Getting Your First Coveted Tech Job: Advice from Senior Developers, Hiring Managers & Industry Recruiters
Very shortly after graduating from a 9 week Immersive coding bootcamp at HackerYou (now known as Juno College of Technology), I spent no small amount of effort setting up coffee chats, attending panels and networking events, asking lots of questions at interviews and talking with smart, passionate people about the tech industry and what companies are looking for.
Transitioning into the tech field from another background (related or unrelated) can be difficult and a mystery. What holds true in one industry may be completely different in tech and again, within different companies and organisations. You just have to hold your breath and step off the cliff, not knowing how high it is or where you’ll land at the bottom. There’s so much conflicting information out there that it’s very hard to navigate, and what’s worked for one person may not work for another.
So in order to prepare myself as best I could, I reached out, offered to buy lots of coffee, wrote and asked many questions, took even more notes, listened to and did my best to integrate the advice of those more experienced than myself.
This is a compilation of what I learned.
Note: The information recorded here is meant for junior developers (and I’m specifically based in the tech hub that is Toronto), but I hope what’s written might be relevant for anybody at any level of their career.
Who are companies hiring and what qualities are they looking for?
Open and eager with willingness to make mistakes and learn. They listen and adapt to others, and are not stuck in their ways.
Team players who work well and can communicate with others. Being argumentative to get your point across, even if you are right, isn’t doing anyone any favours.
Positivity, being proactive and wanting to make a difference will take you far.
Culture fit/add was the biggest thing in all the people I talked to. Above technical skills, companies want to hire people that will add to the culture. Hiring is often a company’s biggest business problem. Your first interview or phone screening will often be to make sure you’re who you say you are and not a serial killer or a potato.
How up to date are you in the market with new technology? Being relevant is important. Are you willing to learn and expand your on current skill-set? (Right now at time of writing, we’re still seeing a huge demand for React.js)
Make sure you’re good with the basics of version control as well.
Any tips for the job hunt?
The process can be long, gruelling and demoralizing. Don’t spend the entire day applying to job after job. You’ll be exhausted and probably develop tunnel vision.
Carve some time out each day (even just two hours) to do your research and send out your resumes and cover letters. Stop and do other things afterwards. This will keep you sane.
Do your follow ups but don’t link a lack of response or a rejection to a validation of you as a human or your technical skills. Sometimes companies are flooded with applications and just can’t respond.
Don’t underestimate the power of networking and optimising your online presence such as LinkedIn profile.
Optimise for opportunity/growth over cash. Graduating from a bootcamp, you’re pretty much going to make within approximately 10% plus or minus. Focus on the skills and the hands-on experience you’ll get.
Also, look for culture and something that will help you grow in your career. You’ll be much better off in a job that pays less but you enjoy spending eight hours a day at, than a job that pays more but you’re stressed out and working 18 hours a day.
Don’t discount your background as irrelevant to the field you’re getting into. One of my fellow bootcamp friends got her job because she was, in her own words, a “farmer” before. The agency’s biggest client was an agriculture company she had worked with as a Assistant Lab & Field Technician. The CEO specifically made a point to speak to her about this in her first week.
Not only that, playing up your strengths in your previous career will help you stand out and differentiate yourself from all other bootcamp students graduating at the same time as you.
You scored an interview! Awesome! Now what? Here’s some interview tips:
Don’t claim all the credit for work you didn’t do. Give credit where credit is due. (This was a top no-no from a Senior JS developer)
When white-boarding or explaining a tech challenge, discuss your thinking process. You don’t have to get the answer correct but your interviewers are interested to see how you approach a problem and the solution you come up with.
If whiteboarding or explaining tech challenges, do not be afraid to ask question to clarify something you don’t understand. This is something you’ll do in your job anyway, so interviewers want to see that you’re comfortable doing this.
Be prepared to answer what else you would do if you had more time for the tech challenge. (For me, I talked about extra features I would add to the app I was working on and some more advanced error handling I thought would be important.)
Remember, “No” is only a no for now, not forever.
It’s as much you interviewing them as they are you. Don’t be afraid to ask questions on their processes, culture, tech stack, code reviews and anything else that’s important to you.
At the end of the interview, send a thank you email (a lot of people don’t do this) with a personal note that will help them to remember you.
If you’re rejected, ask if they would mind sharing some feedback to help you be a stronger developer or candidate in the future. Maybe ask if you could keep in touch with them.
And my favourite, most valuable interview tip ever: “Be the kind of person you want to work with.” This tip allowed me to relax and be myself in my interviews. End of the day, this is who they’ll be working with and I want to show up as my most authentic self.
Tips for your on first job.
Ask lots of questions.
Be patient with yourself. You’ll probably feel like you need to know everything NOW but you don’t. Just relax. Remember: You got hired!!!
Don’t expect to be contributing right away. When companies hire, they know you’re an investment. It might take three months to settle in and the average time before you really start contributing is six months. (And according to Achievers, it takes two full years to reach the same level of productivity as an existing staff member)
You might feel like you should be working on coding-related passion projects after work and on weekends. DON’T. Many devs in their first job are put in an environment where there’s so much to learn and take in that they’re mentally exhausted after work. Self care is important.
Learn best practices. Think “cleaner code” instead of “hustle code”. In an agency environment with multiple tickets to complete, you might be tempted to fall into the mindset of just, “pushing to Dev Complete”. You’ll thank yourself later for the extra time and effort you put into writing clean code, when it comes time for bug fixes and client QA.
Learn how to add ‘yet’ to your internal self-doubts. “I can’t do this… yet.” “I don’t know how to do it… yet”. Once you manage to convince yourself you CAN do this, it gets a whole lot easier to start getting better.
Think about learning how to learn. Learn how to work with senior engineers, managers and other developers. How do you learn and ramp up on new frameworks or new libraries very quickly, to go to the skills that matter long term?
Even if your first job isn’t using the technologies you wanted to use, ask if there’s a possibility of using and implementing them in future projects. Also, remember: you’re not just learning technologies; you’re learning development processes, teamwork and other business related skills that you can carry into your next role.
Seek regular feedback. You might spend a lot of time thinking you’re doing terribly when you can actually just check in with someone you trust and respect, and get an more unbiased opinion.
What traits do you see in successful developers?
They have a large professional network of people and are involved in the community.
Puts themselves in situations that expand their skill-sets. People who make the most money might not necessarily be the best at everything but they know a lot, widely.
They have good mentors they can count on. Their mentors have probably been in the field a bit longer (although they can also be someone at a similar level with different skills from you) so can give you advice because they’ve been in your shoes.
How do you find a mentor? Think about who you want to ask a lot of questions to. A mentor can take many different shapes and forms. It’s generally someone whose opinion you value and want to reach out to when trying to get advice or make a decision on something.
What’s the main reason developers move on?
Lack of challenge
Not getting along with management
Getting an offer that they can’t turn down
What resources have you found useful in developing your skills in interviews, tech challenges or working in general?
Codewars: Highly regarded online game platform for developers to achieve code mastery through repetition and programming challenges
Cracking the Coding Interview: 189 Programming Questions and Solutions: If you want to excel at the kind of interviews they conduct at the Big Four (Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple)
Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action: Before you begin, understand the problem you want to solve
The One Thing: Focus on one thing at a time, starting with what is most important
Atomic Habits: Build healthy habits to improve your life and your work by 1% everyday
Your Money or Your Life: Create a strong financial foundation, and learn what money really is
To wrap up, I’d like to share a personal anecdote that got me to where I am now. It’s hard to imagine where and who you could be in the future. And in this very moment, you might not even believe you‘ll ever get there.
I’ve felt this strongly.
That famous quote, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” is very relevant. In my case, an empathetic doctor said to me, “If you want to walk to Vancouver (from Toronto), you need to take the first step. That time is going to pass anyway, regardless of what you do. Or don’t do.”
I’ve thought of these words many times during my most difficult periods.
I wasn’t able to look far into my future and predict how it was all going to turn out. Heck, I didn’t even know what I was going to eat that night. The stress of job-hunting, imposter syndrome and financial stability were all things that weighed heavily on my mind. I just focused on and did the one (or two or three) thing(s) I had to do that day and over time, those things accumulated and became the life I now currently find myself living.
So dear human, good luck in your personal journey!
I was very fortunate in my job search and had an offer two weeks after graduation so I’m (at time of writing) now an employed Front-End Developer for a small digital agency. It’s absolutely crazy busy but I’m totally thriving and loving the challenges!
Like what you’ve read? Connect with me on Twitter where I actively share resources, tips and my coding journey. (Or hey if you prefer something less tech and more personal, I often post stories on Instagram as well!)
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