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Hints for finding a first dev job in the UK

This is very much a guide to how I negotiated the British job scene. Although some of it may be useful to others around the world, it's very UK-centric and others would be better placed to advise on the USA or other places.

I'm 39 and I thought a career in anything had passed me by. I'd recently spent 8 years recovering from my second mental breakdown which had left me with serious depression. I'd been very fortunate that the part-time voluntary work I'd been doing for several years finally led organically to a job in social care helping people with tenancy issues, often due (in part) to mental health issues. I coded very casually in my spare time. Generally butting heads with JavaScript and giving up in fits of frustration. I'd spent 3 months in the care job when at Christmas 2019 I plucked up the courage to do dedicate myself to becoming a developer professionally. I would be offered a full time junior software engineer job in late August. I won't bore you with the whole story but I'll leave you with the takeaways:

  1. FreeCodeCamp was instrumental in my learning. If it got beyond me, I liked to use Colt Steele's bootcamp courses on Udemy to explain it to me in a different way. There's plenty of videos on all manner of topics on Youtube. Just find your own small set of resources and get to work. Anything is valid if it gets you coding.

  2. Build a portfolio page as soon as you know enough HTML and CSS. You can add to it and change it as your skills grow. It's great practice in itself, even before you add in personal projects.

  3. Once you've got the basics, you have the basis to start applying for basic jobs. In the UK, as well as 'junior' jobs, search Indeed and LinkedIn as well as Google for level 3 or 4 apprenticeships. If you're in Scotland, search for degree apprenticeships where you can work while earning a whole degree for free. Companies that offer apprenticeships include Vodaphone, BBC, BGL Group, Sky, Legal and General, Deloitte and FedEx. They'll consider anyone above school leaving age with a love of coding so great if you've had a career break (like me) or discovered programming later in life (also like me). Academic requirements vary by employer. Sign up for their Twitter feeds and/or career newsletters.

  4. Other trainee positions do exist. They might be occasional, but it's worth doing a daily search online.

  5. Harder is the ability to be location flexible. If you don't have family ties, or you're willing to move, then you'll find opportunities easier to come by. I found jobs were generally in the Midlands and London/South East. Living in Scotland, this has meant I'm having to uproot myself. Which isn't easy as a single person, let alone if you had a family.

  6. Use Twitter or to build up a network of fellow beginners. You'll find their stories inspirational and when you get your own wins, they'll cheer you on, too.

  7. Tailor every application specifically to the advert. Employers can sniff out a generic covering letter a mile away.

  8. Make your CV look good. Use Canva or a similar editor to make yours look sharp.

  9. Get your CV checked by at least one impartial individual. Ask your contacts on Twitter, or try Reddit.

  10. Don't give up when you get ghosted or rejected. Keep reflecting on how to make your application match the next job more closely and keep trying. You'll find your niche eventually.

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