When should you attempt your first professional gig?

Hello everyone! I’m new to the site, and I wanted to ask for advice. (This might be a long post, so feel free to skip to the tl;dr section at the bottom)

I have been interested in programming since I had my first course in middle school in 1996 (QBasic programming :slight_smile: ), but I never pursued it professionally. I have a degree in pharmaceutical chemistry, and I’m in the process of completing a PhD program, focused in biophysics, but wages for pharma jobs in Mexico are fairly low, even for Mexico standards, and due to financial troubles, I had to postpone work on my PhD thesis to get a job. I’m currently working as a translator for a Japanese company.

I have used programming sparsely both in my work (usually as Excel VBA scripts to make tasks easier) and in my getting my degree (C++ and Pyhton, used in simulation assignments). In a previous job I had the chance to develop a web app that incorporated Google maps so that employees could register locations they visited during their work day, and supervisors could log in to review progress reports.

Here’s the thing. My main life goal is to be able to migrate out of Mexico (preferrably to Canada, Ireland or Japan. US would be nice as well, but immigration there is more difficult, I believe). In order to get to that goal, I need a job in any of the target countries, and it seems that web and app development are in high demand everywhere, and not only that, it’s also a very well paid position.

But of course, before thinking of applying to a job like that, one needs experience in the selected area, and usually above average performance. I’ve thought of participating in open source projects, but it would seem that you need to invest a good deal of time in order to contribute anything of importance.

In an ideal situation, if I would get a junior position or paid internship that could keep me financially afloat (around $20K a year) and that allows me to work from Mexico, I could get experience, do a little networking and find out if this career choice is good for me or not. The thing is, even if such a position exists, how can I assess if I’m ready to take on professional level projects, given that I’ve only used programming for my own needs so far?

Sorry for the long post. Thanks for your attention!

tl;dr - Are there any junior positions or internships that could pay $18K-$24K a year that would take an aspiring self-taught backend developer, working remotely, and if there is, how do I know if I’m ready to take on real projects? Any leads would be greatly appreciated.

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When you can do what the job expects. There are jobs for all levels.

I don’t want to discourage you, but if you have to ask, you’re probably not as ready as you think. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t something out there, just that it’s going to be hard to find. But if you keep developing your skills and your portfolio, eventually you will get something.

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Thanks for your answer. I’ll definitely keep studying and getting better.

I have perhaps the opposite advice. Just start applying. You won’t know until you start interviewing if you’re ready for the job.

There is a huge gap between what you learn while studying (self-study or in a formal program) and what you’ll do on the job.

So start applying whenever.

The other benefit of applying and interviewing now is that you’ll see what you’ll be asked and you can start preparing for that sooner.

Most likely, you’ll never feel 100% ready, so don’t wait for that.

I’ve thought of participating in open source projects, but it would seem that you need to invest a good deal of time in order to contribute anything of importance.

If you have an alternative, do it, but this is a very good option to stand out amongst other candidates. Especially if you work on an open source project sponsored by one of your target companies.

one needs experience in the selected area

You need experience, yes.

and usually above average performance

Don’t be so sure. I’ve worked at some big tech companies. Some people just interview better than others.


Thank you for you insight. I’ll look into entry level positions. In your experience, how common is it to use overseas service providers in development projects?

It depends on the company, but I would say it’s fairly common, especially for bigger companies.

My previous company had few teams in Romania, India, Chile, and I’m sure other places I wasn’t aware of. I knew of those because I worked with them directly at some point.

I managed a team that was split across USA and India, and one developer in Spain.

That’s a great question and one that always needs some new insights from professional devs. I’m not one. But hear me out.

Yes, there are plenty of junior positions for some type of internships that pay you some money. You just need to find it.

But I don’t think is going to be as much as 20K a year. After all, it’s an internship.

How old are you? I’m 36, learning to code, and until I do my own backend and front end, I won’t be applying for frontend positions.

I understand what you mean, I feel the same way. I’m also working towards building my own frontend and backend. But the question is, when are my own frontend and backend good enough? My own needs and the needs of an actual client may differ greatly, and maybe I could tackle the needs of a client the same way I have been meeting my own, by finding the solution to the problem on the spot, instead of knowing it beforehand. Of course, that would take a lot longer than it would take a seasoned developer, but you’ve got to start somewhere, right?

And is 20K a year really that much? According to salary.com, the lower 10% of frontend developers make 50K+ a year in the US. Is asking for less than half of that (actually less than the average minimum wage) really too much? This is assuming a psoition in the US, or a similarly developed country. I wouldn’t expect anyone in Mexico to pay this much for a junior developer.

I’m also 36, by the way.

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Don’t give up.

I lost one of my jobs due to discrimination and it was my first full time gig. I have posted about here before.

1 month later, a more ethical and welcoming company took me on board with more money and support to learn useful tech skills.

Personally, I focused on front-end. I believe it’s better to specialise - you will still get the chance to learn the other side anyhow. By the nature of things, work on what you are good at so you can show value to an employer and always tell them that you spend a lot of time self-studying, a lot of people see that value in self-taught developers.

This is coming from someone where 1 year ago today, I felt like giving up etc.

As for salary, the other guy probably meant 20k as in outside the US. 20K in the UK is a reasonable expectation for new developers, I think it is still low and that is mainly due to the UK being a silly place with a not-so-great economy.

20K in the US is absolutely unfair to you, settle for something where YOU are valued, your health comes first.

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The point is that they know this. They know that in other countries a 20K is a lot of money for a Junior Developer. Here in my country the highest you’re going to find a company paying is 11K or less. And that’s for people who graduated.

Here they are crazy about diplomas.

In the US, a Junior Developer must know a lot, to be consider Junior. Only difference is experience. A JD has 0 to 1 year of experience. And many of them have experience in as a freelancer, or because of the portfolio, or after having worked at a non-profit org.

I saw it once, to be honest: a paid internship where they were giving 2K a month; but you’ve to live in the US, and it wasn’t remote.

But hey, it’s not difficult.

Here’s my list of things I’m going to feel very comfortable with (and must have) before applying for a junior developer.

  1. React
  2. Hooks
  3. Redux
  4. A portfolio in the backend with Strapi and Gatsby
  5. A ninja CSS
  6. Mobile-first engineer (I invented that one)
  7. Firebase
  8. Auth
  9. A full stack JS app (Yes, I also invented that one)

Pluses, but not necessary

  1. Flutter
    1.2 Dart
  2. Python
    2.2 Django

And that’s with more than 20 mini-projects in the portfolio.

And within that portfolio I will have the three main websites that would be running for the public. No github pages, or free Netlify. But .com stuff.

  1. My portfolio, in gatsby and strapi, with a minimum of 20 articles written by me about web development.
  2. A react with hooks subject tracker for students
  3. A quiz app with 100 questions to evaluate the level of English to students from Immersion Programs, written in Vanilla JS. Or as I call it (Full Stack JavaScript).

I know I’ll be ready by then if I do that alone. No copy-pasting code from Google or SO, which is not bad, don’t get me wrong.

And I’m going to apply for a non-profit at least for a year. No payment. And then I’ll apply as a 38+ year old, Junior Front-end Web Developer.

They really don’t care about the age. They don’t even ask.

So, to answer your question… you’ll know when you feel ready to apply as a Junior Dev. Skims those job postings and see if you can do and know at least 80% of what they ask. If you do, apply.