Our First Gig: Getting It

Alright, now that I’ve somewhat pulled myself together the past few weeks, it’s time to take stock of what the hell’s happening to me and share it. Maybe hearing my experience can encourage fellow classmates and friends on their journey as a web developer.

First, I’m excited! This is the career change I came to California for. Almost nothing can make this terrible for me at this point so I’m overly optimistic and excited. I can’t really stress enough how lucky I feel to have found an opportunity so quickly. This couldn’t have happened without GA and the support of my peers and friends, but I also had to spend all those sleepless nights and long days working my ass off to be worthy.

A lot of us worked this hard, many of us continue to work our asses off and I can’t help but feel I’ve got to make something of this opportunity for all of us. Breaking into a new career isn’t easy.

My job is currently *only* in the apprenticeship phase — it could totally not pan out in a few months and I work with that in mind. Here’s my experience so far and what I’ve been doing up to this point to try to be ready.

Get ready …

If I could make a list of things that were important to focus on at the conceptual practical levels, the days immediately after graduation went like this:

  • Wake up and have coffee and food while reviewing my todo list for coding.
  • Sit at the computer with it and start a brand new application.
  • Make a tiny, but complete application of any kind before lunch. No bells and whistles, just go through the motions for practice.
  • Codewars, Coderbyte etc …solve a problem and read the solutions to many other problems.
  • Work on one of my side projects, solving a harder problem.
  • Make todo list of the things I want to look into tomorrow.
  • Wake up in the morning and startover

Throw in a weekly meetup at any of my favorite groups and that’s a rough sketch of my life after bootcamp. The goal of this routine is repetition of things I already know, study data structures and algorithms, and create work to show off my skills. I made apps like blogs, forums, photo apps, to do lists — and always using some data API. The point wasn’t to be ambitious or make something clever and amazing, but to practice skills I already have, learn and demonstrate. These three things have helped me become hirable.

I want to really emphasize using APIs when you create practice apps. Data structures are everywhere right now. Almost every question you’ll be asked on a code interview will be about handling data structures. And it makes a certain amount of sense. We’re in the age of Big Data. It’s a big deal and knowing how to make it accessible for everyday people is too. All those functions you learned about getting object number 27 from an array, then capitalizing it, encoding it and placing it on a page? Do more of them.

There’s SO much to do in the process of preparing to get hired …and you won’t be able to do all of them. Just do what you can, when you can. In my spare time I got rid of most of my liesure reading and replaced it with tech news, coding books and comment threads about code from around the net. This kind of immersion kept me focused on my goals.

Get set …

The team at GA did a really great job of stressing and helping us get things like LinkedIn and Hired going. I’m not all that crazy about having a massive online presence, but it’s hard to deny it’s value, especially as an apprentice with no networks to pull favors out of.

It’s tedious and sometimes totally annoying, but I always keep up to date resumes, business cards and a physical presence. Presence means keeping myself in front of people who are working in tech. So that usually means getting out to meetups and events. I’m a pretty active volunteer too and that helps. The more people know my name and my work, the more references and recommendations I can get for a job.

I’m no greater fan of the kind of frantic, incessant self-promotion today’s economy requires than you, but that’s the world we live in. You’ve got to be hirable every minute. That means whipping out a card, cover letter or white board at a moment’s notice.

My LinkedIn is sort of the bulk of my online professional presence and it’s sufficient, but I also have a basic portfolio of my completed projects. It’s not fancy, but *it’s available* and that’s what really, really matters. While people can view your code on Github, it’s not ideal for getting a glance at what you can do. Only people already interested in your work will be willing to look at your code anyway.

GO

And by GO I mean, get a job. Contact people, even if the job description doesn’t fit all of your skills. Reach out to recruiters. Inquire. Be curious. I applied to at least a half dozen jobs every week and took the time to call or email the companies when that information was available. Half the time, they were asking for skills I didn’t have, but I let them know that I had other related skills or the means to acquire them and that I had people who could vouch for me too. Most of the time I got a response that expressed interest in knowing more, even if it didn’t lead to an interview. But sometimes, it lead to informal meetings to discuss things further. If nothing else I got practice with my pitch and a new contact for the future.

In the next blog, I’ll talk more about what it’s been like so far as a junior developer. I’ll cover what I expected and how things have actually worked out. Suffice to say, I’m not disappointed at all and I’ve learned a few quick lessons that you might find helpful.

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