What’s Your Value When Everyone Else Is Also a Self-Taught Developer?
Everyone starts somewhere, but sometimes it seems like the market is saturated with others just like you.
The 2–3 years of relevant experience for an entry role is no longer an anomaly. Rather it is an industry standard, especially when it comes to technology-related fields. It’s our current reality, so the only way out is to accept it for what it is and do something about it.
With the doom and gloom of another impending recession, the incoming storm of automation, and the influx of everyone becoming developers — whether it be self-taught or school-taught — when applying to jobs, the focus shouldn’t be on who your competition is but rather … what is your value?
Degrees Are Just a Gateway
The thing with computer-science and software-engineering degrees is that they’re just one of the many entry pathways into a technology-based career. It’s not like the medical sector, where institutional training is required to become a doctor or a nurse.
In these cases, you’d want your doctor to hold a relevant degree in medicine from a reputable place. But for software development, there is a widespread myth among many that you need a degree to work as a developer.
The thing with degrees is that they just help employers assume a certain level of capability when they’re hiring you, especially when you’ve got no relevant work experience previously.
The whole degree thing actually makes no sense. Technology moves fast and some institutions are actually a couple of years behind in the game. I’ve personally sat through a compulsory course that taught Silverlight despite it getting depreciated by Microsoft in their latest (at the time) Windows 8 release. Let’s just say I switched my major after that fiasco.
There are other and more relevant options available, especially in the form of micro education. While it’s not a government-based accreditation, privatized microdegrees and diplomas such as Udacity’s Nanodegrees and Coursera’s professional certificates are often, if not, better in terms of relevancy and your wallet.
Networking is More Than Just Turning Up To Conferences
When you start out, a lot of people throw the word networking at you if you want to get a job. Then they leave you with the word without actually explaining how it works. They tell you to go to conferences, meetups, and events. But that’s as far as they’ll guide you.
Networking is actually another word for building relationships. A lot of networking is superficial, the exchanging of cards with strangers. However, what you’re looking for is those one or two connections that you can sustain as a professional-level friendship over the long term.
This means that you’re not playing the quantity game; rather, it’s a quality-relationship approach. I’ve had people in the past give me their cards and then DM two days later on LinkedIn asking for favors, their copy and paste somewhat generic. Then they’ll disappear for six months only to resurface again when they needed something. Don’t be that person.
Rather, be the person that cultivates active conversation, whether it be through LinkedIn comments or your own posts. When it comes to post-conference, post-meetup, and post-event networking, it’s about sustaining a relationship for the future.
A lot of companies will look at recommendations from their own employees before they hit the job-applications stack. If one of their own trusts you, then there’s a higher chance of you making it to the interview room and into the industry’s door.
When You Have Nothing to Do, Do Something
Gaps in resumes are never a fun thing. Gaps in resumes followed by nothing much before that is not any better. When unemployment strikes, we often struggle to pad out the empty spaces in time.
The issue is, how do we explain why we’ve been working at the local supermarket for the past 18 months after graduation? Or why you’ve been unemployed and living on food stamps for the past six months?
It’s hard and some employers are more critical than others when it comes to hiring. For many, having a degree is no longer enough. Even if you’ve got actual industry experience, there is always someone out there that’s comparable to you on paper.
So when you have nothing to do, do something. Start coding. Start creating. Create something quick. Ship it, do it again, or build it up. Who knows? You might just end up with your own little bootstrapped startup.
What you do end up with is something for your portfolio of projects. While the experience isn’t exactly traditionally gained, it is experience, nevertheless — of bug tracing, of figuring the right keywords to use in Google so you don’t end up on the fifth page, and of connecting up your knowledge points.
Learn to Be Comfortable With Rejection
Rejection is going to happen a lot, especially when you’re starting out and you’ve got no supporting network. Or perhaps you’re starting again and everything isn’t quite in place you need them to be.
We’re talking potentially in the three digits kind of rejections.
Coding isn’t just one skill. It is a diverse language with an equally diverse range of tools. You, as a developer, could end up as a unique combination that may or may not fit into the requirements box as dictated by the employer. Don’t take it to heart.
You might be the greatest person ever at React, but if they’re looking for something who is more Java or C++ heavy, then you’re not exactly the right fit. Or perhaps they’re just looking for someone who can prove they can do the things they say they can do.
A lot of applicants lie on their resumes just to get themselves through the door. I’ve interviewed these people before, and it’s not fun.
Never lie. Be the real deal when it comes to your skills. If you’re getting rejected because you are unskilled, then you know exactly what to work on in your next side project.
On Presenting Your Value
Communicating your value as a potential candidate for employment can be one of the hardest and also the easiest thing in a job application. Writing the perfect resume is more than just listing out tech stacks.
Anyone can do that.
It’s about how descriptive you can get about your projects and tasks in approximately 20–30 words. Don’t bother on the hobbies section unless it’s related or supplements your experiences or the job application in some way.
Inactivity is the depreciation of your value. Making code and leaving digital trails is an art form that helps increases your value over time. When employers look at your resumes, they’re gauging your potential value to the time and monetary investment that they might have to put into you. That’s why a lot of employers specify the 2–3 years requirement.
If you’ve got nothing, go and make something. At some point, someone is going to be willing to accept you based on your tenacity to enter the industry and not get knocked back by rejection.
Presenting your value is about displaying what you really know, not a list of acronyms that may or may not be relevant. When you start typing up that resume, you need to ask yourself — what’s your value? What proof do you have of that value? Because if you can’t answer or deduce that from your two-page summary of yourself, it’s going to be even harder for the person on the other side.
So ask yourself — what experiences do I really have? Why would anyone hire me? What is it that you actually know?