LearnHow to Land your First Development Job


Andrew Chalkley
writes on June 6, 2014

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 hindrance 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 hindrance 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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27 Responses to “How to Land your First Development Job”

  1. Richard Skinner on April 29, 2017 at 10:12 am said:

    This is encouraging. Thanks for this. I took have no degree, but I spent 3 years in school before psychiatric issues compelled my dropping out. I had dabbled in development a year or so ago, but never got far with it. Treehouse really got me motivated, and the courses are laid out so well that I have understood more about webdev than I ever have. Can’t wait for jQuery.

    First time in my life, I’m driven. I spend at least 3 hours a day either doing courses, coding or reading about development. The other time is helping family, working 50 hours a week at a gas station, and taking care of my son.

    There is no maybe. There is no try. I am going to be a web developer. I am going to get a job. Period.

    • Hey Richard! I was just reading through these comments and I saw yours. I just had to tell you that reading your post really inspired me! I’m in the exact same boat as you, work full time 50 hours a week, just had my first kid and still cranking out code in my spare time. Hope your coding journey is going well, here’s to guys like us getting our dream job!

  2. Joomla and WordPress is a get way to build up a portfolio and show case to client, but then you also need your own website of gallery of projects to refer client to.

  3. I like that you said that we don’t know how many people we will be competing against for the job. If someone is going into any field of work then they might want to learn about what is working in it and what isn’t. It might be important to know how to, for example, develop land better than the next person that comes along so that you know that you are doing the best work, and people will want to use you again.

  4. Lisa Van Alen on November 28, 2016 at 11:57 pm said:

    Hello, thank you for this post it is very encouraging just to know that I am not the only one facing this issue of landing a first time web developer position.

    I have been enrolled at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh Online Decision for Interactive Media and Web Design diploma program. I have 3 classes still to complete one of which is my portfolio class. I now have 30K in student load debt and no job. It is very discouraging.

    I have learned so much about coding and also have learned the Adobe Applications like Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Flash and Dreamweaver. Also learned information graphic design, and typographic design, and much more. However, I still have so much more to learn like PHP, Ruby on Rails and other languages, that seem to be what employers are looking for. It’s so difficult to know how to search for the right position. I’ve applied to many web and entry level web developer jobs but to no avail. I never even get an email or a phone call in response to my submitted applications and resume. I am getting very discouraged. I just don’t know if I should continue my education and pursue a bachelor degree which would also increase my student debt.

    Here is a link to a site that I developed for my one and only client. It is fully responsive. But, I am having problems with my PHP for the order form I created so I have commented out the code and noted the page as under construction. Please view the site here: http://www.wilkinsonportables.com.
    Any advise would be so much appreciated. Thank you again for this post.

    • The website you have created looks very 90’s. Try looking at websites on awwards.com and you can search what ever style you want on there. It wI’ll give you a better idea of the what a 2017 site looks like. Then just pick parts out you like and re model yours 🙂

    • Lisa, take a look at bootstrap. Might help ya out to improve your website’s UI.

  5. I love learning at treehouse. I have since left treehouse to practice what I have learned. I still feel like there are alot of things to learn before I get a job as a web developer. I have been doing this for at least a year now and grow more passionate as each day goes on. I love to code and I love to hear stories of self taught coders.

  6. Hello there, I am current student at treehouse. I am studying day and night to get a job with front-End Developer. I know this article was posted about two years ago, and I’m not sure if the advice given here are upto date at this moment. I have come this far as of now https://teamtreehouse.com/motumakaba in treehouse courses. i can say now i can create responsive sites with html5, css3, bootstrap and little bit of javascript and jquery. Does this make me a little bit closer to even start applying for a job? if so , how do I even start applying, on indeed, monster etc or I have to call for web design companies i can find over the internet.

    • Faye Bridge on October 31, 2016 at 4:18 am said:

      Hi Motuma! You’re making great progress with your courses, and it sounds like you’re building an impressive set of coding skills. Once you feel confident in your skills and before you start applying for jobs, I’d recommend compiling a portfolio of your projects. That way you can showcase your work to potential employers. Good luck and let us know how it goes!

  7. Thank you for sharing this, Andrew.

    As a Treehouse student, I find myself getting discouraged with JavaScript and when looking at web dev job postings (many of which require a degree in computer science). It’s always nice to hear stories from people who have been successful by being self taught.

    Thank you for the motivation! I certainly need it.

  8. Very informative. Thank you so much for sharing.
    Any idea for a foreign developer trying to land a job abroad? Like the US or Australia?
    Would appreciate it. 🙂

  9. Are you an entry level web developer looking to do your first web developer works and get experience? Come to FirstExp! http://www.firstexp.info

  10. Natalie on August 7, 2015 at 3:41 pm said:

    Hi! Thanks for the tips they are much appreciated!

  11. 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.

  12. Samuel Gipson on June 13, 2014 at 1:27 pm said:

    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.


  13. David Lettice on June 8, 2014 at 3:37 am said:

    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 🙁

    • Andrew Chalkley on June 8, 2014 at 10:23 pm said:

      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.

      • I am curious to know: Do employers consider non programming background or non-developer work when evaluating a profile or deciding on compensation.

        Or they only looked at Treehouse portfolio and and your skill sets?

        Brief: I am a technical writer and work for software industry. I create user manuals, online help and tutorials/case studies. Will that experience be counted.

        Is front end track great kickstart to web devlopment track?

        Do you prefer use of JS over JQ in small/large projects?

        Also can you show projects done under treehouse to employers?

        What is the mean salary for web devs in US?

        Appreciate your response.

  14. 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!

    • Andrew Chalkley on June 8, 2014 at 10:08 pm said:

      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.

  15. 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.

    • Andrew Chalkley on June 8, 2014 at 10:05 pm said:

      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 🙂

  16. Fire-Dragon-DoL on June 7, 2014 at 9:26 am said:

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

  17. Soniarun on June 7, 2014 at 2:29 am said:

    I get my first Job at http://www.technocrab.com/web-design.html feel happy, but at the time of interview what questions put in front of my is mostly I know about them as I was studying them since 2 years. Facing interview is difficult but I manage as I ma hard worker.

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