This is for struggling web dev boot camp grads
I posted a happy note on The Bloc Hacker Club Facebook Group yesterday saying that I just wrapped up my first year as a software developer, and I feel confident that between Bloc’s Full Stack Web Development Boot Camp and my job experience, I’m ready to tackle any coding problem that comes my way.
I was asked by a Bloc student — another Rachel! — what advice I may have for grads who feel like they still don’t really have the skills to compete months after finishing the program, and who are still struggling to get their foot in the door.
I thought about it all day, and here’s what I came up with.
- If you want to become a software developer, above all, you have to truly enjoy the work. If it’s not fun for you, don’t do it.
This is the advice I got when I was starting, and I referred back to it frequently. Yes, I studied my ass off and even did another Rails program with Treehouse while I was doing mine with Bloc. I read and watched tutorials and coded all the time for months, and freaked out many times that I would never get it. But I love figuring stuff out; the tougher the better. It makes the breakthroughs so much sweeter and the work never gets old.
If you’re mostly in it for the money, yikes. Maybe try sales?
- If you want to break into the tech industry as an “off-the-street” developer, you have to accept that the tech industry wants to hire senior devs. Junior devs typically aren’t desirable, so you have to just deal with it, and not let it get you down. Obviously, the industry needs junior devs if they want senior devs. It’s not like people come out of the box with five years experience and a history of success. The tech industry has a responsibility to develop talent and it’s probably coming around to this realization but unfortunately, we’re not totally there yet. I applied to over a hundred jobs before I got my only offer for a dev role.
Things changed when I found Jr.DevJobs. When I stopped applying for things I didn’t qualify for, and started applying for things that fit me, I got movement. That’s not the only resource for junior dev jobs either. I suggest focusing your energy on those roles, and being open to accepting a job in a smaller market like Boulder, Austin, or Nashville.
- Accept that you’re not entitled to a job because you did a web dev boot camp.
This is so much easier said than done. It’s how web dev boot camps are marketed. But the onus is really on you. Did you do well in your program? Do you have a solid portfolio on GitHub? Did you make a great personal website to show yourself off? Did you prepare for tech interviews?
You can’t think, “I finished so now it’s time to get hired.” You have to think, “I really love this stuff and I want to get better every day. Even if I get hired somewhere, I love coding so much that I want to do it in my spare time and work on side projects just for fun. I’m always going to be learning and that rocks.”
Of course, you can choose to have a different attitude and still luck out and get a job. I’m just saying that if you really want to have a good career as a software developer, this type of thinking is the way to go.
This type of attitude also really shines in interviews. I interviewed for a job where I kind of blew it on the whiteboard interview because I used a different stack than the company did. But they really liked my attitude and my enthusiasm. I got a call from the HR Director that I wasn’t exactly where they wanted on the tech stuff but they still liked me a lot and knew I was on the upswing of my career, and had me at a solid maybe. I even interviewed with a well-known tech company’s COO who told me that he was looking for a senior developer, but he liked me and wanted to see if he could make a position for me.
- If you want to get better fast, watch people code.
Obviously this is in addition to coding your brains out.
I learned this trick at work. I work on a small team with a couple very smart guys who are also great communicators. Sometimes I sit with them for a couple hours and watch them code. They explain what they’re doing and why they chose to do things certain ways. After these pair programming sessions, I am immediately a lot better at my job. It’s amazing.
There are great resources out there where you can watch people code, like LiveCoding.tv. And your mentor at Bloc can help you out too. Plus, there are tutorials all over the place. I watched so many on Treehouse, and CodeSchool has tons of stuff where you can watch people build projects.
- Stop beating yourself up because you’re not better.
Coding can be horrifically emotional when you do this, and it can waste a lot of time when you sit there berating yourself. I figured this out back in my Python days when I was just starting to discover what coding was.
I also noticed at my job that when I’m really down in the dumps and convinced that I’m never going to figure something out, it actually indicates that I’m on the cusp of figuring it out. Your mileage may vary but I suggest keeping an eye out for your tendencies. It can end up entertaining the snot out of you rather than getting you down.
- Meet other people who code.
If you’re a little island unto yourself, you’re not going to have a lot of perspective about your situation. But if you go to Meetups and hang around with other people who code, you’re going to feel like you’re part of a community, and you’re welcome in it. By the way, FreeCodeCamp is a great coding community and they’re everywhere.
I joined a coding Meetup because my Bloc mentor said he wouldn’t pass me one week if I didn’t. I hate being told to network but I do like getting to know nice people. That’s a different approach that may work for you. I’d rather not use people to get something I want, which is how I think of networking. I’d rather meet nice people and see how we can be supportive of each other, and I think Meetups are a great way to do that.
It turned out that the head of the Meetup was super supportive of me trying to get a job and even set up an interview with a local company (thanks Matt at CodeSLO!). We exchanged a lot of positive messages over a few weeks before I landed in my current role.
- Teach to develop confidence.
You might think you don’t know anything. I certainly thought that for a long time. Then I went to a Women Who Code Meetup (guys are totally welcome) and agreed to lead an HTML/CSS series. I didn’t think it was a big deal, but the attendees were enthusiastic and grateful for my instruction. It was so empowering!
You can mentor a high school student, or become involved with a group like Latinas in STEM. They have a track where they teach elementary school students STEM. There are so many ways to teach code.
As Founding Engineer of Mint and Femgineer founder Poornima Vijayashanker said to me, “You always know more than someone!” (I mention her because she offers courses on becoming a confident tech speaker.)
So you may feel like you’re struggling now, and that’s okay. It’s par for the course. It’s what you do with this time that sets you apart. If you keep pushing, keep developing your skills, and keep up your enthusiasm, I promise you, the sky is the limit.