places and sitting there for months waiting for a reply. It is a numbers game. Most people that view your resume will skip it when they don't see any previous work experience. Company's need someone that can go in and get to work. At least most companies do. There are some companies that do care about the younger demographic and are willing to give them a shot, but those aren't the majority by any means.

After college, I needed a job fast as food costs money and I am human and require sustenance. I immediately started to apply to every job posting that I saw online on job boards that more or less matched what I thought was my skill level. I used all of the major job search engines that were available, jotting down the recruiters as I went along in order to avoid them. In total this is what happened:

40 Applications
26 Interviews
2 offers

That was within a 1 month period mind you. I needed this job! I began working roughly 2 months after I graduated from college as a full time developer. Now you might say "26 interviews?? You must of sucked!". Well yes, I did. Despite all of the sorting algorithms that I learned in college. And let us not forget the 6 months of modus ponens lectures, I was not prepared to tackle actual real world problems. The trick here was to learn from every interview I took part in. I got asked about database design, I read up on it for the next week. I was asked about design patterns, Amazon here I come. Once you're through that door, make the best use of it. You might mumble and say "I'm not sure actually" over and over again, but you'll know what it is that employers are looking for.

Experience Outweighs Your College Degree

On my resume, I have a "Courses Taken" section and one about being webmaster at a club in college. No one has ever asked me a single question about those two sections. I also have a "Personal Projects" section listed, and that has become a big part of my interview process. Very few people would care that I took Database Design 252ac where I created a Product and Sales table and normalized the hell out of it. But every single person wanted to hear about and see my personal projects. These projects I can talk hours about, so whenever it came up in an interview, I took over and proved I knew what I was doing.

You Might Suck, But That's Okay

Einstein wasn't born knowing the theory of relativity. And I wasn't born knowing how to set up a continuous integration server. If you read my resume after college, you'd think I was around in the 70's and 80's maintaining mainframes. If you knew the truth you probably wouldn't make me your first choice if you were hiring. Sad fact of life. But if you went through 4-5 years of college and spent all those hundreds of hours reading probably not the greatest, but greatest priced, text books and didn't just quit half way to create the next big thing in social eating apps, then you are probably not Bjarne Stroustrup. (The last time i type that). I was prepared to have the door slammed in front of my face. It's gonna happen. It happens to developers with years of experience. I've interviewed people with years of work experience who couldn't create a very simple layout with 3 divs. You learn from the interview, study up on where you came short and repeat.

Final Thoughts

I once had a Wednesday where I had 4 interviews lined up spanning 3 different cities. And I somehow by some miracle managed to make it to all of them. And it was awesome and it also sucked like you wouldn't believe. The interviews went well, to me. I didn't get the positions, but I learned alot. It improved my communication skills, let me know where I was coming in short, and improved my driving skills, I guess. So that's my secret. Apply like crazy, make your own work experience when it is lacking, and whatever you don't know, Google it and give it a run through, because that answer could land the first job. Stay tuned for the next post "How That First Job Really Really..Sucks".

Walter Guevara is a software engineer, startup founder and currently teaches programming for a coding bootcamp. He is currently building things that don't yet exist.


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