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How do you get a programming position?

How many people out there are unemployed?

I graduated from a technical college with an associates degree in programming in May of 2001.  After six months of failed interviews, I finally land a position after a direct call to the employee.  Big mistake.  This guy took me for all I was worth.  I worked my butt off for him days, nights and weekends.  The SOB then has the nerve to bounce my paychecks and on the last payday that I worked for him he could'nt or would'nt pay me.  I quit.  Not getting paid and having 3 paychecks bounce does'nt cut it for me. 

It is now 9 months after I quit and I still can't seem to land a programming position.  I have had 2 interviews in 9 months.  Whoop Dee Doo.  I can't believe how HR people treat you.  Call you in for an interview and then a week later send you a "I'm sorry but you did'nt have the experience we were looking for" letter even though they hire one of your classmates with the same damn experience who supposedly had an "in" at the company. Or most of the time they don't even respond to your application.  Then when you call them and ask for a solid reason why you were'nt hired, they repeat the letter and say "Sorry can't discuss that with you for legal reasons". Legal reasons my ass.  There is so much favoritism in hiring it's unbelievable.  What gives HR people and companies that right?  Aren't there laws against it?  Hey this guy has 10 years of experience, but o wait my 18 year old cousin just got out of school and needs a job.  Gratz cous.

"Getting in" seems to be impossible.  I've done everything.  Networking with people, distributing my resume at job fairs, to recruiters, on the net, applying for local positions - internships -, build a portfolio - you name it.

Someone tell me - How in the hell do you land a programming position with a solid company? 

It seems to me you just have to be damned lucky or know someone who can get you in.

Tuesday, January 7, 2003

Run, don't walk, to Amazon (or other online or meatspace procureur of fine literary tomes) and buy What Colour Is Your Parachute. It's a valuable guide to creating a career in whatever field you choose. Well worth every cent, pence, eurocent (or whatever it is! :-) ) that you pay for it.

One of the most important things is: don't get discouraged, no matter how long it takes.

Good luck.

Tim Sullivan
Wednesday, January 8, 2003

A couple questions.
Are you a good programmer?
do you have any experience? (if not, do some projects any way you can, open source, free websites for friend's small businesses, a little application you can put on your website, anything).

What kind of rates are you looking for? One of the best ways to "get in" as you stated, is to settle for a lower paying job, and work hard.  Get your employer's to notice that your very valuable. make them money.  Ask for a raise. Make them more money. Repeat.

With no experience, i'd be suprised if you could make more then 40k a year max.  Just cause you see "java programmers wanted: 70K" doesn't mean they are talking to you, or even willing to actually pay that. 

Good luck.

Vincent Marquez
Wednesday, January 8, 2003

I got into the field when I was 18 years old.  I had no experience.  But I started as a contractor.  I took small jobs here and there doing just about everything (PC repair, software installation, networking, small programming tasks, etc).  Eventually I was able to pick and choose jobs.  And I picked the programming jobs.  That eventually lead to bigger and bigger projects which started turning into nice job offers.  Over the last 10 years my salary went from a few hundred bucks to thousands (7+) of dollars a month.  It took some time to get here and it didn't come easy but every step and every mistake was an opportunity to learn.  Hang in there and don't give up.  Those who stick with it are usally rewarded. 

oh...and make sure you know your stuff.  Take on free work, public work, whatever it takes to get REAL programming time under your belt.

Richard Caetano
Wednesday, January 8, 2003

Hey Angry, sorry, no sage advice here. Just another out-of-work guy letting you know you're not alone in your situation. 

Best of luck buddy.

D Diggler
Wednesday, January 8, 2003

I realize I'm risking a flame here, but:  nobody is entitled to a job -- not me, not you, not Joel.

Yes, 9 months is a very long time to be unemployed (I'm only on 2 myself), and yes, you have every right to be upset about your last situation, which sounds ripe for a lawsuit.  I know you were venting, but if you express the same anger -- or even hinted at it -- in an interview, any reasonably experienced interviewer will see it as a red flag.

Of course, you've only had two interviews, which is partly what you're complaining about.  That's not too surprising -- the job market these days (especially in the Pacific Northwest, where I live; YMMV) is very much a buyer's market.  Employers can be very choosy, and in fact, have to be, because chances are good that if they post a job listing, they're getting deluged with responses.  There've been quite a few threads here about managing the reams of resume paper coming in.

And if I'm doing the math right, it sounds like the one job you've had since graduation lasted all of six months.  Six months working out of almost two years can't look good to an employer.  At this point, you'll probably have to get creative -- take on projects for other people, treat them like real jobs, and put them on your resume so that Random HR Drones don't think you're sitting around waiting for them to call you.

One strategy I'm trying these days is to do volunteer work.  The lack of technical expertise in the nonprofit world can be truly astonishing -- and the word-of-mouth effect is excellent.  A few helpful projects with the right people (development staff, which for nonprofits means fundraising) could at least get you some great recommendations, and probably some leads as well, *and* it'll give you a reason to get out of bed in the morning.

Sam Gray
Wednesday, January 8, 2003

There seems to be a general ongoing recession. The news over the year has given the impression that the job market overall is okay. Which definitely isn't the case for IT / development jobs.

A friend of mine has been out of work for over a year. He's a network administrator and the only jobs he's applied for he's been turned down for being "too senior" - ie : he's been paid more in the past for what the current position would offer.

Come to think of it, I've been turned down for being "too senior" as well, even though I was quite happy to work for 2/3 of my previous salary rather than stay unemployed and earn nothing.

What annoys me is that when I've been doing recruiting I can give a good precise reason why I don't want to employ somebody. But this just never seems to translate through correctly to HR / recruiters, who have to deal with hundreds of people and just fob people off with "legal reasons" (if a company is throwing legal things at me before I even join, that doesn't sound like a company I'd want to work for...) or "somebody else co-ordinates better with our business strategies" (huh?) .

The most important thing to remember is to not get dishearted about it. If 100 people are applying for a job, chances are you won't get it even when there's nothing wrong with your skills whatsoever. That's worth remembering - in this climate you shouldn't blame yourself for being incompetent, you're probably not. A lot of it is down to chance - I managed to get lucky with this job (having been laid off last year) just because I knew some people who worked here already, so I managed to jump the queue of applicants.

Keep your skillset up to date. Work on some programming projects while you're job hunting; you won't get as much "experience" as in the real world, but you'll at least understand things such as performance issues, bug fixing and deadlines a lot more than just reading the theory about them.

Patience is a virtue - best of luck.

Better than being unemployed...
Wednesday, January 8, 2003

Yo angry

I totally agree with Sam.

1. You are not entitled to a job. Instead of talking to folk like they owe you a job, because you have been unemployed for xyz, or that you have x years experience, show them that by employing you they make more money than employing the competition.

2. Stop venting. Especially when dealing with potential sources of jobs. You claim to have tried networking, but if you used the same tone as you did in your post, I am not surprised you did not get far. Use your previous setback to your advantage. Exude an aura of confidence, and let your prospective employers that having been burnt once, you are being very thorough in choosing your future employer. (read: I am not desperate for a job. I want to ensure that my future employer is worthy of the privilige). Of course you have to be subtle though.

3. You have answered your own question. <<angry>>even though they hire one of your classmates with the same damn experience who supposedly had an "in" at the company.<</angry>> Get an "in" at the companies you want to work for. All things being equal, I would rather employ someone I know than a stranger. That's life.

Wednesday, January 8, 2003

Three cents from someone who does quite a bit of technical interviewing: Maybe there is something wrong with your interviewing style. You may be underselling yourself without realizing it, or you may be coming across as angry or desperate in the interview.

Try to get a good book on interview technique. And I am not talking about one of those books of puzzles; I mean the touchy-feely stuff. Get a friend to give you a really hard-core interview for an hour. Tell them to be as arrogant, annoying and stupid as they can. They should observe you and crit your style. Things like the way you sit, the way you speak, the language you use and so on.

Then try to get someone you don't know well to do the same for you. Some colleges or recruiters have a service like that. Use it, it could make a huge difference to the "hire/don't hire" thing.

I am not advocating faking anything but sometimes people do themselves a real disservice due to nerves or frustration with being unemployed...

Good luck!

Wednesday, January 8, 2003

Have you tried other work?  Going to a software developer interview and saying 'I've been doing office work, just to keep busy, plus it's given me good experience in being a user of software' sounds a lot better than 'I've been unemployed for nine months, but looking for work'.

Companies also often advertise jobs internally first, before going external, so doing other work can (potentially) be beneficial for you as well.  (Not to mention giving you good references, etc).

This similar to what happened in my last job, but the role changed from office admin, to support, then to development, as the project progressed, and I proved myself capable of doing anything asked of me.

Wednesday, January 8, 2003

Instead of playing the recruiter's and employer's hiring games strike it out on your own.  Create your own company and sell your software.  It's more rewarding due to the independence, challenges, money, etc.  And mostly no more needing to worry about trying to get hired or job security.

I assume at the very least that you can probably write a few website scripts like a bug reporting app, e-mail campaign, etc.  If you can do more like write a full blown enterprise n-tier application then all the better.  Write your application, get a domain name, get incorporated, find an accountant, (you could probably skip the lawyer if you're up on the legal stuff, but if not get one), and then market the crap out of your application, website script, or whatever you're selling.

Sure it's a lot of work, but that is what you're looking for right?  Money doesn't grow on trees, and usually you get back what you put in over the long run.  In the short run, you might get back less or more depending on the situation, but one should always be focused on the long run.

Let's say you do land a job soon, well then what happens when another recession hits and you're laid off again for months to a year or two with thousands of others clamoring for the same positions.  And then you get hired again, then laid off, .... repeat ad nauseaum.

So in the long run, IMHO it's better to get started early as possible with a few companies.  It's okay to make mistakes and you'll probably make several in the beginning in the first few companies that you startup, but sooner or later with the right determination and dedication it'll all work out. 

When there's a will there's a way.

Wednesday, January 8, 2003

A coupla thoughts:

1. Sounds a little like you've been talking to larger companies (ie those with HR departments). Going through HR can be tough for people with thin resumes. HR aren't qualified to evaluate your technical skills in an interview so they tend to just add up the years of experience on your resume, multiply by the number of programming languages and ask you what you think your greatest weakness is.

In a smaller company, you're more likely to be interviewed by another programmer, so you'll get a chance to show you know something.

Also, don't be afraid to take a technical but non-development role. After I graduated I looked for work for about 9 months before I got a job doing tech support for a 5 person shop that wrote accounting software. Sure, it sucked, but as time went on I did more and more programming and less and less support. I got the runs on the board so it as easier to get a pure development role next time out.

(As an aside, I got that next job solely because I happened to know how virtual functions were implemented in C++ (vtbls) - pretty dumb reason for hiring someone but it's a good example of why it's better to be interviewed by another programmer instead of an HR person)

2. You've got time on your hands. Write some code. Learn some stuff. Start an open source project or (better) contribute to an existing one. If I was hiring someone, this would impress me for a number of reasons:

- It shows you actually like programming. It's not just a job.
- It shows you can program. It's amazing how many people who apply for programming jobs just plain can't.
- I can look at some of your cvs checkins to see how you code.
- I can look at the mailing list archives to get an idea of your attitude.

Andrew Reid
Wednesday, January 8, 2003

" "Getting in" seems to be impossible. "

The great thing is that there is no barrier to entry.
Getting an associates degree in programming sounds like you can maintain and QA a system. If they taught you specific languages and OSes your screwed in a few years.

Wednesday, January 8, 2003

When there's a downturn in the job market the only people who are guaranteed to get degrees straight from college are those with degrees from Ivy League, Oxbridge, Grandes Écoles or equivalent.

This applies to every field, not just programming.

So get a job in a related (or completely unrelated field) or get a full degree and take teaching cert if you feel you're an outgoing kind of person  - teaching is a much better fall-back in lean times than serving tables - and keep programming as a hobby if it really is your vocation. Sometime in the next few years at the very most you'll find yourself in programming full time.

And don't expect to be told why you haven't been hired 'cos the reason is always the same; there were a load more candidates than there were jobs and you got the short straw. After all, the guy with the same experience and qualifications as you who got the job would be feeling sore if the decision had gone the other way.

Stephen Jones
Thursday, January 9, 2003

1.  I used this post to vent some anger.
2.  I do not have a bad attitude or present myself as being angry to anyone in real life.  I simply used that attitude in the post, to get a point across.
3.  I agree that no one owes me a job.  That is definately not how I meant to sound.
4.  I have to practice my interviewing skills.
5.  I would start my own business but I think it may be out of my league. I will consider it.
6.  Am I a good programmer.  According to Joel's criteria, smart and get things done, then yes i consider myself a good programmer, but how do i really know if i'm a good programmer?
7.  I have written many smaller programs, ranging from a Tetris clone game in VC++/DirectX to a Shoe Store management system using VB/SQL Server.  Some were school projects, some were/are projects I do just because I like programming.
8.  I also volunteer my time to do private "consulting" to individuals and organizations.  Setting up LANS, "fixing" computers, teaching software etc.  Note: most people "donate" 10, 20 or more $ for my time.
9.  I would like to take my previous employer to court and get my money, as it turns out he does this to all of his employees (i.e. bounces paychecks, does'nt pay etc).  He simply hires new grads from the tech school to replace the ones that won't put up with his BS.  He also has a "lien" on his business from the state, so i doubt i'll be getting my money anytime soon, and would rather forget the whole 4 months there.
10.  I don't apply to jobs where I think I don't meet the requirements.  Am i selling myself short?
11.  If a salary requirement is requested, I usually do stay on the low end IMO.  Am i selling myself short?
12.  It is good to know other folks are in the "same" position.

Thursday, January 9, 2003

6.  Are you a good programmer?  Only other good programmers can tell you that.  But one of my criteria is this:  if you can look at code you wrote 1-2 years ago and be embarrassed by it, you're at least getting better.

9.  Who cares if you get the money soon?  If you have the time and energy to pursue it, you can consider it an investment.  Also, you say he just hires more people from the tech school.  Be careful of slander/libel laws, but might there be some way of poisoning that well...?  (=

10.  Not applying to jobs where you don't think you meet the requirements is a tough call.  On the one hand, they might be willing to train and it might be a great environment for you (that wouldn't be so hot for someone with a different personality).  On the other hand, applying to jobs takes time and energy.  If you're not just meeting unemployment eligibility requirements, perhaps you should save it for jobs you'd *really* want.

Sam Gray
Thursday, January 9, 2003

FYI... if you live near London and have game programming experience, Rik is hiring...

Michael H. Pryor
Thursday, January 9, 2003

Three things:

1) Proceed with caution if you sue your previous employer. I was in the exact same position a few years ago. The company I worked for bounced checks and gave late checks ALL THE TIME. When I quit, they owed me about $5000. I went to the expense of filing a suit, but all of the company's assests had a lien from the city, and I had no way of collecting the money after I won the suit. Call your local constable (ask the courthouse for their phone number), and ask advice from them before you proceed. Chances are there are dozens of former employees who have also filed successful suits and are waiting hopelessly for their money. The constable will know about these people and their circumstances and can offer you advice on whether or not to file suit.

2) Whatever you do, DO NOT GIVE A PROSPECTIVE EMPLOYER YOUR SALARY REQUIREMENTS. In the rules of negotiating, the person who names a price first always loses. If you tell them your salary requirements, you will get screwed. No question about it. I don't have the space (or the expertise) to go into all the details of salary negotiaton here, but I read a fantastic book about it recently: "Get Paid What You're Worth" (ISBN 0312242549). I was unemployed for 6 months last year and was absolutely DESPERATE for a paycheck. Also, I was petrified of the salary negotiation process. I bought that book for $20 and was able to negotiate a 20% greater salary than I was originally offered, based solely on the advice in that book. I was ecstatic, and I would reccommend the book to anyone.

3) The job that I got last month (when I used my super-savvy negotiation skills) is not strictly a programming job. I work for a software company, but I'm more of a data architect than a programmer. But the company encourages the people on my team to write small in-house applications and scripts and to study the source code for our flagship products. Although I was looking for a programming job, I am very satisfied with the work that I'm doing now, and I have good prospects for transitioning to the development team in  the future. (I also don't have a degree in CS, so I'm glad to sneak into programming jobs by whatever means I can).

Hope this stuff helps.

Benji Smith
Thursday, January 9, 2003

It sounds like you might have the beginnings of a consulting business that could tide you over, setting up and maintaining systems for organizations, especially if any are local businesses.

Regarding bounced paychecks, you should probably get in touch with the state and the IRS. Your paycheck presumably listed deductions. The IRS views that as their money, and takes a dim view of someone not paying them. You may need to talk to the IRS anyway, to find how how to handle the bounced paychecks on your tax return. A lawyer could help you with something else: since you haven't been paid for your programming work, you might still own it. If the 'employer' provides the programs to other people, that could complicate his life.

As far as not getting honest answers from companies about why they hired someone else, the problem is that there is nothing in it for them. If they don't tell you anything, there is no cost to them. If they tell you something and you sue for discrimination, it can cost them a lot. For example, if they tell you that you don't have enough experience, but they hire someone who has less experience than you, they might wind up with a problem. Most HR directors institute a policy of providing no information to the applicant.

Dan Brown
Thursday, January 9, 2003


I sympathize with your situation.  I've been there before.

While the IT job market sucks right now, you do have a few things working against you.

1) An Associates degree from a technical college. I believe many two year schools do a better job of preparing people for technical IT work than most four year colleges do. Unfortunately, most companies with HR departments don't agree with me. In fact, many companies have a hiring policy that prevents them from interviewing you.

2) Little prior paid IT work experience.  Maybe like others have mentioned you can do some volunteer work, but charge the organization a $1 for your services?  At least you can put this on your resume as paid work experience.

3) No job.  It is always easier to get a job when you already have one. Also, HR drones do not like gaps on resumes.

"Someone tell me - How in the hell do you land a programming position with a solid company? "

This is something a lot of people would like to know.

One Programmer's Opinion
Thursday, January 9, 2003

One thing I've found useful is to just put the word out. To everyone.

Before you knee-jerk and tell me you've already done it, consider this:
* Do your classmates know you're looking? Maybe they have jobs at companies that have other openings.
* Have you contacted your professors or your school's career center?
* Do you IM/email with former coworkers from that bum job? They're probably looking too, with mixed success.

Before you diss the value of that approach, reconsider. All you need is one score. I found out about my current job via a listserv posting that was sent to a friend of a former coworker. I've been here almost 2.5 years.

Other ideas:
* Have you contacted non-programming places? Lots of organizations need IT/admin people, and it may be a good way to get hands-on experience and a steady income, even if it isn't your ideal part of the industry.
* Do you have any work to show? Create a website that showcases some code/software you've written. Plus, working on a side project will help you make productive use of your time and keep your skills sharp, not to mention getting your mind off of things.

Good luck; I know it seriously wears one out not to have a job.


Joe Grossberg
Friday, January 10, 2003

Does anyone know of any good books about how to refine your interview skills?

Friday, January 10, 2003

1) An Associates degree from a technical college. I believe many two year schools do a better job of preparing people for technical IT work than most four year colleges do. Unfortunately, most companies with HR departments don't agree with me. In fact, many companies have a hiring policy that prevents them from interviewing you.

Only if you are applying for fix-it/keep-it-running work. Good people don't get Associates degrees. They either never get a degree or get a 4yr or higher.

Friday, January 10, 2003

I suggest you go back to school and get a bachelors. Even if you could get a programmming job now, you're trying to enter a cyclical profession, and its lack is going to hurt you later on.

If I was hiring somebody I wouldn't waste my time talking to somebody with just an associates degree and no real experience, with the glut of candidates out there.  It has nothing to do with how good you really are, its a question of where is my time best spent.

The other thing to remember is that HR treats everybody like dirt nowadays because they can get away with it. Don't take it personally.

Eric Moore
Saturday, January 11, 2003

Hey i finished my Masters degree four months before. Believe me i got only one interview in 4 months. Last week i posted my resume with 4 years of fake experiance. I got 8 interview in one week. I was feeling very guilty atfirst, But When i think of how this job market exploit me just because i am fresher with good programming knowledge having no experiance, I decided to exploit it back. I am expecting a job in aweek , they r ready to pay me upto 70k per annum. If this what they want, I give them how they wanted..............

John Chandler
Sunday, April 25, 2004

I was employeed while I was looking for a job, and I think that really helped, I came off as "well its ok if you dont want me, I have other things to do" call it arrogance or whatever, but they took the bait. My Dad always said, "if you got nothing to lose, walk in like you own the place"
any ways, got me a 165K salary, up from 40K. I'm laughing all the way to the bank!!!

Thursday, April 29, 2004

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