All the general rules about job-searching apply completely in tech, though it’s a bit more about creating and less about networking.
What to create
- Keep on building out your portfolio with good-looking projects.
- Learn better programming and more programming languages, but only to build your projects.
- Take classes and tutorials to build out measurable accomplishments.
- Aim less for projects that solve conceptual software engineering problems and more for projects that can solve actual business problems.
Many tech roles require what they call “commercial experience” (i.e., you’ve been working in a professional capacity in that role). It’s not too hard to sidestep it: just do freelancing work related to the role for 4-6 months.
Going to college isn’t usually a bad idea (especially if it’s a tech-related major like Computer Science), but the degree itself isn’t very useful nearly as much as the networking opportunities and education.
Good colleges will give you access to many side projects you can explore, which have more value for your future career than the school itself. Large organizations, though, care about the college degree for entry-level workers because it helps weed out the uncommitted applicants with unrealistic expectations.
Of course, if you’re not interested in a long college experience, you can often take a competence-based college like WGU after taking as many cheap college courses elsewhere to expand your understanding. When a college counts that coursework, you may only need to take 6-12 months of actual college.
Most employers don’t really care about anything beyond a 4-year degree, though some parts of the industry (like cybersecurity) obsess about it. If you need to, get an ABET-accredited online program to bypass most of the tedium.
You can also attend an accelerated course called a “bootcamp”. Most of them cost money, though some (e.g., freeCodeCamp) are completely free. Some are simply social movements, such as the #100DaysOfCodeChallenge.
If you’re bold and confident in your abilities, you can compete against other programmers in a hackathon. It’s a great way to test your skill while at the same time getting an award for it!
Whatever you choose, it only works proportionally to how much you put into it. There’s no easy way to be educated in tech.
Don’t aim simply for large companies you’ve heard of. Those companies have a lot of competition, and unless you know someone you’re unlikely to get into it. Even for people who work at those companies, they often wouldn’t pass the listed requirements for their job!
Also, don’t aim to work for startups unless you have connections already. Most of them are looking for a “culture fit” of single, young males who will work 12 hours a day and believe free beer and pizza is a worthwhile job perk.
Instead of broadly aiming for trendy companies or startups, aim for a wider variety of tech work:
- Mid-sized tech companies, who will more likely give room to grow.
- Non-tech companies, which use the same tech as tech companies, but with most of the staff not really understanding what you do for a living.
If you’re willing to perform remote work or move, don’t target only companies in your region. The demand for tech work is always heavy enough that you can pretty much live almost anywhere you want in the world that has the internet. If you don’t have anything geographically constraining you, keep that option open.
Don’t worry about the pay unless you have experience in the work already. Once you’re working in a desirable job, you can easily migrate later to something you want.
Managers generally don’t like hiring, so tech managers tend to hand off the work to a recruiter instead. This adds another party to the situation and complicates matters a bit:
- You’ll likely have to sign a right to represent to permit that recruiter to solely work with you. It means you won’t be able to apply to that job directly or have another recruiter represent you.
- Your image is filtered through the recruiter representing you, meaning you’d have to have atrocious image-management skills to justify doing that versus doing it yourself.
You can often search for the text of the job description the recruiter sends you to find more about the company, and can often cut the recruiter out of the situation entirely if you’re not applying to a huge corporation.
Two conditions affect the tech recruiting world:
- Many recruitment companies outsource their roles remotely to people who live in very low cost-of-living countries (i.e., ~1/10th the cost of living in the Western world). Therefore, 1 commission might pay 3 months’ of pay by itself.
- Most recruiters get a commission for closing a deal (i.e., getting a company to hire a candidate). Depending on how the recruitment company frames it, the pay may be for the one-time hire of that candidate (i.e., no requirement for them to finish or continue a contract).
For this reason, the tech recruiting industry is filled with a barely-fluent army of low-skilled people working a get-rich-quick scheme (not completely unlike MLM). While some recruiters do stand out (and are worth connecting with long-term), it creates a few symptoms:
- Constant harrassment during work hours – set your phone to silent or block calls during those hours, and be very careful putting your phone number on your resume.
- Contacting for roles that you’re in no way qualified for – completely ignore those requests, maybe block their number.
- Outright lying about a role being remote, permanent, benefits, etc. – carefully examine the employment agreement you sign, and block the recruiter’s number if they’ve lied.
Most recruiters are not aware of specific details that may complicate the process:
- Any background history (e.g., criminal convictions) that would impede an applicant.
- Residency/citizenship status (e.g., H1B visa vs. citizen) that would prevent hiring for legal reasons.
- Specific requirements that are absolutely critical to the role, as opposed to listed skills that are simply convenient for the applicant to have.
Simply asking for the company name, job description, and expected compensation will scare off most recruiters. If you can find the job posting publicly, just apply there. Otherwise, it’s worth the followup with that recruiter.
Depending on the metropolitan area you’re in, there are tons of recruitment fairs, conventions, conferences, and meetups. Some of them are public tutorials, while others are simple meet-and-greet events.
They’re usually very casual, so all you really need is interest in the subject matter.
It’s worth noting each technology has its own subculture: some are established and boring, while others are filled with optimistic young people. You’ll find out a ton on the culture behind the technology by visiting those events in-person.
At the beginning, you won’t have much and will need to apply for jobs. But, over time, if you keep achieving correctly, you’ll have a large network of colleagues to get leads and jobs from, and may no longer need to hunt for a role.
You do need to keep your social media profiles up-to-date with your accomplishments, but try to avoid anything technical on LinkedIn. That social media site has so much #successporn that it takes away from anything meaningful you can do in the tech world.
There are a lot of personal stories about how to get into tech, how to advance your career, and so on. Most of them are filled with encouraging language and a “you can do it too!” attitude. They’re partly correct: it’s a thrive-or-die experience.
However, be careful what sort of advice you glean. Most of the web communities for finding tech jobs are filled with people who talk about getting into the role without any actual experience in the industry. This creates an echo chamber of bad feedback.
Having the right attitude makes all the difference in the world, especially when you get that call. From there, you’re going to have a battery of technical interviews and dialogue with a hiring manager or three.