First, this is not a post about a first dev job. This is actually my 5th job, in 2.5 years.
I started my new career (at 37 years old) working small contract with startups, often just for prototypes. There were challenges along the way, but overall the apps were never overly complicated. My first two contracts were in front-end (although the first one I had to have some sort of backend, so I used firebase). Then by my third contract, I had learned backend too, so I was working full stack.
Once those small contracts ran out and I needed a more stable income, I started applying to more long term jobs. I ended up somehow landing a job at Autodesk. That was a huge change! I went from building small web apps to working on super large projects, surrounded by very experienced software engineers. I had to quickly learn to work in an object-oriented way, to write tests, write documentation, etc. It’s been a very humbling experience, sometimes too humbling. On many occasions, my self-confidence took big hits and I never felt quite good enough. But somehow I always found a way.
After a year and a half there, I realized that the problems I was facing were not just from lack of knowledge, but not being in the right environment. The company culture was good… but it was not right for me.
I started applying to other jobs. By that point I figured I was ready for something beyond the entry-level jobs. That turned out to be an uphill battle. I faced a lot of rejection, some of which really stung. I started thinking about lowering my expectations, but I couldn’t really afford a pay cut either… so I felt stuck.
At some points, I stopped applying, and recently started again. Once again I got some rejections but eventually got lucky. In fact, I ended up with two job offers. The first one was very good. It was a full stack job, good pay and benefits, and the people were friendly. But then I went to another interview and fell in love at first sight with the job. It was for an open-source project with positive social impact, working with really cool people, for a boss who is completely willing to trust his employees. It all seemed so perfect, but I was having doubts about whether they would hire me to be in charge of the backend.
Well… they did hire me!!
It is really daunting to have so much responsibility, but also very exciting!!
I haven’t started yet, but that will give me some time to review some skills that have gotten rusty.
So overall, if I was to give advice to those starting out, I would say…
Network. It doesn’t have to be showing up to official networking events, but get to know people in your local tech community if you can. Volunteer for stuff, show up to events, organize events if you feel up to it. Knowing people will open a lot of doors!
Know your strengths and weaknesses. Do not apologize for your lack of formal education: be aware of the limitations it has, but also think about how it has its advantages. If you are self-taught, you have a drive and resourcefulness that is really valuable.
Don’t be afraid of saying “I don’t know”. Whether it is during an interview or at a job, remember that nobody knows everything. I cannot count the number of times I heard “I don’t know” by people who have many degrees and years of experience.
Figure out what you want in a job. You might move around a lot in the beginning of your career. Some jobs will be better than others, but always use them as a learning experience to figure out what you want and don’t want out of a job. Then don’t be afraid to go for what you want. For me, it was all a question of having a purpose, feeling my impact and being constantly challenged.
Don’t take rejection too hard. Not everyone will see your potential or understand your value. Just make sure that you do.
Even if you don’t have all the requirements for a job, apply anyways. Employers don’t usually expect to get everything, but if you are a good fit, you can fill in the gaps later. For my job at Autodesk, I met NONE of the requirements. Seriously. I think employers often mix up the terms “minimum requirements” and “over-the-top wish list”
Wow. that was long. I will stop now. Honestly, my brain is really fuzzy right now, so if any parts don’t make sense, sorry!