How to get a job when you’re a self-taught developer

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Applying for a new job is nerve-wracking, but it can be especially scary when you’re self-taught. Aside from not having access to career assistance from a university, you don’t have that expensive degree some employers still want. Even though you may feel like you’re alone in your quest, you’re not; 41 percent of developers are self-taught, according to the 2015 Stack Overflow Developer Survey. Not having a degree doesn’t render your search impossible, it simply means that you may need to take a slightly different path. Here are some tips for landing the job you deserve.

Know yourself

Before you even begin job-hunting you need to figure out a way to gauge your level of expertise. If you understand your skill set, then you won’t be applying to jobs that you have no business applying. Once you figure out where you stand, you absolutely must prove that you know what you say you know. You’ll need to explain why and how you’ve created the things you said you did. Self-taught programmers don’t have a transcript of the courses they’ve taken with the grades they’ve received.

Craft a portfolio

After you’ve figured out where you stand, start blogging or have a presence on the Internet. You need a portfolio, there’s no way around that. Since you won’t have a degree or transcript, you’ll have to prove what you know. Work on open source projects and then write about what you accomplished on your personal blog. Try new things on small project sites and document your work.

If you have public code, like on Github, your skills will be so much more apparent to a hiring manager. Some employers will want to look at your code, while others will want to see a finished product, so make sure you’re including both in your portfolio. Put your resume on your portfolio site with information about the IDE environments or code repository tools you know how to use. Including those technologies can prove you’re prepared to work on a team.

Sell yourself

Be prepared to sell yourself and list all accomplishments. Don’t be afraid to mention your failures, too, as you can list what you’ve learned from them. And don’t forget to do your homework on the companies you’re applying. Try to find out which technologies they use and how you could help them with your knowledge.

One advantage of being self-taught is that you can work on whatever you want to work on. Having a portfolio filled with technology that you care about, rather than what a university thinks is necessary, is awesome. You’re not stuck seeking a developer job using technology that doesn’t interest you just because that’s the tech you had to use in school. You’ve built experience in the areas that you’re passionate about, giving you the power to fill you portfolio with things that you truly enjoy.

Learning to program on your own is a testament to your commitment to bettering yourself and proves a strong internal drive. Don’t ever undervalue yourself because you don’t have a degree and don’t undersell the hard work you’ve done to earn your skills. The drive and determination you needed to teach yourself new technologies shouldn’t be dismissed.

Get creative

Even though you don’t have college professors to list as references, it doesn’t mean you don’t have other ways to show your skills. List any developer training you’ve taken, whether it’s courses or training you’ve taken online or any other credentials you’ve earned on your own. If you’re still struggling to find the job you want, get on Upwork or Elance and find projects to work on. This will help you quickly build a portfolio filled with work that you’ve done for actual clients. Places like this usually hire the lowest bidder, so don’t expect to make a ton of money right away. However, working on a real project adds value to your resume, and shouldn’t be dismissed just because the pay is lower than you might prefer.

You know you have the skills to get the job you deserve. So get out there and create a portfolio and Web presence and prove to the world you’ve got what it takes.

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Callie Johnson

is a Branded Content Specialist at Pluralsight. With bachelors' degrees in both Journalism and Web Design/Development, she has a wide spectrum of interests, including enforcing the proper use of ‘you’re.’ She loves hanging with her husband and their super weird, yet unbearably cute dogs, Kingsley, Thor and Rumble. Find her on Twitter @calliemarie87