How to Land your First Development Job

andrew

Andrew Chalkley, our jQuery course teacher, talks candidly about how his lack of college education made him feel unworthy until he realised that his ‘real world’ experience was worth more than he thought.

I’m a self-taught programmer with no degree. I dropped out of university after one term. I dabbled in self employment for a bit but found juggling the acquisition of new clients and working on client projects at the same time was really difficult. I felt like a failure. Feelings of inadequacy accompanied me whilst finding my first full-time development job.

Don’t Undervalue Yourself

I wasted some time trying to get my foot on the ladder by applying for the wrong position. I was super naive. I didn’t think I was worthy for an entry level job as a web developer as I didn’t have a degree. I undervalued what I could actually do because I didn’t have a piece of paper saying I had a degree. I applied for a data entry job for a fashion catalogue’s website. I told the interviewer about what little experience I had and that I was self taught. The interviewer seemed impressed by my limited accomplishments and said that I was overqualified. I was gobsmacked…I couldn’t get a job because I was overqualified!

Having been in several positions over the years, the lack of a degree has not been a hinderance at all in getting a development role.

Build a Portfolio

Starting out, I had a a very small portfolio. My portfolio at the time consisted of my personal website with links to some digital art, some Flash, my “professional” website that I used to market my services for freelance work and two client websites. I didn’t know much CSS. All my sites had tables. But it was the mid-2000s – we were all learning still! And I learnt how to do CSS on-the-job in my first position.

Times have changed now and a portfolio looks different. Web developer roles have become more specialised. I used to do the design and development of my client’s projects.

A modern day portfolio may now consist of:

  1. Your own personal site.
  2. Github profile with your own projects or Open Source contributions.
  3. Any websites you’ve already built.

Haven’t built a website for a client? Offer to spruce up a local charity’s website. Take your favourite social network and reimplement it. Anything to show your potential employer what you’re capable of – it doesn’t have to be a client-driven project, just an illustration of what you can do.

Create a ‘Stand Out’ Project

You don’t know how many people you’ll be competing against for the job. You’ve got to be remembered. Doing your research is probably the most important thing you can do for a potential employer. Applying for a position at a small development shop or digital agency? Check out their clients.

I think this sealed the deal for me getting my first full-time position as a developer. I saw that the agency I was interviewing for, built websites for local sports teams. So I built a website that hooked up an SMS gateway that you could text in to and it would send a message to a PHP website I built. It was called TXTChange. You could change the style of fonts on the page, font sizes and the theme. I said that this could be used for people texting in “man of the match” votes or other interactive polls with the spectators. You don’t need to show much initiative to stand out in people’s minds.

So when going to that first interview be prepared with a relevant project and be remembered!

Stress Your Ability to Learn

As I said before the lack of a degree has not been a hinderance at all! In fact if you’re self taught, your employer will love the fact that you’re driven enough to do something like learning to code on your own. They don’t want someone who can’t adapt and grow!

A life-long learner is what they want!

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Andrew Chalkley

I'm an alien, I'm a legal alien, I'm an Englishman in Portland. All of my professional life I've worked with computers online. I'm a polyglot programmer and like using the right tools for the job. In my spare time I enjoy spending time with my young family and when I get chance, sticking opponents in Halo 4. You can find me in most places @chalkers.

Comments

12 comments on “How to Land your First Development Job

  1. I really appreciated the article, I am mostly in the exact same situation so I really like what we are talking about

  2. This sounds so easy…yet in reality its much harder. Im 30 year old newbie in web design/development. I spent most of my time learning HTML5, CSS3, layouts, tricks and a bit of jquery. Now im onto javascript but so far it seems impossible to find a job or someone to create a website for.

    When i apply for job they say javascript and css is not enough, i also need to know PHP,Drupal,Joomla,Wordpress,SQL,Ruby and some other languages. I believe it is fault of HR recruiting and not real programmers/developers which makes it all hard.

    • If HR is doing the recruiting then you can probably blow their brains if you’ve done anything in any of those things.

      So, do a theme for Drupal, Joomla and WordPress and get a feel for what it’s like…You should at least in the position to say, I have done some theming work with them and I could tell you my experience with them and the differences between them or something like that :)

  3. Yeah, that’s it, this is not so easy, may sounds like but it’s not! This is all about hard work and persistence. You’ll never learn all things together and then find a super great job, it’s all about steps, one at time…

    And that’s great, and self-taught is always good, because when we graduate we are like 5 years late from nowadays market, so we have to keep up with the latest technologies!

    Nice post man! Thanks!

    • Amen. That’s it, step by step. Getting the first step on the ladder is the key. Once you’re on, and you continue to work hard, new positions present themselves.

  4. I too am a university drop-out, and I’m pretty much in the same position you were once in I have 3 years experience in PHP, but my experience comes from being the sole developer of an in-house intranet site. Employers don’t give a rats you-know-what about the experience they can’t see and knock you back down to zero experience.

    I think the biggest problem is that employers don’t take chances any more. There’s no ability to train in a company either. You HAVE to be self taught, and you HAVE to be able to use multiple languages and Frameworks in each of those languages too. Otherwise you’re not even worthy of entry level positions. It’s soul destroying!!

    As Luke mentioned, I think a lot of this is down to poor HR management. They get told by the developers ‘It would be cool if they had this’ and HR expects all candidates to have it all. Makes it impossible for people like me to get their foot in the door :-(

    • I think there is going to be issues interviewing with people who you won’t work with on a day-to-day basis. They have no context or reference frame.

      When I started, it was with a small agency, no HR department as such. I interviewed with the Creative Director. An agency of that size is quite difficult to 1) find talent 2) pay for the talent. If you can illustrate that you can learn and are hard working, the pay may not be great but it’s the first step on the ladder.

  5. Great Article! I’m a soon to be senior at Michigan State University and started working with the Web halfway through my junior year. I’ve changed my major so many times which leaves me graduating with a double major in creative advertising as well as media information technologies. I want to be a front end Web developer but fear I might not be ready when I graduate. I started on Code Academy and now I’m majoring in the field. Treehouse is by far better than any class I’ve taken for Web and I’m certain it will be this way throughout the test of my classes at MSU as well.

    I just wanted some direction as to where I need to be when I graduate and what I need to have under my belt. I’m learning as fast as I can but worry it might not be enough.

    Thanks!

  6. I agree with the commenters who said it’s pretty tough to get your foot in the door. After going back to school to study CS a couple years ago to get a second degree, I made it almost all the way through the program with pretty much straight A’s but didn’t feel like I learned much and felt it was a huge waste of money. So I decided to go out on my own this year before finishing the degree, and I’ve been focusing on learning web development the past few months. But I can’t even find an internship let alone an entry level job. I almost never even get to the interview stage. I have a very beginner-ish portfolio now on a personal website I made a few months ago, and I’m working to make a few websites this summer to add to my portfolio, maybe that’ll help me at least get to the interview stage. But yeah I just wanted to agree with the commenters that it can be really hard to get into the industry. But your advice is still good. Maybe it’s just that you gotta keep plugging away building up a portfolio for a while until an employer notices eventually.