No experience? Here’s how you get a programming job

As a recent graduate, I’ve heard this over and over again: “All of these job postings say 5+ years of experience is required, but I’ve been in school this whole time…how am I supposed to have years of experience?”

The same question comes from people who aren’t in school but who are switching over from a different industry, and they have no qualifying experience.

The good news is that it is not really a valid excuse — at least not when it comes to programming and other IT fields — and I can prove it.

The bad news is most people don’t know to do this, and so they sell themselves short.

So if you’ve ever heard someone say this before, and you get anything helpful out of this article, please hit the share button and let them know. They’ll thank you for it.

Degrees don’t guarantee great jobs

Photo by Muhammad Rizwan

If you think this was the case, I’m sorry to break it to you: degrees simply do not guarantee fantastic jobs. Unless you were an “excellent” student who passed the toughest exams with flying colors, and went to the most prestigious schools, degrees themselves just aren’t enough if you truly want a great job right out of school.

The reasons for this are many:

  1. Degrees are usually quite specific, or very broad
  2. There are many others graduating with the same degree as you (lots of competition)
  3. A degree doesn’t prove you can do a job or that you will excel as an employee
  4. Degrees have varying influence depending on where you get them from

But before you raise your fists in the air and argue that degrees have a lot of value and statistically show higher salaries, keep in mind that I’m not saying the opposite. All I’m saying is that degrees by themselves are not enough. You also need experience, and working 5 years in a job or internship is not the only way you can gain that experience

Experience, in general, is gained by doing.

Experience you can leverage for a better job requires proof.

Here’s how you get experience without working a job or internship

While you are studying in school, you attend lectures, receive homework assignments, take quizzes and tests, and repeat the cycle until you receive that very expensive piece of paper. In between all of those things, you joyfully work on hobbies, hangout with friends, play video games, or anything else that you enjoy.

So you have time spent in school, and you have time spent outside of school.

What you do during the time outside of school is worth just as much, if not more, than your time spent in school. This is the time which dictates whether you or Joe Smith gets that awesome job which requires “5 years of experience.”

If you spend those hours outside of school building your resume by:

  1. Creating side projects
  2. Contributing to open source projects
  3. Starting a side business
  4. Picking up books related to the job you’d like to have and writing reviews of them on a personal blog (or on Medium)

You will drastically improve your ability to get a better job than if you spent all of that time playing video games, hanging out with friends, playing sports, or using your time on anything unrelated to that job/industry.

Even if those side projects are just building things like todo apps, scheduling apps, or other simple applications, as long as you are putting them out there publicly (like on GitHub for example), you are building a resume that proves you are:

  • Curious
  • Willing and able to learn
  • Passionate (you are voluntarily spending time)
  • A hustler
Photo by Yutacar

“But if I work during the time I usually hangout with friends, have a beer, or watch Game of Thrones, when will I have time to do those things?” You probably won’t, or at least not at the same frequency.

It requires sacrifice.

Unfortunately there just aren’t enough hours in the day, and the old adage of “time is your most precious asset” is just as true as ever. So at this point, you need to figure out which is more important to you.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with preferring to spend time with friends, in fact I encourage it. Also, I’m definitely not saying you can’t hangout with friends all the time, or you can’t go outside to play some ball. All I’m saying is that there are people out there who are hustling while you are binge watching your favorite show, and they are the ones who will get the best jobs available.

Instead of watching 3 episodes of your favorite show, how about reducing it to 2 episodes? If each episode is 50 minutes, that’s 50 minutes a day (25 hours in a month) you could spend on building a project. Look for optimizations like that in your schedule and you will be surprised what you can accomplish.

If your goal is to have that amazing job, you need to start to differentiate yourself. You need to show hiring managers that you have the characteristics of an A-player.

I hope this post gave you clarification, as I know this is a major topic among folks who are still in school. I know because I heard it all of the time. Now is your time to figure out what you want and to act accordingly. Good luck :-)