My friend Ben sent me an email inquiring for advice for his mentees over at Mobile Makers. As a graduate of a similar non-traditional school, he thought I could offer a unique perspective for the soon-to-be Mobile Maker graduates. My email response is below:
Awesome, I’d love to!
Hm, let’s see…a bit about myself. I’m a Starter League graduate from when it was called Code Academy. I started working at a company called Aggrego last November. We are owned by the same parent company that owns the Sun-Times and we do a lot of work on their products. I love helping out when I can, since we are all beginners in a ridiculously young and constantly evolving field. It’s up to us to help each other out!
Anyway, my favorite pieces of advice are to stop disqualifying yourself and expose your ignorance. The first is more for when you’re looking for places to apply to, and the second is more for during the interview (it’s actually an Apprenticeship Pattern).
First thing’s first, though, you have to land those interviews and to do that, you have to stop putting yourself down. More specifically, you have to stop disqualifying yourself before you even apply.
You know what I mean. You see a job listing for an internship and everything looks good…until you get to the line that says “Computer Science major.”
Don’t let small things like that stop you from getting yourself out there. That’s not your job. If the company has Human Resources, that’s HR’s job. If they don’t, then it’s the technical lead’s job. Whatever it is, it’s not your job to make your life more difficult. You can delegate all of the responsibility for filtering candidates to the company that you are applying to.
It’s not your job to evaluate the other candidates, so why bother evaluating yours? Alright, alright, I’ll capitulate a little bit – if you’re a junior developer with less than three years’ of experience, then maybe you should think twice about applying to those senior positions. But if you’re honest, you can still apply. My favorite line for those applications went something like, “I’m applying not because I’m the senior engineer you’re looking for, but because I would make a great junior developer. And with a few years of experience, I could become the engineer you need.” So…
And stop disqualifying yourself. You’re good enough to be a developer. You just need a chance to show them what you can do. So fight for that chance.
But never, never pretend to be anyone that you are not. This goes along with exposing your ignorance. You’re a new developer. Don’t lie on your resume, in your interview, or otherwise misrepresent yourself. You will be joining a team, and teamwork requires honesty.
Where practicing honesty becomes difficult is under pressure. During the interview, it’s really difficult to say “I don’t know.” But get used to it. In fact, practice it ahead of time. There’s only so much cramming you can do for an interview and I would venture to say that it’s not worth it. If you’re applying as a junior developer, they are less interested in what you know (not much, let’s be honest – and I still say that about myself, by the way!) and more interested in how you think.
But don’t stop at “I don’t know.” That establishes that you’re honest, at least, but it doesn’t show off how you think. My favorite line in this situation is “I don’t know, but if I were to guess, it would work like ____.” Actually, I think I used “I can’t answer that with a high degree of certainty. But if I were to guess, _____.” Either way, you get the point. Give it a good old college try. And then ask them what they think – basically just engage in a conversation.
That tells your future employer that you’re 1) honest, 2) willing to engage, 3) a communicative team member. It gives them a much better idea of what fit you are for the team, both technically and socially.
Basically, both of these points come down to “Get out there and talk to some people!” And that’s all I’ve got for you.