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Becoming a developer 4 years late

I humbly seek the wisdom of the forum:

I would really like to get a job developing software - ideally, web development of some kind.

I don't have a computer science degree (although I have a degree in a fairly technical subject). I have worked in non-programmer software-related jobs (usability, testing) and picked up basic knowledge of a few languages (PHP, Python, ASP, even a bit of Java). Last year I made the mistake of taking a lucrative job in a company that sucked - I was supposed to be testing stuff that was developed without comprehensible specs in a very slapdash environment. In trying to do the right thing I got fired over a "personality clash".

I really feel that if I was given a junior web developer position, I could do as well as some of the programmers I have worked with. But lacking commercial experience and qualifications, I'm not qualified for anything I've seen advertised.

What is my best course of action?
I can get free server space for a friend - should I build a free web service to show what I can do?
Should I get into debt to get formal qualifications of some kind?

Ben H
Thursday, May 30, 2002

I should say that I have been working for about 2 years after an aborted postgraduate degree.

Ben H
Thursday, May 30, 2002

I'll offer my experience, for what it's worth.  I got interested in coding for a living when I was in my mid-thirties.  I studied on my own  for a couple of years, but was worried about not having any qualifications to show on my resume, so I found a programmer certificate course at a local community college.  The level of the courses would not have been high enough to develop real job skills if I hadn't been doing substantial additional study on my own time, but I was.  I tried to do some networking with my classmates, many of whom were professional developers in school to pick up a new language.  About the time I graduated, one of my classmates hooked me up with her employer - a small start-up dot-com, which doesn't pay excessively, but does offer  a lot of room for new developers to grow and learn.  I've been here over a year now, enjoy the work greatly, and have grown immensely as a developer.

I guess my advice would be to start collecting some credentials the cheap way (you shouldn't have to go into debt for community college), network as much as possible, build a sample portfolio on line to show what you can do, and go into any interviews prepared to sell yourself with your passion for programming.

TonyD
Thursday, May 30, 2002

> I really feel that if I was given a junior web developer position, I could do as well as some of the programmers I have worked with. But lacking commercial experience and qualifications, I'm not qualified for anything I've seen advertised.


HELLO.  Create your own website.  I Cant think of better, more real, experience....

Bella
Thursday, May 30, 2002

I agree with the comments about create your own web site on the internet.

In a previous job I was involved in recruiting developers and web programmers, and the web based developers had a much easier time getting interview - Because traditional developers have to write impressive stuff on their application to purusade me I wanted to see them. Yes, web developers had to do that too, but some of them put a URL of a web site they had developed, and that was usually the first thing I went to look at. If it was interesting and well made then the rest of their application seemes somewhat irrelevent.

So I'd certainly suggest doing something with a web site. Yes, make it look nice, but do something interesting with ASP or PHP.  Doesn't have to be useful, but as a way of demonstrating you know the langauges, and also have the skills to design a real application it is really useful.

But do a good job - A number of applications lost out because their web sites were horrible!

John Burton
Friday, May 31, 2002

I was once sent a CV for web developer position that had a link to the home site demonstrating the skill set of the applicant. It wasn't very good, but the funny part was it detailed his desite to emigrate in the near future. D'oh!

An impressive homepage can set you apart from the crowd and overcome a lack of experience. Be sure to concentrate on original content which demonstrates your technical knowledge, steer away from heavy graphics content or unusual colour schemes, etc.

Tim OB
Friday, May 31, 2002

Be prolific. Create and release code open source or sell it if you feel it has commercial value. I've found that the best way to prove my skillset is to back it up with examples. I have released open source tools, done freelance work that I can reference, and wrote articles that help others. All of these have worked in my favor when going into an interview. They show that you go the extra mile and have a passion for software that others may not have.

Look carefully at what a course or certification will offer you before spending time and money on it. I am still paying off a school loan that I borrowed to get into a class that offered a certification. Although I know the training helped me in my career I don't think it was worth the cost. I'm sure I could have learned the material without the classes.

I wouldn't worry about being late. The development/software industry is in constant need of new talent.

Ian Stallings
Friday, May 31, 2002

There are a lot of open source projects on source forge  that need developers.  Find one that interests you and tinker.

adam
Friday, May 31, 2002

Programming is a process, not an action. I can assure right now that you will be a much better programmer 2 years from now than you are today. But I know I've been a worse programmer two years ago. A friend of mine said that her own code looks like junk to her after a few months.

I suggest you do the following:

1. Try to get a job. Some workplaces are even looking for decent programmers, who work hard, and know what they're doing. You may be just that.

2. Learn independently by reading classic programming texts (some of which are available online), studying new technologies and subscribing to programming-oriented forums. E-mail me for some pointers.

3. Optionally, become involved in a voluntary project. The situation in the open-source world is that most projects have a very impressive wish-list, which exists because there are not enough developers to implement it.

Shlomi Fish
Saturday, June 01, 2002

If you're a newbie, I'd say stay away from open source projects.  You'll just run into rabid, overzealous freaks who have little to none practical business sense.  They will cloud you mind, especially if your goal is to get a job.  And, it may be worse now, b/c these clueless yahoos are mostly out of work these days, (as the set top box programming market has evaporated,) and can devote even more time to these oft ill fated endeavours. 

Trust me.  If you want web experience, build a data based web site.  Pick ANYTHING.  Name ONE interest you have outside computers, and we can think of a good website for you to build.  Once you're done, rewrite it in several POPULAR languages.  (ASP, perl, java)  True value is when a person can determine the most appropriate tool for a task,  too many people know one skill, and try to solve EVERY problem with it. 

Bella
Saturday, June 01, 2002

You should decide what type of web development you want to do. You also want to think a lot about why, and for what reason someone will hire you.

My thoughts on jobs in the IT industry can be read at the following:

http://www.attcanada.net/~kallal.msn/Articles/fog0000000004.html

Albert D. Kallal
Edmonton, Alberta Canada
kallal@msn.com

Albert D. Kallal
Sunday, June 02, 2002

Thanks for the words of advice and encouragement.

It seems like the US "community college" system isn't as established here in the UK - there do seem to be some community colleges but the courses they offer seem to be mostly Visual Basic, which I'm not really keen to learn.

There do seem to be short courses on programming available though.

Should I try to get a job in testing and do a showcase project in my spare time? Or borrow money to do a course and do a showcase project in my spare time?

I guess I'm asking, would you employ someone on the basis of a couple of example sites alone, or would some sort of certificate help?

BH
Sunday, June 02, 2002

"You'll just run into rabid, overzealous freaks who have little to none practical business sense. They will cloud you mind,.."  <Bella>

You be the judge.  Too many open source projects, or its that time of the month for the Bride of Frankenstein.

Yeeeyow!

Nat Ersoz
Sunday, June 02, 2002

Ben,

Have you tried a temp agency?  They can help you get placed into a place you think you'd like to work.  From there, if you both like each other, its not too hard to hire on full time. 

Nat Ersoz
Sunday, June 02, 2002

If it's any encouragement, I think the situation must be a little different in the UK than it is in North America. I have no formal credentials (didn’t go to university, only 1 higher) nor do I possess any certification (MCP, etc.) but I’m now in my 6th year of commercial web development. I was in a college course (HND), but noticed that all the vacancies in the paper were looking for experience – not qualifications – so I dropped out at the end of the first year. Managed to talk my way into taking over the intranet of the call centre I worked at and thus began my career.

Perhaps my advantage was having some idea of html, etc. before the beginning of the ‘boom’, but my point is that the UK market, from what I’ve seen, is less hung-up on formal qualifications and more interested in experience.

So, I agree with the advice given. Build sites, use different back-end tools/languages, experiment, keep a blog, etc. – it’s all good practice. Also, are you willing to relocate? Milton Keynes is pretty good – you’re commutable to London, Birmingham & the M4-corridor.

In any case, good luck!

Scottish Commuter
Monday, June 03, 2002


Uh ... it depends. 

If you're living in a semi-metropolitan or metro area (Salem, OR, Lansing MI and Grand Rapids Michigan are "Semi", Bethesda MD, Portland OR, Detroit MI and Chicago are "Metro") then there are probably jobs out there that don't require a degree.  If you have the skills and don't have to worry about supporting a family, there are a few tricks ...

1) Part-Time or Contract work.  This is good if you are supporting a family/own a house because it's extra $$.  You can get a day job with your technical degree's skill set.

2) A staffing service - ocassionally a staffing service like manpower that specializes in Clerical will get some technical work, and not know how to staff it.  (CGI Scripting, Simple Web Work, MS Access queries, VBA Programming, etc.)  When they get a need for someone who knows "ASCII" and you know what that means, they'll start funnelling all the "techy" work to you.

3) Build a portfolio, so if you get the interview, you can say "this is why you should hire me."  I sit next to a machinical engineer who built a graphics program, and that's the reason we hired him.

4) If you're willing to move, you _Can_ find that junior web jockey job.

5) With the Junior Web Jockey Job (You will be bored to tears), go to school at night and get the requirements for a Minor in CS, preferably from the same school you got your undergrad degree from.  Then you can say:

BS, Accounting (or whatever), U of whatever, 1995
Earned Minor in Computer Science, 2002

or something like that. :-)

6) With some #4 and #5, you can start to go where you really want ...

just my $0.02,

Matt H.
Monday, June 03, 2002

<snip>If you're a newbie, I'd say stay away from open source projects. You'll just run into rabid, overzealous freaks who have little to none practical business sense</snip> .. Bella


Excuse me, I write open source code and also write commercial code for a living and I'm not zealous, rabid, or a freak. Your broad statements are including me and I don't like it.


http://sourceforge.net/projects/opensmtp-net/


Some open source projects simply fill a software gap and leave it at that. I like to be prolific and I place some of my code in the public domain, under certain licenses so that it will remain free for everyone. I don't see anything wrong with that and it has helped me in past interviews. It's basically putting your money where your mouth is and writing something, as opposed to just talking about it on a forum.

Ian Stallings
Monday, June 03, 2002

Ian,

Nice work there.  Nice.

Nat

Nat Ersoz
Monday, June 03, 2002

Don't worry, I didn't take that rant about open source too seriously. For one thing, I know some people who are going to release a load of open source PHP stuff and they're nice. For another, I know that there's more to open source than programming set top boxes!

BH
Monday, June 03, 2002

It's actually a pretty good idea to do a little consulting work on the side before you look for a job. Try to find small businesses that need a web site with a basic backend for some kind of functionality (other than looking good). After you bag 2 or 3 of those, not only will you have made a little extra cash, but you'll have some real-world experience too.

Don't overlook other oppurtunities like building small applications or company intranets either.  There's a LOT of small businesses that need stuff out there, but they don't want to pay for it. You'll do it for next to nothing, because it's not their money you're after--- it's the experience.

Good luck.

Mark
Tuesday, June 04, 2002

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