Making the Jump: From Codeschool to Candidate

Perry Eising
Aug 9, 2018 · 9 min read

I spoke to a group of #futuredevs about networking, imposter syndrome, social media and creating themselves as candidates. Here is a roundup of what I shared.

Time to lean in. Photo by Aaina Sharma on Unsplash

Hiring is all about minimizing risk. And while knowing that can be helpful to steer your approach, it can still be intimidating to find your path and transitioning from being a student to becoming a developer. Applying for jobs, combating imposter syndrome, networking, mastering social media, and making a name for yourself can be intimidating — but don’t fret! There are surefire ways that you can build yourself an amazing profile. Be authentic, provide value, and teach from your own experience, and you’ll find that hiring managers have no problem seeing your non-trad background as an asset, not an obstacle.

Here are some notes from the talk I gave at Alchemy Code Lab in Portland that you might find useful as you make your way.

Standing out

Many code school students background as sector-switchers are comparable, and while everyone has different strength’s and weaknesses, their acquired knowledge is largely comparable in terms of stacks, tools, etc. Therefore, many self-taught and code school devs will gravitate towards the same kinds of jobs. It’s important to be aware of this, and take extra steps to differentiate from peers and other self-taught/non-trad educated people in order to get great opportunities that are right for you. It’s time to break away and curate your dev profile that is uniquely you.

Some ideas on how you can differentiate yourself:

Leverage previous life/job/work experience confidently.
Great people, presentation, collaboration, time management skills etc are NOT inferior to great tech skills. Many “rockstar” “ninja” “10x” coders are kind of toxic to be around and not that interesting. What can you leverage? Who have you been? What have you learned? Mine your life/career for skills and experiences. Showcase those on your LinkedIn, resume, profile, cover letter.

There is a lot here where previous life experience is very applicable.

You have a unique perspective.
Use your linkedin, resume, cover letter, social media presence, approach to networking, blog etc to tell the story of You. Nobody recommends on a dime. Being a great student is awesome, but not that compelling. Show yourself in a memorable way so that people can talk about you and your journey. Find some key things: topics, technologies that are your “thing”. Get associated with certain topic areas, technical and non-technical.

Write/Tweet/Post from your experience.
That way you avoid being judged for your content. It’s true, you probably aren’t senior enough to make high level value statements on certain technologies. But you can offer your experience of learning and trying something new and your experience with how that went.

Imposter Syndrome

Awful feeling that despite all evidence to the contrary you feel like an “imposter” when it comes to technical stuff because you aren’t (yet) a “Rockstar” “ninja” or “10x” dev. Often afflicted by sinking feeling of NTE (Not Technical Enough) — the wishywashiest and most useless term ever in the history of tech hiring.

Awesome cartoons! instagram.com/gemmacorrell

Remember that knowing “enough” is a moving target.
Imposter syndrome is a feeling, not an actual state of You. What you need to know will keep changing and “enough” is impossible to quantify. Forgive yourself for not knowing. Focus on improving your knowledge, but also working with your attitude to not knowing and how uncomfortable that is. As long as you are working in tech, you will always need to keep learning. Own what you know and what you don’t. A bad attitude is less workable than a knowledge gap. You will never arrive at a state of complete knowing even if you do nothing but study.

Commitment Driven Development™ (The Perry Method of Learning A Scary Thing) might help overcome sticking points

1.Find a technical topic you find intimidating (that shouldn’t be too hard)
2. Find a project that has real world value (NO DRILLS! Must be real!) that is a perfect fit to learn this tech
3. Find someone to commit to. A close friend, colleague, family member. Additionally, commit publicly (slack, twitter, linkedin) to do this thing
4. Build the damn thing. Feel the fear, do it anyway. Reapply deodorant. Have a tantrum. Moderate your caffeine intake. Do it anyway. Take some B-vitamins. Do it anyway.
5. Complete with hours or even minutes to spare. Demo. Feel super accomplished. Show the people you committed to.
6. Listen to some fave music and journal intensely about how you didn’t feel you could do the thing but you did the thing. Pull this out when you feel low.
7. Realize you are someone who accomplishes things they set out to do.
8. Walk down street with a new spring in your step (until next time). Now is the perfect time to apply for a job.

You did it. You really, really did it. Really!! Now do it again.

(yes. I have done this. And then I’ve done it again. How else do you think I said yes to MCing a conference? 😬)

Ask for specific technical feedback at jobs and internships.
If you are only getting soft-skill feedback then raise that is a concern! (This happens to women a lot.) Feedback should always be ASK: Actionable, Specific, Kind. Talk to your manager if you are not getting feedback you can use to improve in specific areas.

Make your feedback Actionable, Specific and Kind. If you are not receiving ASK feedback or only feedback on “soft skills” — please talk to your manager about your experiences.

Take any opportunity to teach and mentor
This can be online of off, for money or free. Teaching and mentoring others who are still learning will show you

A.) what you know and how awesome you are
B.) what you don’t know and where you can solidify your knowledge

Be gentle with yourself if you realize you knew less than you thought. Journal and blog, tweet and network around these opportunities and your growth.

Networking

Just applying for jobs at random isn’t enough. But neither is just collecting business cards at the latest networking event and then putting them in a box on your desk.

Consider networking, real networking, an investment in creating and improving a community that you support (and that, in turn, supports you back!)

Try and be valuable beyond a compliment.
You may well have something to offer — a connection, a resource, your time, your energy, your ability to volunteer, connect, drive around, provide space for a meetup, repost, introduce. Create opportunities for yourself and for others as much as possible. Know what you have to give, and what you don’t.

Listen more than you speak.
When meeting someone new, ask them questions, show an interest. Solve a problem for them. It’s not so much about you being interesting at first, but more about being interested. Don’t show off, but also don’t downplay your accomplishments.

Build a relationship first.
Before you make an ask (for a coffee date, a recommendation, a reference, an intro) build a relationship. Show up. Invest authentically. Be valuable. If someone invests time in you, or recommends you, that is a risk for them that they won’t take for just anyone.

If Turoczy can do it, so can you!

Go to conferences, not just meetups.
Conferences offer you a chance to dig deeper into content, spend concentrated type with people who will form your network. Research confs online, follow them on twitter. If you can’t afford a ticket offer to volunteer. Many confs also offer diversity scholarships that sometimes even cover travel and lodging expenses. Tweet everything you see, do, experience, learn at confs. Use the conf hashtags appropriately. Follow speakers.

Confs like Write Speak Code are awesome opportunities to spend focused time with people in the same field as you, who are also interested in growing professionally.

Have follow through
Say thank you, send a note, give a card, remember someone’s name. Do what you say, don’t be flaky. Be on time. Be present, but not pushy. People with resources are often busy, and many people are seeking them out. Be ready to act promptly when a connection has something for you. Say no gracefully if it isn’t a good fit. Treat these resources as fragile because they are. Don’t burn bridges, badmouth, or gossip.

Actions reveal priorities.

Social Media

Prioritize Slack and Twitter over LinkedIn and other job boards.
This is my opinion and you may hear different, but I feel strongly the HR folk and recruiters post on LinkedIn, while the team members and people who want curate awesome teams post on twitter and even more so on Slack.

Slack also offers the opportunity for a personal referral. If you apply for a job you heard on Slack, follow through the with the person who posted it, chat with them, show your enthusiasm, and ask them to ping the hiring manager. It will improve your chances. I got job interviews after already being turned down due to slack chats. Ask interesting people at meetups which public slacks they like or twitter accounts they follow. Livetweet meetups, confs and events you go to.

I belong to way too many slack communities, but thats how I know almost all of them have a jobs channel!

Curate your Twitter feed
Even if you don’t post much, follow the right people who are creating and building networks and who RT opportunities. Show some love for those movers and shakers. Comment authentically. RT things that need amplifying. Check it daily. Post quality content that creates value if you do post. Tweet the shit out of every meetup, conf and happy hour you go to.

Blogging

Blogging is a great way to get exposure and improve your writing skills and ability to communicate in a 1-to-many way (yes, this phrase exists outside of databases) with your network. It also creates shareable content.

If you don’t know where to start, talk about that.
Your life, your experiences in tech, your experiences learning to code, struggles, confs, meetups you went to,interests, parallels, the role of mentors, awesome learning resources, tools, failures. Technical and technical can be on the same blog, but keep it professional until you are more solidified in your career.

Aim to create value for people.
This is quite easily done if you are trying to reach people more junior than you. Speak from experience. What are the last three technical things you googled how to do? Research them, write a guide, publish, circulate on twitter and slack. (Special kudos goes to Jess Lee for this tip)

Conclusion

I know what you are thinking — this sounds like a TON of work! How do I have time for all of this — I also have to code and apply for jobs! And it’s true — spending too much time networking and not enough time pushing code is ultimately not going to be that helpful.

But you are likely going to have some downtime after finishing codeschool before you begin working. This is the perfect time to spend time building your network and profile — and you get to add to the narrative as you build your career. You are in this for the long haul — build a network for the long haul.

You’ll need it. For referrals, but also for support.

It’s hard to get started, but you’ll find that once you have these building blocks in place, it’s a lot easier to keep the machine humming with less frequent tweets, blog posts and networking events. You can take some downtime, focus on code, and only come up for air when you have the time, space and energy. But that way, you will have created the backdrop that will allow you to step back into the arena as soon as you feel like a job change might become imminent, as opposed to starting over from scratch.

Good luck! Keep me posted on what worked for you!

Perry Eising

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Tech | Advocacy | Diversity | Queer | Adventure. Whiskey - rocks - no chaser.

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