7 Things I Wish I Knew When I Applied For My First Developer Job

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Landing your first developer job is hard. Perhaps not a very popular statement, I know, but it’s the truth. The industry can be elitist, and there are more newcomers every day. That’s not a bad thing. It just means more competition for those who don’t have prior experience.

However, facing occasionally elitist attitudes or having to compete with many others doesn’t mean it is impossible to get your first job. I mean, we all started from somewhere, right?

In this post, I’ll give you some advice on how to stand out from the crowd and make yourself noticed. If I could go back in time and give myself a few tips to save me some time and sweat, I’d definitely send myself this guide! 

So, here are the seven most important things that I wish I knew when I started applying for my first job.

You Know Nothing … Jon Snow

The technology industry is vast. Remember that we are building upon over a century of inventions, discoveries, research, and development. Trust me, nobody “knows it all.” I’m pretty sure that if I asked Elon Musk a simple trivia Javascript question, he would shit his pants because, of course, that’s not his area of expertise. 

I felt intimidated looking at those developer roadmaps online, and when your finger scrolls more than two times to see all the stuff there is to learn, you get scared and depressed. Don’t worry, I know there is a lot, but with discipline and time, you will get there. Some of my friends often asked me, “Is it hard to learn to code?” and my answer is always the same: “It is not hard; it just takes patience and practice.” 

Your goal is to know enough to get your first job, and boy oh boy, I wasted time trying to dip my toes in every flashy library I came across. Stick with something and don’t deviate. Sure there will be stuff that you’ll miss, but you don’t want to become a jack of all trades. That will lead you to being the “master of no job.”

My point here is that it’s OK to be ignorant about a topic or a subject. We only need enough to build something. Building stuff is the key to knowing stuff. This might sound contradictory, but as usual, practice beats theory. 

When theory may get you started and give you the unknowns, practice and the research that comes with it will teach you how to really code. This is the main reason why a lot of people get stuck in CourseLand; they just move from tutorial to tutorial, just mimicking and copy/pasting, and never truly understanding what’s going on. 

Now, remember, it has to be practice and the research necessary to overcome the failures and solve the problems that will emerge along the way.

Online Courses Teach Just the Basics

Maybe I’m being too absolute here, given the fact that I attended an online Bootcamp that despite being overpriced, turned out to be fairly elemental. 

I tried them all: YouTube, Codeacademy, TeamTreehouse, freeCodeCamp, Udemy, Pluralsight, you name it. There is a considerable content gap in the programming world from beginner to intermediate that nobody is addressing, and that’s because it is your work to do it. 

To get out of the “newbie sandbox,” you have to learn how to learn. That is, you have to learn how to integrate your knowledge, see the big picture, and be able to come up with your own learning patterns and tricks to solve problems. That’s what programming is about: solving problems. Everything else surrounding this core purpose is just a collection of tools that we use. 

Therefore, please don’t get stuck in CourseLand. Instead, build and solve problems to find your learning process. When you do that, you can learn wherever you want and get the skills that you need to be successful.

Impostor Syndrome in Place

This “syndrome” is very well known, not only in the tech industry but also across the board, especially in the high paid/high skills job market. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s basically the feeling of “not belonging” or that you’re not qualified for the job; ergo, you feel like an impostor. 

It’s totally normal to feel this way. Who on earth would feel like a boss—and act like one—if it were their first day in a job that they got with no experience, possibly even with no college degree, while making a significant amount of money? 

I don’t know about you, but my blood pressure would be through the roof. The bad news is that there is nothing we can do about it. I watched a bunch of YouTube videos, I read many Medium articles, I knew everything about how to overcome it, but still, no amount of knowledge in the world will take the pressure away; you have to own it. 

The best way to deal with it is by pushing through and to fake it till you make it. If you feel like you’re not ready to apply, submit the application anyway; if you are afraid of going to that interview, go anyway; if you don’t feel comfortable to reach out, send the email anyway. 

The best way to get comfortable is by failing and doing it again, until success. Get your hands in the mud, and don’t stop until you’ve struck gold.

Potential Will Get You Hired

For the most part, companies know what they want. If you are interviewing for a developer position, and you don’t have any relevant experience in your resume, it’s obvious that if you get hired, it will not be for your amazing coding skills, much less for your experience in the field.  

Companies hire new grads and newcomers in the industry for their future potential. Of course, you can’t just apply with zero skills and zero projects, expecting that magically someone will notice your potential. You have to build stuff so you can show stuff. 

Having no “real” developer experience doesn’t mean that you don’t know how to code; and that is what the companies are looking for in the junior and entry-level developers: that they demonstrate they have potential to become a proficient developer. 

The more your resume, portfolio, cover letter, and projects show that you are interested in becoming a developer, the more chances you have of getting hired as one. There is a behavioral component as well: Being committed to ramping up your skills, polishing your projects, and acing the interview will not only demonstrate that your skills are promising but also that you have a deep interest in the matter and that it’s very important to land the job. 

I was never aware of this until later in my career. When I was first starting, all I cared about was to get the skills, and the rest would follow. At the interview for my first job, I got sent homework to build a landing page with a subscribe form and sent it back in 48 hours. It was a simple project: I could use any technology as long I fulfilled the requirements. I sent it back in 24 hours, with each line of code carefully reviewed, hosted on Github Pages, and even with a couple of background options. I’m almost positive that this meticulous code and going the extra mile tipped the scale for me. 

All the candidates that apply for the position you want probably will have fairly the same skills as you. Think about that for a second. Find a way to set yourself apart, and show you have more potential than the competition, and you will get the job.

Asking for Help Is Not a Crime

Asking for help on the internet is not “dumb”; on the contrary, it is very brave. Put yourself out there, and almost every time you will find a bunch of people willing to help. In the unlikely case you found yourself in one of the “let’s decapitate and burn the noobs” type of communities, please help yourself out. There are mean developers out there; sorry, that’s just the reality. 

Fortunately, the vast majority of developers remember their own initial struggles, and almost all are willing to help. Just remember to follow a few basic rules: Only ask for help after you have tried to solve the problem yourself. Don’t go around asking a question that could be easily answered in the first three results of a two-word Google search. Overall, do your homework, and if it’s too much for you, then ask for help.

Google-Fu Is Vital

Google-fu is unofficially one of the most valuable skills that you can harness in your arsenal. It’s the ability to search efficiently on Google, filtering bad results, reducing search time, and improving your productivity. 

It’s a mix of skills that include search terms used, filtering, fast scan reading, rapid test, efficient bookmarking, and others. Google-fu will incredibly improve everything that you do on the internet. 

Unfortunately, it takes time to get decent, but don’t despair. Spending long “butt hours” will do the trick eventually. What you can do is become more aware of it so that you can develop this skill purposely, and eventually faster. 

Look at how you search for and filter results in Google. What are your criteria for a good result, what is your opinion on some of the websites that pop up, do you actually know some websites that are showing up, are you comparing results? 

These and a lot more other questions are what you can ask yourself to become more aware and change your search strategy. Trust me, after a while, the people around you will start to ask, “How do you know which to choose?” “Why do you choose that one?” or “How do you get what you need at the first search you do?” 

You will start to unveil the true power of the internet, getting the good out of it, and disregarding the useless. It’s like a superpower.

Put on Your Employer’s Shoes

This is pretty obvious, but the majority of people have the wrong approach to it. You may think that everything boils down to “experience”: The more you have, the more chances you have to get the job. That’s all your employer cares about. 

Fortunately, it’s not like that; your employer is more focused on value, remember this. Value is the company’s currency. The more perceived value you can provide, the more the chance you have of getting the job. 

Even though experience is a potent item that injects value in your application, it isn’t the only indicator. Commitment, ethics, hard work, and passion are incredible indicators as well. The way you market those values and make your future employer know that you excel in those is a problem all newcomers have to face. 

You should still spend the majority of your time in the technical skills; there is no question about it. But also dedicate some time to develop your soft skills and how you want to present to your “public,” aka interviewer, that you can render an incredible value even with less experience than other candidates.

We Have All Been There

Beginnings can be hard, but there’s a silver lining: You are not alone. In fact, we have all been there in every single thing that we’ve ever done. Coding and getting your first job are not any different.

In an ideal world, we would have all the experience we needed, and we would know all the things required. But in this world, it’s a matter of gradation. We have some sort of experience, and we know some things. 

I hope this guide has given you a little head start. Get some perspective from my mistakes. As Eleanor Roosevelt once said: “Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.”

And remember, keep calm and code away!

Next articleHow To Write Quality Code: A Simple Guide
Carlos Trujillo is a full-time Software Developer and host of the MinorityCoding blog and podcast. He is very passionate about technology, open-source software and gadgets that make your life easy. Carlos works at a local broadcasting company where manages, supports, and develops all the organisation's websites, serving live TV and Radio to millions over the internet. He loves guitar playing, blues music and the FIFA World Cup.

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