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How I Got My First Software Engineering Job
Thanks to sharing my career transition journey on social media and remaining an active member of my boot camp community, I get a lot of questions about how I got my first software engineering job. In an effort to be as helpful and transparent as possible, I’m going to give you that information right here, right now.
Let’s start with some context: I attended a coding bootcamp called LEARN Academy from April to July 2019, and included in that boot camp was a one-month internship that took place July-August of 2019. The stack taught at LEARN is React, Ruby on Rails, and PostgreSQL. One of LEARN’s greatest assets is their Career Services Director, Bryan. In addition to a full week of professional development during boot camp (updating LinkedIn, revising your resumé, interview practice, etc.), Bryan works one-on-one with each student to make a plan for the job-seeking and application process and advises students throughout that journey.
The Job Search
In addition to the usual job posting suspects (Indeed, Craigslist, and LinkedIn), I signed up for Vettery (never had a single hit from them; don’t recommend) and checked out job postings on StackOverflow. I also did the networking they tell you to do when you’re switching fields: I let my network know I was looking for opportunities, attended networking events and made connections, conducted informational interviews, let people I volunteered with know I had applied for openings at their companies and humbly asked if they could put a good word in. In fact, just yesterday I received a rejection from one of those companies, over a year after I applied. That was actually the only response I ever received from any of the positions I applied to. I’m not telling you this to freak you out, but because at that time I was hearing everyone else’s success stories, but it seemed like I was the only one who was failing.
One day, Bryan reached out to ask if he could submit me for consideration, along with some other LEARN alumni, to a position he thought would be a good fit. I said sure, and he gave me the contact information for an alum who worked there – and who would soon become my tech lead. I emailed my future tech lead (FTL) right away. In my first email, I asked the usual informational interview questions (given that he would be getting promoted from the role I would be moving into): what he enjoyed about the role, what was most challenging, what skills/qualities make one successful in the role. He ended with “If you have any other questions, feel free to ask”… so I very much did. In subsequent emails, I asked about the company, the team, the stack, the interview process – and how to be less nervous during the interview process. Later, FTL told me it was the continued questioning and specific interview strategizing that let him know I was truly interested in the position. I know a lot of us feel like we’re bothering someone when we ask a ton of questions, so my advice to you would be if they open that door by offering to answer questions, don’t hesitate to walk through it and ask away.
The Interview Process
There were three-ish parts to the interview process: a phone interview with HR, a two-part take-home assignment, and a technical interview conducted remotely using online tools for communication and coding. Immediately following the technical interview, on the same call, was more of an informational interview with two junior engineers. The phone interview was pretty standard, with the only technical question being to describe the difference between React and vanilla JS (which felt like it just came up in conversation, but later I learned it was a test of sorts to see how well we could communicate a technical concept to someone who claimed to need a less technical explanation).
The final step in the interview process was a two-part interview via zoom, starting with a technical component with two mid-level engineers followed by a more standard “tell me about yourself”-type chat with two junior engineers, one of whom was FTL. Guys, the technical interview did not go well. We used a JS Fiddle-type interface for the coding, which I wasn’t used to and couldn’t even figure out which part to type in I was so flustered. I won’t reveal the exact problems I was asked to solve, but when solving one of them I forgot to call the function at the end, and in the second one I admitted I didn’t know something and said I would google it and was told, “We have time, go ahead,” so I found myself having to talk through my (unsuccessful) research process while being so nervous that nothing I read even made an impact on my brain. I walked out of the conference room in the LEARN building, where I took the interview, feeling defeated and embarrassed. When I received a phone call less than an hour later offering me the job, I was floored.
A Few Additional Notes
For those currently seeking their first programming job, I wanted to include a few side notes just for you, based on questions I had when I was in your shoes as well as those I get asked now.
- I didn’t feel ready AT ALL to apply for even a junior role. There were so many skills and concepts – I even had a checklist – that I felt like I needed to develop first. But the more you learn the more your list will grow, so you absolutely have to apply before you feel ready and work on your list in the meantime.
- The soft skill I hear requested time and time again by people hiring programmers is communication. If you’re worried about selling yourself on your limited tech skills, focus on selling your communication skills (and work on them if you need to!).
- A wise man once told me that if interviewers are any good at all, they know that the level of ability someone displays in a technical interview is actually several notches below the actual level of their ability due to nerves. I didn’t believe him in the moment, but I believed him a few minutes later when I got my job offer.
- My search took place in the autumn of 2019, and obviously the pre-pandemic job search was very different (in-person events, economic stressors, etc.). I acknowledge that your experience is unique, and uniquely challenging, and that there is no tried-and-true strategic advice for job hunting during a global pandemic. That sucks, and I’m sorry, and if you need to vent this comment section and my Instagram DMs (where I’m most responsive) are open to you.
[Photo credit: Tanner Van Dera via Unsplash]