I’m asked this question quite often by new, up-and-coming programmers who are looking to get their foot in the door. Programming itself can be pretty hard as it is, much less trying to land your first junior developer job on top. The majority of companies want one to two years of working experience, which can also be a deterrent to qualified candidates.
Just think about that for a second — one to two years of working experience. How is a new junior programmer supposed to obtain working experience when he or she cannot land a gig? Unfortunately, there’s no simple answer for this, but there are plenty of different tactics you can use if you run into this issue starting out. So today I want to share my experience with you, and dig into the tips that worked for me when searching for that elusive first job.
Let me start off by saying I know the struggle of trying to find a developer job when you have no working experience — I’ve been there. My situation was somewhat unique because I was already working a technology job, but my company didn’t have a current need for a dev, so it’s something I did for fun on the side while I learned and practiced my newfound craft. After a few months of employment, my boss told me, “Go build this.” And I did build “this.” Granted, it took me six to nine months to build it, but I was actually gaining work experience as a dev, which was awesome. But for those of you who don’t have an opportunity like that, how do you get your foot in the door?
1. ABC — Always Be Coding
This is really important. Even if you have no opportunity to write code for your day job, you should be working on your own side projects and also contributing to open-source projects whenever possible. With the magic of GitHub, you’re able to post your code repos for the community (and prospective employers) to see. And it was this that helped me gain a lot of traction over the last two years. In addition, it’s great practice to always be coding something. I’d suggest trying to spend at least 30 minutes a day on your project(s). This will keep you sharp and ready for a real dev job when it comes your way.
2. If You Aren’t on LinkedIn, You’re Doing Something Wrong
LinkedIn is probably the biggest place where recruiters and candidates are just waiting to meet. If you don’t have a LinkedIn profile, I suggest that you stop what you’re doing and create one. Be sure to list all the skills you have, courses you may have taken (even if they aren’t college level), bootcamp certifications, work experience (even if it’s not relevant), and projects that you’re working on (yes, even if it’s a to-do application). This builds your “street cred” in the industry, and it lets others see that you’re actively pursuing development. Also in your profile, it’s important to talk about your passions and what you’re looking for. Recruiters and employers do read your profile, so it’s your job to give them a reason to want to know more.
3. Network With Other Developers
This is so vital, I almost have to repeat it. It wasn’t until I really started becoming part of the open-source and Rails/Ruby community that I truly got some traction. I tweet using the hashtags #rails and #ruby when I have questions, comments, or rants. People follow these hashtags and tend to engage with me. Before you know it, we’ve tweeted back and forth, followed each other, and I’m now primed for the next step.
4. Do Some Recon
So you’ve networked with a few cool developers and you still don’t have a job as a junior dev. Now’s the time to start asking questions of your connections. How do they like their job? Can they recommend any good resources for a junior dev? And finally, ask them if their company is hiring. You’d be surprised how many people are but may not be advertising it, and now you’ve just opened up that door.
5. Don’t Be Scared — Just Ask
This one is simple, and trust me, it works. Reach out to other developers and/or companies you might be interested in working with and try to start a conversation. Introduce yourself, recap your skills, and boldly ask, “I’m a junior developer trying to get my foot in the door — who can I talk to about a position on your team?” From my experience, this works 75% of the time — and you could land an interview or be considered for one, which are both a step in the right direction. A lot of companies out there are willing to invest in a junior developer, provided that he or she can learn fast and ship code within a reasonable amount of time. For instance, the company I work for has hired juniors with no working experience and they’ve been able to excel, so it definitely is a possibility.
6. Take an Internship
This might not work for everyone, but a lot of companies, like Google, Basecamp, and Facebook for example, have paid internships. And sometimes it’s a lot easier to get an internship than to land a direct hire for a junior developer position. Granted, your pay most likely won’t be a regular developer salary, but if you can mitigate the financial risk, it’s totally worth it. Recently, Basecamp posted a link hiring for summer interns. Can you imagine having six months at Basecamp? Successfully completing your internship at this (or any company) will give you real-world working experience, and will get you that much closer to a full-time junior developer job.
Of course, using these tactics doesn’t guarantee you a job, but it does bring you that much closer to landing your first junior developer gig. I’ve helped several friends land jobs at various companies by coaching them with these techniques. Granted, a lot of it is putting yourself out there and taking risks, but if you really love to code and want to do this as your career, you’ll do things that scare you. Have your own tips and advice for landing that first coding job? Let me know in the comments section below, good luck and Gitspeed!